Farewell to the Lizard King
By the time the Doors reunited to record their sixth studio album in late 1970, they looked washed-up. Their leader and singer, Jim Morrison, had been convicted of exhibitionism because of an ‘incident’ in Miami, and was considering exile; he had gone from being the ‘official sex symbol of rock’ - the Lizard King - to being something of a bloated mammal; and the band felt as if they were bystanders as they watched their two great albums, both released in 1967, The Doors and Strange Days, gradually getting lost in the distance.
But the moment in November 1970 when the four members of the band, accompanied by bassist Jerry Scheff, who was part of Elvis Presley's band (one of Morrison's idols), stepped back into the studio, the chemistry of the good old days returned as if by magic. Morrison was unable to finish many of the band’s concerts at that time, but in the studio he was revitalized by material that made him excited again.
The singer had brought to the recording studio one of his last songs, The Changeling - in which he mixed his love of the blues with the funk of James Brown - but what really injected those sessions with energy were two monumental songs Riders On The Storm and the titular L.A. Woman, two barbarities that can go head to head with the best of the Doors’ discography and that were also group efforts, with each member contributing something.
On L.A. Woman Robby Krieger trades in his beloved SG for a '54 Les Paul, while Morrison goes into a trance saying goodbye to his beloved city and slipping in an anagram of his name, Mr Mojo Risin', into the lyrics. The other two great songs on the album are the undisputed Love Her Madly, a Krieger gem that was used as an advance single, and Hyacinth House, a beautiful song with music by Ray Manzarek, in which the keyboardist goes as far as to quote Chopin, and a descriptive lyric by Morrison in which he seems to refer to his relationship with Pamela Courson ("I need someone, who doesn't need me") and to his, prophetic, sympathy for the end "And I'll say it again, I need a brand new friend, the end".
There are also some pretty good blues, like Morrison's Been Down So Long or the cover of Crawling King Snake, but also a couple of weaker tracks, like L'America and The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat). Of course, everything is redeemed by the song that closes the album, 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: Riders On The Storm.
Just by listening to the intro, with Manzarek's Fender Rhodes interweaving with the sound of rain and thunder you know you're 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. And the song is as hypnotic and menacing as Manzarek's magnificent solo.
Both the song and the album are palpable proof that the Doors were back in style. It is a great shame that in his Parisian exile Morrison joined the ‘tragic 27 club’, because it is evident that he still had much to contribute.