Taking advantage of the 48th anniversary of
the death of Jim Morrison, at Guitars Exchange we wish to recall our
favorite songs of The Doors, a band
that took a giant step in transforming rock into something serious and with
artistic substance, a form of expression with its own rules.
Light My Fire
The Doors started playing together in 1965. At first the only one who composed songs was their singer, Jim Morrison, who came with extracts of his poetry to which he gave a melody and the rest of the band was responsible for pulling out the chords and giving it a musical form. That's how his first songs like Moonlight Drive, End Of The Night, My Eyes Have Seen You and Hello, I Love You came about. But when they became a fixture at the Whisky A Go-Go club, Morrison complained about being the only composer and encouraged the rest to bring their own songs. Young Robby Krieger approached the singer and asked, "What do I write about?” The answer was "about something universal, something that lasts". So Robby went home and began to play with several uncommon chords in rock music, mainly flats and sharps: for the chorus he took the chords of a cover version of My Favorite Things by John Coltrane, one of his greatest influences, and when he had to add lyrics he thought about what the singer had told him and decided to make a song about "earth, air, fire or water", opting for fire because of his love for Play With Fire by the Rolling Stones. That's how the song that brought them fame and fortune came about, and to which Morrison would add part of the lyrics, like the moment about "the funeral pyre" and Ray Manzarek the incredible organ introduction in which he sounds like a deranged Bach, demonstrating his classical training, on his Continental Vox. Krieger kept for himself an incredible solo that begins after Manzarek's, in which he progressively increases the intensity with his SG connected directly to a Fender Twin Reverb without any accessory other than the magic of his fingers.
The first place the Doors played was a Los Angeles club called London Fog, it was there where Morrison began to build his live persona, with the band getting into long 'jams', before an almost empty auditorium, on which Morrison improvised his poetry, which is how the emblematic The End and When The Music's Over came about. Shortly after they signed for the most prestigious club in the city, Whisky a Go Go, and their performances became events, with Morrison taking theatricality to excess, like when he emulated Oedipus shouting "Mother? Yes, son... I want to fuck you”. Although in the álbum versión is was edited so that it wouldn't be listened to, The End is still one of the most disturbingly beautiful songs in the history of rock that serves as support for Freud's sexual theories as well as for the unbeatable soundtrack of the Vietnam War insanity in Apocalypse Now. It is also the best example of the incredible chemistry between its four members, with John Densmore, Krieger and Manzarek putting the perfect musical frame on which Morrison shone with his poetry. Musically Krieger's guitar has a style of its own on which you can see the influence of Ravi Shankar's sitar and Coltrane's saxophone.
Riders on the Storm
L.A. Woman, the last album with Morrison, was the best thing the band had done since 1967. Just listening to the intro of this song with Manzarek's Fender Rhodes interweaving with the sound of rain and thunder you know you're looking at something special. Then comes Morrison's voice, dubbed by the singer himself in a sigh that gives it an echo effect; and it's as if someone was creating a spell. The song is as hypnotic and threatening as Manzarek's magnificent solo. It was the last song the original four Doors recorded together and the last one Morrison saw released before his death on July 3, 1971.
The return to the band’s best form was confirmed by L.A. Woman, the title song where Robby Krieger plays a 54 Les Paul instead of one of his well-known SG’s. Morrison gives one of his best vocal interpretations, in outstanding 'bluesman' mode, which he recorded in the studio bathroom, so as to take advantage of the natural 'reverb' of that space. Marc Benno is used as a rhythm guitarist but Krieger's particular sound is once again the hidden treasure. His personal and unique style may not have been imitated many times but listen to this song again and try to imagine it without Krieger's guitar, as if it were orphaned by something indecipherable and essential. The city of Los Angeles should make it its definitive anthem.
Break On Through
Break On Through shows that the Doors were also able to create a riff that would make Elmore James proud. It was also the band's first single, released on the first day of 1967, and was one of the first songs for which a promotional video was recorded, making them one of the pioneers of this format, which was not surprising considering that both Morrison and Manzarek had been film students. It is one of their most direct and powerful songs, a call to action and rebellion.
People Are Strange
In early 1967 a depressed Jim Morrison appeared in the apartment shared by John Densmore and Robby Krieger in the mythical Laurel Canyon. After the creative burst of their early days, the songs had ceased to come so easily and Morrison’s drug use had risen excessively. Krieger decided to take him for a walk in the neighborhood and when they returned Morrison's eyes shone with euphoria. During the walk all the words of People Are Strange had come to him, and when he got home he grabbed a piece of paper and started writing. It was wonderful to be writing again, Krieger, intrigued, grabbed his guitar and began playing arpeggio chords, inspired by Kurt Weill's cabaret music, and Morrison began singing the melody. Everyone was enthusiastic and the song would end up being chosen as a preview single for the band's second album, Strange Days.
The Doors loved the blues - it is not for nothing that one of the few covers from their mythical first album was Howlin' Wolf's Back Door Man, - so when they were left out of Woodstock and other concerts, after the critical disaster of The Soft Parade, they decided to go back to the roots of the blues that everyone was so passionate about. Morrison Hotel, released in 1970, favored this approach and had as its best example Roadhouse Blues that would become a fixture at their concerts. For his recording Manzarek used the same piano that had been used in the Good Vibrations of the Beach Boys, and added John Sebastian, from the Lovin' Spoonful, on harmonica and Lonnie Mack on bass, although the song belongs entirely to a Morrison in his best 'bluesman' version with ethylic coma.
When The Music's Over
Strange Days was a great second album, the only problem was that it was too similar to the first. Many of the songs on the album had been composed at the same time, like the magnificent When The Music's Over, that closed the record as The End had done with the first, in the search for catharsis. It's one of his most risky and conceptual pieces but it works perfectly; again the four of them serving the same purpose, the song itself. It is divided into five parts and makes Morrison's philosophy clear: "Cancel my subscription to the Resurrection". More than ten minutes of epic music in which everyone shines again, with Krieger using an SG and a Gibson Maestro fuzz pedal.
This is one of the most beautiful songs in the Door’s career. Jim Morrison wrote Love Street for his girlfriend Pamela Courson and the place where they lived together, a street in Laurel Canyon which they had nicknamed "the street of love". The song appeared as the B-side of Hello, I Love You and as the second song on their third album, Waiting For The Sun.
The Crystal Ship
The first album of the Doors is one of the best debuts in history and beyond their best-known songs, such as Light My Fire, The End or Break On Through, there are many other treasures. One of the most brilliant is The Crystal Ship, one of the best ballads in the band’s career, written by Jim Morrison in honor of one of his first girlfriends and which musically sounds like acid and psychedelia. Although the true talent of Morrison as a lyricist is sometimes questioned, very few, in 1967 or since then, have started a song in a better way: "Before you slip into unconsciousness, I'd like to have another kiss"...