"Ladies and gentlemen...
from Los Angeles, California..."
Every few years I go on a Doors kick. This started way back when Oliver Stone's Doors movie came out (1991). That was my junior year in high school, which is a great time for a guy to discover the Doors. Around the same time John Densmore published Riders on the Storm. I haven't read it in many years, but it along with Stone's movie definitely determined how I approached the band and what I got out of them at the time.
|He put out another one a couple of years ago about his courtroom battle with the other surviving members of the band (Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek.)|
|I haven't read it, nor any of Ray's books.|
The Doors were my favorite band (and The Doors my favorite movie) from when I first experienced all the above through the end of high school. Only a few years of my life but these are years measured in adolescent time: it felt like a coup and a subsequent Reign of (wonderful) Terror. Everyone has their entrypoint into the counter-culture, even if it's just awareness of it and not full immersion; mine was the Doors. It eventually morphed into beatniks and the Beatles and all points beyond. A familiar enough musical coming-of-age, at least once upon a time.
You sure don't need little old me to give you the skinny on the band. Suffice it to say, it was the boozy-acid-Byronic-recklesness of Jim Morrison against the easily accessible and always reliable power trio (occasionally augmented by various bass players) of Ray Manzarek (keys and hippie heart of the band), Robbie Krieger (guitars), and John Densmore (drums) that made and make them such an American institution.
Whenever I revisit the band, it's the latter that leaves the best impression. I think the Doors were really an underrated musical enterprise. But, understandably, it's the drugged-up apocalyptic drunk free association crooning from Jim that characterizes most of the band's reputation. That side of it is always fun to revisit without taking very seriously, or at least only as seriously as you take your own adolescent pretensions. Maybe people go after Morrison too much. Morrison is to the Doors what Shatner is to TOS in a lot of ways (minus the post-60s stuff). I wouldn't change a thing.
Musically, I mean. Not like I'd force the man to OD in a bathtub to "keep it real."
|Who cares, anyway? It's part of the appeal.|
Back to the movie. If you ever rode in my car 1990-1992, you'd have found one cassette that never left rotation: The Doors soundtrack, which had among other things, "O Fortuna!" Ten years later, it was in everything from Doritos commercials to movie trailers (especially movie trailers), but back then, I was the only guy in town who had it, and cranking it as I pulled into any parking lot announced me as a singular and fascinating fellow. At least in the adolescent fever of my imagining.
Anyway! Like I say every few years I find myself revisiting the band, and before I knew it this time around, I had a spreadsheet devoted to the listen-through and here we all are. #TheBloggingLife. I decided to forego the unreleased tracks (of which "Orange County Suite" seems to have the best reputation; I'm on the fence myself) or live albums, such as -
and a few others that were all very much a part of my Doors high school experience (on account of having them on the compilation double cassette In Concert. Another one that got a lot of airtime in the ol' McMaxima) but I don't want this to run too long. Instead, though, let me just bullet point a couple quick things:
- "Gloria." Is there a better version? Nice shrieking.
- "Universal Mind." Love this tune. I always thought it was a cover, but I guess Jim wrote it with Robbie. Traditional blues married to acid-Zen lyrics and well-sung by Jim.
- "Dead Cats, Dead Rats." I absolutely love this dirty, psychedelic stream-of-anti-establishment-consciousness version of "Break On Through." Also, how underrated is John Densmore? The Doors musicians are each unsung in their own ways, but Densmore especially.
Also "Who Do You Love?" George Thorogood's version of this Bo Diddley classic gets all the beers and hot wings commercials, but this is the best of the covers.
I also decided to skip any of the various solo stuff. Despite very much wanting to tell you all about "Solar Boat" because wow. Wow. Why the hell couldn't Manzarek get Shatner to do that one? Did it even come up? Surely that idea would have occurred to someone, right? Anyway, the Doors were very much a group effort (as we'll see right off the bat, below), but to any who think Jim was the only way-out-there one, take a little ride, there, on Ray's solar boat.
9. and 8.
|Other Voices (1971)|
Full Circle (1972)
After Jim's death the band carried on as a trio (with Ray and Robbie splitting the vocals) with these two albums, which were 100% unavailable in my first phase of Doors fandom. I finally got to hear them a couple of years back. They're a mixed bag. On one hand, there are a lot of great jams on here, and these are three guys who play really well together. "Get Up and Dance" has a Billy Preston feel to it, while "Ships with Sails" could probably fit on a Santana album somewhere.
But curiosity and jam factor aside, they're the least of the official Doors releases. "Verdilac" is probably the best of them - a solid composition with plenty of memorable soloing. "In the Eye of the Sun" has a cool groove to it. Ray sounds a little like Mick Jagger on the tracks he sings, which works out okay; Robbie, however, sounds like Dylan, which does not. His compositions in general are my least favorite tracks.
