How Michael McDonald Almost Didn’t Write ‘What a Fool Believes’
If Michael McDonald had followed his gut instinct, he may never have written the 1978 Doobie Brothers hit “What a Fool Believes.”
The song, which he created with Kenny Loggins, topped the chart the following year and went on to win two Grammys, but as McDonald told Apple Music’s Zane Lowe recently, he almost abandoned the rough version.
“The first verse was something I jotted down on an envelope … on a flight from New York back to L.A,” he said. “It just kind of popped in my head … and the piano verse was basically something that I’d been messing with for the better part of a year.”
He happened to be playing the idea on his piano at home as he waited for Loggins to arrive one day: “I thought, ‘This is just kind of a strange pop ditty. I don't know that I'd play that for Kenny.’ And when I answered the door he goes, ‘Before we say anything, you were just playing something on a piano, I could hear it through the door. Is that something new?’ And I said, ‘Well, yeah, I was actually thinking of playing it, but I wasn't sure.’ And he goes, ‘That's what I want to work on first.’ So, thankfully he heard it through the door, or I might never have played it for him.”
McDonald also recalled how the envelope with the scribbled lyric went on an unusual six-year journey before it got back to him. “There was just song lyrics, unfinished lyrics, you name it, just piled on the piano all the time,” he said. “And our publicist at the time was David Gest … he came to my house and I was at the piano working. … He looked down and he saw that jotting of that lyric. He goes, ‘What is this?’ I said, ‘Oh, that's actually the original thought I had.’ And it had already been a Grammy winner by then. … He goes, ‘Can I have this?’ And I said, ‘Sure.’”
He thought no more about it until, years later, he was eating at a Hard Rock Cafe. “I looked up, and behind my booth … there's this framed little piece of paper," McDonald recalled. "I recognized the doodling on it. And I went, ‘That couldn't be … .’ And sure enough, it was that lyric I gave to [Gest], and he’d had it framed. … I wrote a letter to the Hard Rock corporation. I said, ‘If it's not too much to ask, I’d like to buy that piece. Because I wrote the song with my friend Kenny Loggins, and I regretted giving it away.’ And they sent it to me gratis.”