The Doors – “L.A. Woman”

Out here, we is stoned… immaculate.
— “The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)” 

L.A. Woman marks the last stop in my journey through The Doors’ catalog courtesy of The Doors Vinyl Box.

I only recognized a couple of songs on each of the last few Doors albums I listened to, but L.A. Woman includes a number of the band’s most popular recordings – “Love Her Madly,” “L.A. Woman,” “The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat),” and of course “Riders On The Storm” are all bonafide classics that would likely be on any greatest hits compilation.  But even with these four well-known entities, I still find myself surprised to find there are six songs on L.A. Woman that I’ve never heard before.

It’s interesting… Morrison Hotel struck me as very much a blues-rock record, and while those influences certainly exist on L.A. Woman with songs like “Been Down So Long” and “Cars Hiss By My Window” (the later of which is absolutely amazing!), The Doors didn’t maintain the same consistent sound they had in their prior album.  Right from the opening track, “The Changeling,” it was obvious that the band had again expanded their horizons, producing a song that sounds like almost pure funk to me.  I don’t even know what “L’America” sounds like, other than it has a very martial drum beat, something the band used on a handful of other past songs as well.  And certainly their most well-known songs stray from the blues sound to a very great extent – though Morrison sings like a possessed, amped-up blues singer on the album’s title track.

L.A. Woman is absolutely solid, and probably rounds out my top three Doors albums following The Doors and Morrison Hotel.  All in all I was both surprised and impressed with the depth of The Doors catalog once I got outside of their mainstream “greatest hits” songs.  Their blues chops are unquestionable, and they certainly weren’t afraid to explore some unusual musical places along the way.  It’s too bad we lost Morrison so young – I’d like to have seen what he would have produced as he grew more mature.  But it wasn’t meant to be, so we should be happy that he and The Doors left us behind six studio albums.  Even though it still doesn’t seem like enough…

The Doors – “Morrison Hotel”

Keep your eyes on the road,
Your hand upon the wheel… 

There may not be a better album opening that the initial guitar chords of “Roadhouse Blues” on Morrison Hotel.  There are some that as good, to be sure – “Whole Lotta Love” on Led Zeppelin II and “War Pigs” on Sabbath’s Paranoid come to mind – but none that can make you forget about this brilliant blues-rock song by The Doors.

Morrison Hotel (1970) is the fifth stop in my sequential journey through The Doors’ six studio albums featuring Jim Morrison, all remastered as part of The Doors Vinyl Box.  As I moved on past the band’s self-titled debut I quickly found myself in uncharted territory, with one or two recognizable songs on each record but most of the rest songs I’d rarely or never heard before.  And I’ve been surprised by the breadth of The Doors’ style and influences – this was an immeasurably talented band, one known primarily for its flamboyant, brilliant, and controversial lead singer but in fact a collection of insightful musicians who were more about the group than any one individual.

I sped through my entire comfort zone eight minutes into this record when I got through the first two tracks on side A, “Roadhouse Blues” and “Waiting for the Sun,” which left me staring straight down the barrel of eight songs I didn’t know with one minor exception (more on that in a sec).  The very next song got me jacked up for the rest of the record, the old school 1950s style rock ‘n’ roll number “You Make Me Real,” a song that seems like the kind of thing that the forward-thinking doors would have scoffed at as being too basic or predictable, but one that they in fact nailed.

Which brings me to “Peace Frog.”  I vividly remember what I believe was the one and only time I heard this song.  It was a few years ago on a weekend and I’d left the house early to go somewhere, when “Peace Frog” came on the radio right after I left.  It was obviously a Doors song, but something I’d never heard before, and I was mesmerized.    Why the hell wasn’t this on the greatest hits albums?  The lack of consistent flow made it impossible to allow the song to fade into the background, and Morrison’s cadence changes were captivating.  Just now was probably the second time I’ve ever heard it.  And I’ll tell you right now, I need to find a way to get it into the regular rotation.  It’s as good as just about anything The Doors ever did.

Side B continues in much the same vein.  Make no mistake about it, Morrison Hotel is a blues-rock album more or less through and through, a fact John Densmore remarks on in his book Riders on the Storm.  In that respect it may be the band’s most internally consistent album since The Doors in 1967.  I’m not entirely sure if that’s a good or a bad thing, especially after writing about how much their musical range impresses me, but one thing I know for sure is it makes for a very enjoyable listening experience.  There aren’t any weird songs to throw you off; it has a feeling to it… a sense of direction that you get caught up in and carried along.  True, “Peace Frog” and “Indian Summer” bring some different vibes, but the still fit with the bluesy, hard living, melancholy flavor of the record as a whole.

While The Doors is by far the band’s best collection of songs in one place, Morrison Hotel is probably the best album in my mind.