With one exception (although it's credited to all three members): "No Me Moleste Mosquito." According to Robbie, this was the post-Morrison band's biggest single on account of sales in Spanish-speaking countries. The vocals are a little on the silly side, but it's a fun and very era-specific number for me.
An American Prayer (1978)
I never really considered this one an official Doors release, but it's include on the band's official discography so here it is. If you took the best songs of Full Circle and Other Voices and made it one album (Full Voices? Other Circle?), I'd prefer it to this one. But American Prayer is undoubtedly an interesting mix of spoken word (Jim's birthday present to himself, according to Ray - his last birthday on Planet Earth, as it turned out; full story here) and musical landscaping.
Jim meant to do a lot more work with this album, and Paul Rothchild famously called this a "rape" of Morrison's legacy. I'm sure had Morrison lived - and sobered up enough to realize his original vision of things - it would have sounded a bit different, but I feel Rothchild's statement is ridiculous. It is a bit of an oblique and unfinished mess, but as a curiosity/ accompaniment to the main catalog, it is not without its charms.
The best of the tunes (such as they are) are the ones Stone picked for the Doors soundtrack:
"Ghost Song" and "The Severed Garden (Adagio)," both of which cast a hazy spell on my 17-year-old mind. It wasn't until 10 years later that I realized that the "Adagio" melody was written by Albinoni and was a rather famous piece of music.
The Soft Parade (1969)
According to Densmore, by the Doors got to The Soft Parade, they were composing in the studio, and Rothchild (the producer for the first 5 Doors albums) wanted to make the band's 4th album a huge epic statement to rival the other big statements of the era (Sgt. Pepper's, Pet Sounds, etc.) with orchestration and multi-tracking galore. All of that meant a lot of studio time searching for the right sound - which meant Jim had a lot of time / fifths of Jack Daniels to kill before he got to record his vocal.
Alas, it shows. It's like there is an audible commentary track of drunken mumbling / free association throughout the whole proceedings, most notably on the title track and on the album's other standout song "Wild Child." (Great riff, not a bad track overall. That "Do you remember when we were in Africa?" bit at the end always makes me laugh. So out of drunken left field.)
A fairly forgettable collection of tunes. Were it not for "Shaman's Blues" - possibly my all-time favorite Doors track - this would probably be my least favorite Doors album. But I love "Shaman's Blues" enough for it to have skewed my spreadsheet results; that track is just Doors-perfection. It happens. Starting with our next selection, though, we're into most-songs-are-4-out-of-5-stars territory.
The Doors (1967)
The band's debut features three of their biggest tunes: "Break On Through," "Light My Fire," and "The End," each an indelible contribution both to the 60s musical landscape and to Americana in general."The End" is the big "experience" song to end the album, a pattern the band would follow on subsequent releases.
Back in the day, my favorite tracks were the aforementioned. Nowadays, I think it's "Soul Kitchen." Or maybe "Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)". They're all fun, though. "Crystal Ship" and "End of the Line" have their place in Doors mythos. "I Looked at You" is probably safely described as filler, but I've always liked it. It (and maybe "Twentieth Century Fox") are probably the closest the Doors ever get to the Archies.
"Back Door Man" is dumb. I didn't mind it so much in high school, but it makes me cringe now. It's an old blues song written by Willie Dixon about a guy who bangs farm housewives, sneaking in through the "back door" and "eating their chicken." Lovely. Cool riff and all, but Jim's vocal annoys me. Back to the drugs and the hippie apocalypse, please.
Waiting for the Sun (1968)
"Hello I Love You" is probably the best known track here. It's not a personal fave, but it's okay enough. My favorites in no particular order:
"Love Street" - Love the vibe of this one. These lyrics, though - Jim's free associations in the middle are so perfect wtf-Morrison: "I hear she lives on looooove street / there's a store where the creatures meet, I / wonder what they dooooo in there? Summer Sunday / and a year / (almost an aside) I guess I like it fine so far..." Man! Doesn't ruin anything for me, just cracks me up. I remember singing along and taking care to get my voice to crack precisely like Jim's in the right spots while singing along.
"Not To Touch The Earth" - "Celebration of the Lizard", the larger performance piece from which this is drawn, was the coolest thing in the world to me when I was 17, though it's a bit much for me now. This little excerpt still rocks the house, though. Ominous and powerful. The closest The Doors get to Dio, maybe. ("Some outlaws live by the side of the lake! The minister's daughter's in love with a snake!") Great stuff. And segues so well into:
"Summer's Almost Gone" - I listened to the bigger Doors songs so much that eventually I had to make a separate mix tape of the lesser-known ones to satisfy my Doors cravings. That mix is where I first grew to appreciate this one. As well as
"Wintertime Love" - Both are mournful tunes, though completely different approaches. Great music behind the lyrics.
and "Spanish Caravan" - Awesome.
Strange Days (1967)
"The hostess is grinning / her guests sleep from sinning."
