Hump Day Slow Jam of the Week: Michael McDonald, "I Keep Forgettin'"

Oct 15, 2008 at 1:05 pm

The Singer: The St. Louis rock & roll hierarchy goes something like this: 1. Chuck Berry 2. Nelly 3. Michael McDonald. The bushy-bearded singer grew up in Ferguson and attended McCluer High School, playing keyboard and singing in local groups before moving to L.A. in the early 1970s. His work with Steely Dan (his vocals are all over “Time Out of Mind,” “Kid Charlemagne” and most notably “Peg”) and, later, as lead singer of the Doobie Brothers brought McDonald national acclaim. His debut solo record, 1982’s If That’s What it Takes, went gold on the back of the hits “Believe in It,” “I Gotta Try,” and in particular “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near).” McDonald was added to the St. Louis Walk of Fame in 2003, but when is our city going to give the man his due and erect an equestrian statue in his honor? Get on it, Joe Edwards.

The Song: The definition of the slow jam undergoes a revision nearly every week in this space, but there are a few key traits: smooth instrumentation, a softening of funk’s rough edges, and a palpable sense of emotion (either love, lust or heartache). By that rubric, “I Keep Forgettin’” is a slow jam of the highest order, even if it is sung by a white man best known for his contributions to the soft rock song book. The minor key resolution of McDonald’s electric piano sets an ominous tone, while the slapped bass guitar and prickly Clavinet stabs add some percussive elements. Maureen McDonald, Michael’s sister, adds the female harmonies, giving the song an icky Luke Skywalker/Princess Leia vibe.

The Video: Has anyone looked as uncomfortable in front of a video camera as Michael? McDonald’s long-lost love appears as an airy specter, equal parts Glenn Close and Stevie Nicks, and her image haunts our singer as he sings of his sorrow from his penthouse apartment. Bonus points if you can spot the parakeet in the video; extra credit if you can explain why it’s there.

Hipster Cachet: It’s hard to tell if the hipster class secretly loves or completely despises McDonald, though I’d bet it’s a little of each. He’s been a running joke in The 40 Year Old Virgin and an episode of Family Guy, though the peerless web comedy sensation Yacht Rock solidified McDonald’s place in the pop-culture canon. Each of the 11 episodes features McDonald in some capacity, whether it’s in the writing of “What a Fool Believes” with Kenny Loggins or in the creation of “Yah Mo B There” with an inebriated James Ingram. “I Keep Forgettin’” takes center stage in the episode of the same name, telling the tale of how McDonald’s hit single was later sampled by Nate Dogg and Warren G. for their smash “Regulate.” It may not be historically accurate, but it is well worth 5 minutes of your time.

-- Christian Schaeffer