Tuesday, 20 November 2018

The Doors



The Doors (1967)


Break On Through/Soul Kitchen/The Crystal Ship/Twentieth Century Fox/Alabama Song/Light My Fire/Back Door Man/I Looked At You/End of The Night/Take It As It Comes/The End      

One of the foundation stones of the sixties “psychedelic rock” explosion. This was a truly stunning debut album. Bluesy, classically-influenced in places, particularly in its trademark organ swirling sound, and jazzy in its percussion it also had a singer in Jim Morrison who was full of sensual, sexy, vaguely threatening charisma and a unique voice. It is also packed full of perplexing, poetic lyrics. Released in January 1967, it is often overlooked in favour of Bob Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde or The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper when the great mid-late sixties albums are discussed. There is a fair case for this being the best of the lot. Not many albums bettered this one, particularly not debut albums. The Doors never reached these heights again in their other five albums, despite many high points, nothing quite reached the perfection of this.
                                         
Break On Through has a hypnotic percussion and organ intro and an even more funky organ break in the middle, together with a sonorous, characterful vocal from Morrison full of mysterious, slightly menacing undertones. The sound on this remastered version (from the complete albums box set) is truly superb. Crystal clear, sharp but beautifully bass reproduction too. That semi-funky organ is at it again on the rumbling Soul Kitchen. Excellent guitar, drums and vocals. This is as good a late sixties rock got. Sublime. When the guitar kicks in around 2.25 your speakers practically jump with the shock. The Crystal Ship is a trippy, dreamy piece of wistful, floaty hippy rock, with lyrics about “gentle rain” and a classically-influenced stately piano passage. Morrison’s vocal is once again a mighty one. Haughty and melodramatic. Many of those new romantics must have been listening to this. Twentieth Century Fox has more of that impossibly catchy percussion and organ. This section of four short songs in sixties psychedelic pop at its very best.

The cover of Bertolt Brecht’s Alabama Song is a good one. I have never been a fan of the song, well, of David Bowie’s cover at least, but this version is the better one. Fairground organ parts and a convincing vocal.


Then we get one of the cornerstones of the album, the lengthy, glorious, magnificent Light My Fire, with its iconic organ riff intro, catchy refrain and soaring, leery, haunting vocal. As for the extended oran, bass and drums instrumental break, words fail me. One of rock’s finest passages. Simply without compare.

The blues influence is full on in the chugging, insistent menace of Back Door Man. Perfect blues rock. Just a great vibe to it. Listening to this album you just feel you are at a crazy sixties party, man. Now, where are those incense sticks..

  

I Looked At You is the most sixties pop of the tracks, very Kinks-like in its short, sharp attack. There are real overtones of the sort of sound used by many of the late seventies/early eighties “post punk” bands in the song, at times. End Of The Night is a beguiling, enigmatic number that, were it not for The End would have made a good closer. Take It As It Comes is an upbeat, bassy rocker. Another short, sharp hit of a track. Apart from the two lengthy monsters, the album is all sub-three minute mini-classics. This ensures that you have an appetite for the two long tracks. The album never gets bogged down.

The End. Well. Atmospheric. Evocative. A work of genius from the first notes. That backing and Morrison’s vocal when it first comes in sends shivers down your spine. Only The Velvet Underground’s Heroin came close to this amount of brooding majesty at the time. That was from two months later, funnily enough. This song is getting on for twelve minutes of brilliance. Bizarre lyrics about “riding the snake” and the “Roman wilderness of pain”. Far out, man. The sound on the remaster just blows you away. Superb stuff. An exhilarating, sense-invading end to what was a remarkable album. The blue bus is calling us….

Strange Days (1967)


Strange Days/You're Lost Little Girl/Love Me Two Times/Unhappy Girl/Horse Latitudes/Moonlight Drive/People Are Strange/My Eyes Have Seen You/I Can't See Your Face In My Mind/When The Music's Over         

Released hot on the heels of both the band's debut album, The Doors and, more significantly, The BeatlesSgt. Pepper, most of the tracks came from the same sessions as for the debut album. I do get the feeling, slightly, that some of these may have been the leftovers from those sessions. I know that many view this as an underrated classic that doesn't get the credit it deserves, but, for me, it is the lesser of the first two Doors albums. The debut album as so good, it is not surprising. There are hidden treasures on here, however. Each listen gets you more into it.
                        