The band's second effort is my third favorite. What a great title track - just the perfect mix of spooky ambience and 60s-west-coast-cool. Starts things off on the right note, and "You're Lost Little Girl" furthers the mood. And "When the Music's Over" is easily the best of the Doors apocalypse-vibe songs. I like this sort of thing a little less nowadays then I used to, but some great guitars in this one. It's easy to see why this sort of thing appealed to GIs in Vietnam.
Y'all know the album's big single, "People Are Strange." Great track - prototypical Doors. My first introduction to that one came via Echo and the Bunnymen's cover version from The Lost Boys. The other single was "Love Me Two Times," another of Robbie's contributions, which is probably my least favorite track. I guess it was controversial at the time and it's often suggested the whole thing is some kind of oral sex metaphor. I know it didn't take much to get people's wires crossed back then, but that seems really vague and silly to me. You want an oral sex metaphor, you go hang out with the Salt Creature on Planet M-113 and then come talk to me, okay?
My favorite is "Moonlight Drive," which has the always-bizarre "Horse Latitudes" introduction. ("True Sailing is Dead!") Like "When the Music Over," those seeking to understand the appeal of Robbie's guitar stylings need look no further than here.
LA Woman (1971)
"The Changeling" kicks things off with some straight-up bumper-blues and some great howling from Jim. Then comes "Love Her Madly" - another Kreiger "meh" from me but still a radio staple.
"Been Down So (Goddamn) Long" (parenthetical added) and "Cars Hiss By My Window" are a good indication of what kind of tracks Jim would have kept recording had he been able to pull out of his chemical nosedive. According to each of the other Doors, all Jim wanted to sing the last few years of his life was blues stuff like these. As far as their representation on LA Woman, though, I've got to give the nod to "Texas Radio and the Big Beat" (another one of those Shatner-Morrison * shout-outs) and "Hyacinth House," a tragic self-assessment from the Lizard King in his days of decline.
* Seriously, picture the random firings, here, of Morrison's booze-adled synapses to be his own Captain's Logs, sent back to Starfleet from the edge of reality. ("This is the land where the Pharaoh died!")
"L'America" is fun and a great opener for Side B. (I will always tip my cap to a band that appreciates the art of album-side-order.) "Crawling King Snake" is okay. But the title track remains one of the coolest things ever recorded. Both it and the album's best known single ("Riders on the Storm") are well-known enough where I'll spare you the links. But has the coolness of either diminished over time? If anything, they've only gotten cooler. The Doors created many timeless classics still in heavy rotation on the radio, but perhaps "LA Woman" and "Riders on the Storm" will outlast them all.
Now for my personal favorite, which is pretty much interchangeable with LA Woman for me:
Morrison Hotel (1970)
"The most horrifying rock and roll I have ever heard. When they're good, they're simply unbeatable (...) Good, hard, evil rock." - Dave Marsh, Cream Magazine.
Morrison's reputation as a poet, to say the least, hasn't survived the 60s too well. Understandable to a point, but is there any denying the collective poetic expression of "Roadhouse Blues?" So simple and direct, both musically and lyrically. You can't really improve on something like this; it distills a certain blunt reality to its essence, even the chak-a-choo-chah drunkscat stuff. (God bless it). When it comes to ultimate statements of being alive, few pack as much truth, terror, and ecstasy into the same punch:
"THE FUTURE'S UNCERTAIN AND THE END IS ALWAYS NEAR...
LET IT ROLL, BABY, ROLL!"
Amen, fellas. Incidentally, the line is "I woke up this morning and got myself a beard," not a beer. Morrison woke up from a 4-day drunk and realized he'd grown a beard, hence the line. The same thing happened once to my dearly departed friend Klum. Which is another way of saying when your drinking has got to the "How did this beard get here? Far out" level, it's probably time to settle the tab for good.
Anyway! Morrison Hotel - the band's back-to-basics record after the bloat of The Soft Parade - is start-to-finish awesome. After "Roadhouse Blues" comes "Waiting for the Sun," one of two tracks (the other being "Indian Summer") recorded for earlier albums but only finding a home here. Then one of the band's saloon-y tunes, "You Make Me Real," which showcases the tight interplay between the foursome when they were on their game. What a cool track.
Speaking of, (outside of "LA Woman" maybe) they don't come cooler than "Peace Frog." That link features the glorious segue from "Peace Frog" into "Blue Sunday," which is probably my favorite song-to-song transition of any two songs on any album anywhere.
"Ship of Fools" and "Land Ho!" - end of side 1 and beginning of side 2 - are two of my favorite unsung Doors tracks. Some apocalyptic despair in the former, but both are jaunty tunes that seem optimistic despite themselves.
The album's other tracks ("The Spy" and "Queen of the Highway") are perfectly agreeable, but man do I love the closer, "Maggie M'Gill." Just such a perfect marriage of rhythm, lyric, and riff. All the more remarkable because I get the impression they just kind of tossed it off in the studio. Stephen Davis referred to it in his Doors book as "Morrison bloviating with drunk-sounding bluster." He says that like it's a bad thing!