The Doors were one of the most prolific acts of the psychedelic 60s, led by the ever weird Jim Morrison, vocalist, Robby Krieger, guitar, Ray Manzarek on keyboards, and John Densmore on sticks. The band’s name comes from Aldous Huxley’s book, The Doors of Perception, which was apt for the ‘love, peace and happiness’ feeling you could see, smell, and hear, at any of the psychedelic love fests that was especially Californian back then. Drug use, especially marijuana and LSD were both drivers and passengers along the road to shangri la. From 1967 to 1971 The Doors released 8 records, 7 of them made the top 10 on Billboard 200. They went gold 20 times, 14 platinums, 5 multi-platinums, and 1 diamond award in the U.S. alone. They sold 4,190,457 albums and 7,750,642 singles in just 4 years. (over 100 million presently) So, until the death of Morrison in ‘71, they had well established themselves as one of the hottest tickets around.
Today is the 50th anniversary of their second release, Strange Days, which had ho-hum commercial success, likely because it sounds so much like its eponymous predecessor. Some critics panned it along the same lines: it lacked integrity, where others heard a twisted masterpiece. Nonetheless, it did briefly reach #3 on the charts. They made use of the new technology of the day, the Moog organ/synthesizer in particular, which could evoke an eerie darkness, or carnival glee, depending on the mood of the song. On the title track, Manzarek opens with a mystical organ riff that drives straight into a throbbing drum and bass line that throws a shadow on the first line, “Strange days have found us, strange days have tracked us down”, which 50 years on can still be an ominous description of what we’re living today.
The Doors themselves were not especially gifted players but more of a ‘complete product’, like a theatrical play, or book. They were not given to riveting solos, or technical finesse. Their overwhelming success was due in part to their signature sound. They used Douglas Lubahn as bass player on this record. Robby Krieger’s light touch on his Gibsons, a 1964 and a ’67, SG Specials, provided just the perfect sound behind the aloof, dreamy lyrics written by Morrison. You’re Lost Little Girl is track 2, and the creepiness is constant, “You’re lost little girl..I think that you know what to do, yeah. Sure that you know what to do”; reminiscent of Riders of the Storm. Krieger’s opening riff on track 3, Love Me Two Times, is a treasured artifact of rock history. Written by Krieger and described by Manzarek as “Robby’s great rock/blues classic about lust and lost, or multiple orgasms, I’m not sure which”. The song has been covered by the likes of Aerosmith, Joan Jett, pianist George Winston, and goth group The Mission. It was deemed a bit too racy for radio play in New Haven, Connecticut, which the band didn’t like, but brought the bad-boy image larger to life.
Things start to get very weird of the 5th track, Horse Latitudes. It opens like a slow moving nightmare, using the sounds of menacing winds with Morrison holding forth like Moses, “When the still sea conspires an armour, and her sullen and aborted currents breed tiny monsters, true sailing is dead”. His voice is given a bellowing biblical effect with the crack of whips behind, and the seething moans of the demons down below. This is not a song at all, but a cacophony of hell’s offerings (or something like it). But it sets up the next song well, Moonlight Drive, which opens like a carnival march and features a wiry solo by Krieger that, again, fits hand to glove with the lyrics. Densmore’s beat is the marching chops heard on other various songs in the repertoire. My Eyes Have Seen You, starts off with a funky bass riff and rides it until the rest of ‘the product’ joins in to make this a fabulous rock number. Robby’s solo here seems much more unhinged on his Gibson SG. The politeness of past solos had passed. He was a ‘Gibson man’ for most of his career (see the Robby Krieger Les Paul Custom from ’54) but he was also known to pick up a Fender Stratocaster. I Can’t See Your Face In My Mind also has a distinct carnival feeling to accompany Morrison’s disturbing “I can’t see your face in my mind. The carnival dogs consume the lines”. When the Music’s Over was ideally used as a show stopper. The arrangement of sour notes among the sweet beat evokes what can be imagined as a trip on LSD, laced with Morrison’s matter-of-fact vocals and his signature howl, perhaps, “the scream of the butterfly” of which he speaks. The song is a magnetic tour de force (10.59 in length) that is definitive Doors; the complete product.
The last piece on the record we want to talk about is one their classics, People Are Strange, which reached #12 on the U.S. Hot Chart. According to Allmusic review, it “reflected the group’s fascination with the theatrical music of European cabaret”. The lyrics clearly speak of the feeling of being different, perhaps to how alienated the hippy movement felt it was,or the darkness of drug addiction. A gem of a song that was like a soundtrack to people’s lives along with so many others which still get loads of radio time all around the world. So we raise our cup to The Doors!
Still wild and wonderful 50 years on.