Apart from the extended closer, all the tracks are short and punchy, often only two minutes or so in length, which give the album a refreshing, upbeat energy. Many of them end before you know it, however. At times some of them almost seem like demos, not quite complete. Strange Days, apparently, features the first use of a moog synthesiser. It is a swirling, dreamy and mysterious track, typical of its psychedelic, drug-addled age. There is a solid rockiness to it in places and a trademark, sonorous vocal from Jim Morrison. You're Lost Little Girl is deliciously enigmatic and eerie. It is a clear influence on The Stranglers' post-punk output circa 1980-82. Love Me Two Times is a very recognisable as a Doors track, full of quirky, staccato rhythms and Morrison's vocal almost sounding English. It has a superb, medieval keyboard solo.

 

Unhappy Girl is a short, breezy beguiling number, while Horse Latitudes is a short narrative poem, rendered maniacally by Morrison (a young Jim Steinman would no doubt have loved this). Moonlight Drive has a catchy, sixties hippy funkiness to it, with some interesting, unusual guitar bits. When You're Strange is a jaunty, fairground-ish romp. My Eyes Have Seen You has some of that psychedelic air about it. It rocks quite solidly in parts too, with powerful drums and bass. The same vaguely Eastern atmosphere continues on the druggy I Can See Your Face In My Mind. The vocal is once again delightfully perplexing.

When The Music's Over is this album's equivalent to the debut's The End. It is even better in my opinion, crammed full of atmosphere, menacing vocals and a simply sublime bass. It moody magnificence is totally at odds with the short, almost throwaway nature of the rest of the material. It is a true epic. After the "we want the world and we want it now" bit, the track bursts into a maelstrom of organ, drums and bass. The Doors at their regal best. Personally, stuff like this was way ahead of its time, way ahead of Sgt. Pepper in places too (whisper it quietly). It is never really given credit for being so, though. Maybe it wasn't, then, but it is for me, anyway.

The sound quality is excellent on the remastering on the album as contained in The Complete Studio Albums box set. I much prefer the stereo recording to the mono. While mono was great for some artists' recordings, for me, The Doors are always better in stereo.



Waiting For The Sun (1968)


Hello, I Love You/Love Street/Not To Touch The Earth/Summer's Almost Gone/Wintertime Love/The Unknown Soldier/Spanish Caravan/My Wild Love/We Could Be So Good Together/Yes, The River Knows/Five To One    

After two excellent, ground-breaking  albums released in 1967, expectations were high for The Doors' third album. It was a short album, only thirty-three minutes in length, and not including an extended closer as there was on the previous two. The general tone was softer and mellower, more relaxed. There is not the same intensity as on certainly the debut album, but there is still some fine material floating around. I quite like the album and it has a wonderful sound quality too. For me, there is a case for it being a better album than its predecessor, Strange Days. It feels more complete and rounded. Maybe it is The Doors' equivalent of Led Zeppelin III. Its dabbling with the experimental on some of the mid-album material probably put it just below Strange Days at the end of the day, but it is an album worthy of many listens.
                                            
The opener, the synthesiser-driven Hello, I Love You was the album's most catchy track. It sounds suspiciously like The KinksAll Day And All Of The Night, however. It had a solid rock appeal to it and typical sixties lyrics in "hello, I love you, won't you tell me your name..". Sure, man, if you'll stare at the sky with me. Love Street is beautifully melodic and appealing. It has a delicious bass sound and lovely keyboard solo in the middle. Morrison's vocal is wonderfully beguiling, as always. There is a great atmosphere to this track. Not To Touch The Earth is a pounding, paranoid-sounding  rock number with an excellent descending guitar riff and some wild, swirling organ breaks. The Stranglers certainly listened to this.

  

Summer's Almost Gone is a bassy, impressive mid-pace rock number with some lovely guitar and keyboard sounds. There are Beatles-esque hints on here as well. I really like this one. Wintertime Love is a short, jaunty, teutonic-sounding waltzy number. The Unknown Soldier is, as its titles suggest, an anti-war song and is hard-hitting in its lyrics and experimental musical soundscape. Musically, it is probably the weirdest track on the album. Its drum sound has a serious thump to it.

