Icon: The Doors
The Doors were open to everything, and that was the key to their success; to their crashing out of the gates in 1967 with “Light My Fire,” to their overcoming the excesses of lead singer Jim Morrison and managing to produce six studio albums before Morrison’s departure to Paris in 1971, never to return.
Despite Morrison’s self-destructive ways – climaxing in his arrest for onstage indecency in Miami in 1969 – the Doors had eight Top 40 hits, the biggest being “Light My Fire,” “Hello, I Love You,” “Love Her Madly” and “People Are Strange.” In concert, Morrison, along with keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore, helped introduce theatrics onto the rock stage, as when they acted out an execution scene from “The Unknown Soldier.”
After Morrison left, the remaining Doors carried on, but didn’t last long. And yet, they have endured. Their music continues to air on radio and TV, and to be featured in films, including The Doors, Oliver Stone’s flawed 1991 biopic. In 2006, an oral history, The Doors by the Doors, drew testimonial essays by Henry Rollins, Perry Farrell and Chester Bennington. The fire burns on.
From The Beginning
There are things to like about every Doors album, but their best was first. From the quick and cocky "Break on Through" to the mesmerizing, druggy, Oedipally complex "The End," this was the work of a band that, once it got its chance, took it right to the finish line. It's anchored by "Light My Fire," the brainchild of the guitarist Robby Krieger, who came up with the first verse and chorus.... Morrison added the second verse, the one about the funeral pyre; Manzarek, inspired by Bach and Coltrane, came up with the intro and the foundation for the long instrumental break. And, after Paul Rothchild who produced their first five albums cut it down from seven to three minutes for Top 40 radio, the Doors did break on through. Morrison's wolf whistle, "Twentieth Century Fox," "Soul Kitchen," an appreciation for a soul food joint that kept the band alive in its scuffling days on Venice Beach, and "Crystal Ship," a psychedelic cruise, offer further evidence of this rookie band's range. And that's not including "Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)" by Kurt Weill and Bertoldt Brecht. "Show me the way to the next whisky bar" A foreign song, but so close to home.more »
This was the Doors' first and a half album. And, although it couldn't shock the world again you can make your debut only once Strange Days, issued only nine months after The Doors, avoided the sophomore jinx. The Doors still had the first tune Morrison tentatively sang to Manzarek when the two UCLA film school grads ran into each other one day in 1965 on Venice Beach. That was "Moonlight Drive," and... it inspired Manzarek to suggest forming a band. Here, it's a beauty of a song, embellished with what Manzarek calls a "rock-tango" beat. Also here is the lusty "Love Me Two Times," which was Kreiger's second song submission to the band, following a little something called "Light My Fire." The Doors eschewed the peace-and-love themes of the day, but produced a cohesive set of songs about alienation and rebellion (including "People Are Strange" and the dramatic "When the Music's Over"). And they took advantage of a studio upgrade, from four- to eight-track recording, creating a fuller, more experimental sound than before. Rothchild considered this one the best.more »
Time, and rock critics, have not been kind to the Doors' third album. Yet, Waiting for the Sun was their only No. 1 long-player. The explanation probably lies in "Hello, I Love You," which also hit the top of the charts. But the song an early effort by Morrison, inspired by an African-American beach babe he'd spotted in Venice was derided by some as a rip-off of any number of Kinks... songs (think "All Day and All of the Night"). Which makes Krieger laugh. "We actually stole it from Cream's 'Sunshine of Your Love,'" he told me. While some critics dismissed the new hit as a pop ditty, The Doors included a couple of songs that seemed to sound political notes. "Five to One" warned, "The old get old and the young get strongerthey got the guns but we got the numbers." And then there was "The Unknown Soldier," which Rothchild figured to be the album's big hit. It was a powerful anti-war statement, especially when it was acted out on stage, with Krieger "executing" Morrison with his guitar-as-rifle. But radio went, instead, for the safer, and somehow more familiar-sounding "Hello, I Love You."more »
By now, Morrison had pronounced himself, with a heavy dose of irony, "the Lizard King." He was drinking so much that his appearance changed, and his output as a songwriter declined precipitously, forcing Krieger to take up the slack. And in spring of 1969, Morrison was busted for indecent exposure onstage in Miami. They lost numerous concert gigs, but gained time to work on The Soft Parade, an album best known for... the appearance of horns and strings. "Touch Me," the album's big hit, even featured Morrison crooning on the choruses. Manzarek said it was his idea to broaden the sound of the Doors, to let them venture into jazz and bossa nova. Morrison was largely detached from the sessions; Krieger wrote four of the nine songs (including "Tell All the People") and co-wrote a fifth with Morrison ("Do It"). But when push came to shove, the Lizard King delivered, as in the title piece, a suite pieced together from various poems of his. He may not have been writing many songs, but he still could write.more »
With Morrison Hotel, the Doors went back to the basics: rock 'n' blues; no horns 'n' strings. Now, it was just the four Doors, recording at Elektra Studios. And it worked. Partly, it was because Morrison wasn't writing many, if any new lyrics. (He did contribute to every track, but mostly by way of poems, or fragments of poetry from his notebooks.) Also, he was interested in reacquainting himself with the blues,... and the freedom a jam session could afford. One evening, short of tunes for the new album, they did just that, playing for an hour and winding through what Morrison called "the whole history of rock music, starting with blues, going through rock 'n' roll, surf music, Latin, the whole thing." The result didn't make it on the album, but gave the band a direction; a groove. It'd be heard in Morrison's "Roadhouse Blues," in "You Make Me Real," in the Memphis soul tribute, "Peace Frog," and in the raver, "Maggie McGill." Morrison's voice is ragged, sometimes, evidence of his hard-living ways. But it works, both for the blues and the ballads, "Indian Summer" and "Blue Sunday." The Doors weren't just back to basics. They were back.more »
Absolutely Live, as I noted in my book, The Doors By the Doors, was absolutely not live. The Doors were, to put it mildly, wildly erratic onstage. At least Morrison was. Densmore, Krieger and Manzarek, who doubled on bass, were solid anchors, capable of improvisation, which was required, given Morrison's penchant for saying, doing or singing the unexpected. So it wasn't easy capturing complete, clean performances of the band in concert. Which... shouldn't be the point especially with a band like the Doors. Still, as Rothchild noted, he had to take pieces from six or more shows from 1969 and 1970. It begins with an announcer beseeching the crowd to clear the aisles and sit down; swerves from familiar Doors tunes to solidly-performed blues (check out "Who Do You Love?" and "Backdoor Man") to Morrison's poetry and dramatics ("Celebration of the Lizard"). As Morrison put it, "a fairly true document of what the band sounds like on a fairly good night." True enough. And good enough.more »