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  • Writer's pictureMark Howitt

Songs in the Key of My Life: 14

What A Fool Believes, The Doobie Brothers (1979)

A wedding reception somewhere in Scotland. In the background we can hear the sound of guests dancing to music being played by a DJ, a proper DJ, one who plays records you’ve actually heard before and who whiles the evening away drinking rum & pep.

Our attention is focussed on the bride and groom standing at the bar deep in conversation, heads close together to enable themselves to be heard over the sound of the disco. Gradually it becomes apparent that all is not as it should be on their wedding day, they move apart, she takes a step backwards, raises her hands, says something, he looks crestfallen. At this point, the camera starts to pull back and we see that, although this is the bride, her husband was standing slightly behind her, off-camera, and is only now coming into view.

The other man - whoever he is - turns away from the newly married couple, undoes his bow tie, and starts to cross the dance floor, awkwardly making his way through the wedding guests, towards the exit. As he does so the DJ fades out whatever he had on the turntable (probably Crazy in Love by Beyoncé) and cranks up the opening piano chords of What A Fool Believes by The Doobie Brothers.

This never happened, at least not to me. It’s the opening scene of a yet to be made film, although as of now, I haven’t written anything beyond those first few scene-setting paragraphs. But what will give the film the green light when I pitch the idea is that when What A Fool Believes starts, the wedding guests will - as one - commence dancing that staple of Scottish weddings, or any celebration north of Berwick-upon-Tweed, the Slosh.

Little is known of the origins of the Slosh, a very specific line-dance, although it is thought that it first arrived in Glasgow dancehalls via their Wigan counterparts in the early 1970s. While the standards for the Slosh are Daniel Boone’s Beautiful Day and (Is This The Way To) Amarillo by Tony Christie, I’ve long since thought that the Doobie Brothers classic song of miscommunication, embarrassment and heartbreak has the perfect groove. (R.E.M.’s Losing My Religion works too, but I’m struggling to craft a narrative around that.)

That would be the ultimate humiliation, realising at the wedding of your ex that “it never really was” and then having to battle your way through a Slosh to get home. Could be worse, could be Michael Stipe saying too much or not enough.

In later years Doobie Brothers singer, Michael McDonald’s voice took on a gravelly tone - great as it is, on his Live At The Soundstage album released in 2018, he sounds like he’s gargling on bricks - but here on this track he co-wrote with Kenny Loggins, it’s almost angelic. And yeah, the song is cheesy, but there’s a human truth in there.

But what a fool believes he sees

No wise man has the power to reason away

What seems to be

Is always better than nothing

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