The mood changes with the beautiful flamenco guitar of Spanish Caravan, which mines a bucolic seam in its hippy-ish lyrics about going off and wandering around to Spain. It's guitar, drum and keyboard interplay at the end is decidedly "prog-rock". These last two tracks have been quite experimental, and this is continued on the gospelly but stark chanting vocal/rhythm of the bizarre My Wild Love. A more typical Doors sound returns on the upbeat We Could Be So Good Together. It is a bit more formulaic, but is still a good one.

Yes, The River Knows is a laid-back ballad, with an almost jazzy sound, some jazz guitar and solid stand up bass. The vocal is sonorous and mysterious. Five To One is a menacing, enigmatic number  with hints as to the sort of stuff Alice Cooper would release a few years later. It is an interesting track with some killer guitar that deserves repeat listenings. The same can be said for this underrated album.



The Soft Parade (1969)


Tell All The People/Touch Me/Shaman's Blues/Do It/Easy Ride/Wild Child/Runnin' Blue/Wishful Sinful/The Soft Parade  

Possibly as a result of the zeitgeist of the late sixties, The Doors produced this, their most adventurous and experimental album, in which they dabbled in brass, strings and psychedelic backing more so than on their previous three albums. The album defies description in many ways and is widely considered to be the band's worst offering. That is probably true. In other ways, it demands several listens, for it definitely has an oddball appeal. For me, I feel it is better enjoyed listened to as a whole, as opposed to picking out individual tracks. Yes, it is a chocolate box of different styles and sounds, but is a lot better an album than it is popularly given credit for. It is a unique creation, really. The fact there is some brass and string orchestration on the album here and there doesn't spoil it, not for me anyway.

The sound quality is superb, as it is on all the remasters included in the 2011 Doors - A Collection box set.
                 
Tell All The People has definite Beatles influences in its orchestration and its Starr-esque drumming. Despite its experiments in brass backing, there is some killer guitar in there too. Touch Me is quirkily camp, being virtually impossible to categorise, to be honest. There is some great saxophone/drum interplay on it, though. Shaman's Blues is more recognisable Doors, with a deep bass line and a mysterious Jim Morrison vocal. I love the power of the drums on here and the organ is trademark Doors. I also like the staccato weirdness of Do It. The sixties organ-driven blues romp of Easy Ride is enjoyable too.

 

Wild Child, with its powerful, grinding guitar riff and Morrison's menacing vocals is one of the album's underrated gems. Runnin' Blue is a most odd number, with some country fiddle parts complete with early sixtes Bob Dylan-imitating vocals. Wishful Sinful is the other track, together with the opener, that really uses the strings and brass. For me it adds a late sixties, dreamy hippiness to the typical Doors rock feeling of the song otherwise.

The Soft Parade was the now traditional lengthy album closer, and it mixed madcap poetry recitation with medieval keyboards before giving us some almost funky, jazzy, rhythmic rock. All very "progressive". It is, shall we say, a "challenging listen", but it is certainly an interesting one. Like a relatively pleasurable drug experience (maybe - as a non-drug user, I can only imagine). It is a bizarrely enjoyable track, I have to admit.

You cannot knock The Doors for trying to change things a bit. The Beatles, The Stones, The Velvet Underground had all done it. What it did, though, was cause a bit of strain between Robbie Krieger and Jim Morrison. Those "musical differences", eh? After this album, the group reverted far more to traditional rock and blues rock sounds for their final two offerings. This was their final truly "out there" album, perhaps suitable to end the sixties with. Do not dismiss it without giving it a few listens. A drink or two may help, though...



Morrison Hotel (1970)


Roadhouse Blues/Waiting For The Sun/You Make Me Real/Peace Frog/Blue Sunday/Ship Of Fools/Land Ho!/The Spy/Queen Of The Highway/Indian Summer/Maggie M'Gill        

After their stunning, innovative and atmospheric debut album, The Doors released three increasingly experimental and quirky albums, all of which were impressive, but are slightly more of an acquired taste than this often regarded as a "back to basics" rock album. To an extent. There are still quite a lot of instantly recognisable Door-isms all over the album. The swirling organ sound, the haunting vocals, the Germanic, Brechtian influences. The bizarre, mystical lyrics. They are all still there.
                            
