The Doors are one of the great bands of the 60's, representing like few others the excesses and ideals of those years of sex, drugs and rock & roll. Obviously, the lyrics and the presence of their charismatic singer, who died 49 years ago this July 3rd, are still the most memorable things about them, but it is worth remembering that the Doors were much more than Jim Morrison, and that John Densmore's jazz drums, Ray Manzarek's organ with classical tints and Robby Krieger's original SG notes were fundamental in the mix. Guitars Exchange wish to review their career through their studio albums, but stopping at the last album on which all four collaborated, L.A. Woman.
The Doors (1967)
If the Doors had only recorded this album, their legend and that of their singer, Jim Morrison, would still be as big. One of the best debuts in history, The Doors is a call to rebellion by a band that was the image of all that was ‘dangerous’ about youth and rock. If it sounds so perfect musically, it's because the band had been playing these songs live for over a year in places like Los Angeles' Whisky a Go Go. It was there that Morrison developed his sense of theatricality, which led to him being expelled from the venue when he emulated Oedipus by shouting "Mother? Yes, son... I want to fuck you." Despite the fact that in the album that part was edited to be unheard The End remains one of the most disturbingly beautiful songs in the history of rock that served both as support for Freud's sexual theories and as the unbeatable soundtrack to the Vietnam War madness of Apocalypse Now. But the album goes much further than The End; it is not for no reason that it sounds like the band's greatest hits. Among its highlights are monuments like Light My Fire, Break On Through (To the Other Side) and The Crystal Ship, as well as a couple of excellent versions that tell us quite a bit about the tastes of these Angelenos, Howlin' Wolf's Back Door Man and Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's Alabama Song (Whisky Bar). Blues and cabaret went hand in hand to create one of the definitive stars of rock.
Strange Days (1967)
Strange Days was released a few months after their debut. The record company wanted to take advantage of the band's tremendous success and, luckily for them, they still had a good collection of songs composed in their early days that had not made it onto their first album. Despite the fact that the album mainly comprises ‘rejects’ from their debut, the level of the record is incredible, with classics like People Are Strange being one of the few new songs they had composed expressly for the album, and Love Me Two Times, in which they once again make clear their passion for the blues, as well as the ten minute plus epic of When The Music's Over in which Jim Morrison made it clear that his end was still his only friend: "Cancel my subscription to the Resurrection,” he sings. On this long track each member of the Doors shine again, with Krieger using an SG and a Gibson Maestro fuzz pedal. The only problem with the album was that its similarities with their debut were evident, even to the point of having a similar epic closing song, but there is no doubt that in less than a year the Doors had delivered two outstanding albums.
Waiting For The Sun (1968)
This is the album in which the first clear symptoms of a compositional downturn can be discerned, but, in spite of everything, Waiting For The Sun has several very interesting songs. The best of the lot is Love Street, one of the most beautiful songs of the band’s career written by Morrison for his girlfriend Pamela Courson and the place where they lived together, a street in Laurel Canyon that they had nicknamed "the street of love". Also appearing on this album is their second number one, Hello, I Love You, an irresistible song but one that is clearly inspired by the Kinks' All Day And All Of The Night and which also came from their early days, having been composed in 1965. Another song that they picked up from that early period is the ethereal Summer's Almost Gone, another of their best ballads. The album closes in style with Five To One, one of their most powerful songs, where Krieger's solo would end up inspiring Kiss’s Ace Frehley on She which, in turn, would inspire Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready on Alive. Three decades (60, 70 and 90) and three totally different sounds (rock, glam and grunge) united by the same solo.
The Soft Parade (1969)
The band's stagnation would be confirmed by The Soft Parade, the band's worst studio album, full of horn sections and strings, and moving away from the band's ‘sound’ which, at that time, seemed little more than an accompaniment band for Morrison. In spite of everything there were brilliant moments like Krieger's song, Touch Me, and his guitar on the title song. But songs like Runnin' Blue and Do It can only be described as filler, and the band's aggressive, primal sound is abandoned for an orchestral sound that did not suit them at all. Morrison, on the other hand, doesn't seem particularly enthused either and as a result delivers his least inspired lyrics.
Morrison Hotel (1970)
Morrison Hotel saw them recover their mojo. The blues returns to the front line, and Morrison is a little bit more in shape. The band had their pride stung at being left out of Woodstock and the big festivals of the time, so after the critical disaster of The Soft Parade, they opted for a return to the roots and came back with a vengeance. Released in 1970, the album benefited from this approach and featured Roadhouse Blues as its best example, a song that would become a fixture at their concerts. For its recording, Manzarek used the same piano that had been used in the Beach Boys' Good Vibrations and had the help of John Sebastian from the Lovin' Spoonful on harmonica and Lonnie Mack on bass, although the song belongs entirely to a Morrison in his best drunk 'bluesman' version. But besides their most important song, there were also numbers like Peace Frog and Waiting For The Sun, which confirmed that their return to rock & roll had been the right move for them to make.
L.A. Woman (1971)
L.A. Woman, the last album with Jim Morrison (and therefore the last one we have here), was confirmation of that improvement, and it is their best album since - the distant - 1967. You only have to listen to the introduction of Riders On The Storm with Manzarek's Fender Rhodes interwoven with the sound of rain and thunder to know that you are in for something special. Then Morrison's voice comes in, dubbed by the singer himself in a sigh that gives it an echo effect, and it's as if someone is casting a spell. The song is as hypnotic and threatening as Manzarek's magnificent solo. It was the last song that the four original Doors recorded together and the last one that Morrison saw released before his death on July 3, 1971, but it is certainly not the only wonder that this album contains. In the title song Morrison delivers one of his best performances; he sounds in ecstasy and happy to be part of this band again, while Krieger shows off by playing a '54 Les Paul instead of one of his beloved SGs. On the other hand, Love Her Madly is one of the best songs written by the guitarist and Hyacinth House is more evidence of how well they combined Manzarek's classical references with Morrison's poetry. It is a great pity that the group could not continue in this moment of absolute creative peak. But Morrison decided not to delay any longer his unavoidable appointment with his friend: "And I'll say it again, I need a brand new friend, the end".