Roadhouse Blues is a superb, pounding slice of proper blues bar-room rock, full of killer guitar, harmonica, drums and a strong vocal from Jim Morrison. Great stuff. Don't be misled, though, into thinking this is a blues rock album, though, just as L.A. Woman didn't mean the album that bore the same name was one either. The track is substantially different from most of the subsequent material.

Waiting For The Sun takes the title from the band's 1968 album and evokes a bit of the spirit of those times with a mysterious, brooding number that, although it had some heavy rock sounds, particularly on the drums, harked back to those heady psychedelic days. The glammy You Make Me Real surely was listened to by those who became The New York Dolls. It was in-your-face upbeat glam rock before anything like it had been thought of.

 

Peace Frog has a sumptuous funky wah-wah guitar, organ and drum intro and a moody, soulfully funky vocal from Morrison. This was a sound the group had not really produced before, although there are still some trademark organ breaks. The mid-song guitar solo is superb and Morrison's spoken part half way through must have inspired a young Patti Smith. The song suddenly morphs into the sleepy, sonorous Teutonic Blue Sunday, with its Velvet Underground overtones. A strange contrast.

Ship Of Fools evokes Break On Through with its rhythmic intro.  Land Ho! is lyrically perplexing, but it has a lot of atmosphere and some sublime bass and cymbal backing. The Spy is a bluesily thumping and menacing slow-burning paranoid number. Queen Of The Highway is a blues, evocative groover that once again is packed full or portent, but musically doesn't quite seem to know where its going, chopping and changing slightly too much for my liking. The dreamy Indian Summer was actually recorded in 1966 for the debut album and has hints of The End in there. The blues rock that was given to us on the album's opener returns on its final track, the chugging, industrially riffy rock of Maggie M'Gill.

A good album, as all The Doors albums are - interesting and intriguing. The sound quality on the remaster taken from The Complete Studio Albums box set is excellent.



L.A. Woman (1971)


The Changeling/Love Her Madly/Been Down So Long/Cars Hiss By My Window/L.A. Woman/L'America/Hyacinth House/Crawling King Snake/The Wasp (Texas Radio And The Big Beat)/Riders On The Storm           

This was the Doors' final album, Jim Morrison died three months after its release and, building on the blues feeling of Morrison Hotel, it was their most bluesy album. The sound quality, as on all these latest remasters, is outstanding.
                        
The opener, The Changeling is an excellent, lesser-mentioned Doors song - full of grinding blues rock, swirling organ, great bass and what was by now an increasingly gruff, slightly croaky vocal from Morrison. Love Her Madly sounds like the blues meets the early Beatles with a bit of end of the pier-style jaunty organ thrown in. It ends frantically, harking back to the debut album. Been Down So Long is an industrial, muscular blues, with some seriously good guitar. This is The Doors at their bluesy best. I really like this side of them. The slide guitar near the end is quality.

Cars Hiss By My Window gives us an even deeper shade of blue - slow burning, throbbing bass, menacing atmosphere. Great stuff. L.A. Woman is simply wonderful, a slow brief intro suddenly morphs into that classic driving beat that many are so familiar with. It keeps chugging away formidably. Then at the end we get the build-up of the "mojo rising" bit. A true classic of its type. Morrison's vocal is superb. Everything about the track is. L'America, while still being bluesy in its background instrumentation, has more echoes of the sixties and psychedelia.

 

Hyacinth House has a sumptuous guitar, drum and bass intro before Morrison goes into his best namesake impersonation as the verses sound so much like Van Morrison in their melody. Not in his voice, obviously, which is completely different. I just can't get over what a great bass line this one has, and organ solo too. Crawling King Snake is back to the blues with its swampy broodiness. The essence of this album is contained in this track. The Wasp (Texas Radio & The Big Beat) is probably the weirdest track on the album, blues mingles with psychedelia and bizarre lyrics before the album closes with the last track The Doors were to give us, and what a track. The atmospheric Riders On The Storm is a true classic of early seventies rock and a wonderful way to remember this seminal, ground-breaking and highly influential band. If The Beatles had put this out it would have been hailed a work of genius. Still, The Doors garnered much critical respect as well. All these years later and so many are still getting so much pleasure from them.



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