The Doors – “The Soft Parade”

Welcome to the fourth installment of my journey through The Doors’ musical catalog courtesy of the The Doors Vinyl Box.  Previous posts can be found HERE, HERE, and HERE in case you’re interested or are just a glutton for punishment.

Originally released in 1969 at the end of arguably the most rebellious decade in the 20th Century, The Soft Parade is probably The Doors album I’m the least familiar with, at least in terms of songs.  In looking through the track list, “Touch Me” obviously stands out as an FM radio classic rock standard, but as for the other eight songs… have I heard ANY of these before?  I seriously don’t know.

The Soft Parade opens oddly, in my opinion, with “Tell All the People,” a song that sounds more like an Elvis song than The Doors.  It’s got that crooner style to it, and while I don’t mean that as an insult, it doesn’t “sound” like The Doors to me.  That being said, as I’ve worked my way deeper into The Doors Vinyl Box I’ve come to realize that The Doors tracks that make it onto the radio seem to have a very similar sound to one another… but that doesn’t mean that’s what The Doors sound like.  This is a band that covers a lot of ground, often meandering and surely sometimes missing the mark, but much broader and experimental than I ever gave them credit for based solely on my experience with the canon of well-known songs played on the radio.

When we think about “The Great” bands (and The Doors certainly qualify) we recognize the great songs and the great albums.  But even then there are records that are easy to dismiss – “I don’t know what The Doors were doing on The Soft Parade, but I love ‘Touch Me’.”  But what’s more likely, that most of the album kind of sucks other than one or two songs that we like, or that we really have no clue what we’re talking about and in fact the band moved so far past us that we missed it completely?  Do brilliant musicians suddenly start to suck just because they’re making songs that we don’t like as much as their earlier stuff?  What’s more likely true, that Led Zeppelin suddenly got pretty lame with In Through the Out Door other than “In the Evening,” or that maybe they just moved straight past us…. leaving us standing on the side of the road still holding onto our worn copies of Led Zeppelin II or Dark Side of the Moon like they’re the ten commandments delivered to us directly from heaven when in fact the bands are still making brilliant music and we’re just too dim or closed off to feel it?  This is what The Soft Parade makes me think about.  And for that I owe The Doors a debt of gratitude.

The Soft Parade isn’t a lackluster Doors album; in fact the band’s albums may be getting deeper as we move away from their debut, an album I noted as possibly having the greatest single side of music in rock history (and it does!).  It’s got country, blues, and bluegrass influences all the hell over it, but done in a way that infuses those styles with jazzy horns (yes, they brought in horns for this one) and other less obvious touches.  The Doors didn’t lose it.  We (meaning I) missed it.  If you don’t believe me, listen to “Runnin’ Blues” on side B.

Music junkies wait around for that record or live show that blows their mind, and I am one of them.  We’re always chasing that high we got from previous experiences, but we’re all really just chasing the dragon and tend to find that feeling harder and harder to capture, so it’s all too easy to retreat back to the classics, the songs that gave us that rush when we were younger when so much was new and that high was so easy to find.  But as we get older we have to work harder and cast our net wider to maybe… just maybe… get a whiff of it, and once in a while, if we’re lucky and we look so hard that it almost seems like work, we find it.  And it’s like a weight being lifted from your shoulders.  It’s like having mental clarity for the very first time.

I don’t “like” The Soft Parade; it gave me something more.  It reminded me of what is important – having an open mind.  It’s as much about the journey as it is about the destination.  If you listen, really listen, to “Wistful Sinful,” you might feel it too.  Or you might think I’m an idiot.  But I don’t care, because The Soft Parade taught me a lesson tonight, one that I needed to remember.

The Doors – “Waiting for the Sun”

This is third third installment of my journey through The Doors’ catalog, going through their records released as part of The Doors Vinyl Box in sequential order.  My first two posts can be found HERE and HERE, and I’ll skip a lot of the stuff I already covered in those posts.  Just know that I was a “greatest hits” kind of Doors fan, so while there are a lot of Doors songs that still get airplay on the radio, if it hasn’t been on the radio on any kind of a consistent basis, I probably haven’t heard it.

Waiting for the Sun opens with a couple of Doors classics, “Hello I Love You” and “Love Street,” the latter of which has always been one of my faves and one of the sweeter Doors songs.  After those two, however, I move quickly into uncharted territory, only knowing three of the last nine songs (“The Unknown Soldier,” “Spanish Caravan,” and “Five to One”).  My three “unknowns” on side A are pretty different from one another.  “Not to Touch the Earth” strikes me as disjointed and intense, with Manzarek’s organ driving the pace and creating an uncomfortable vibe with it’s weird sound and insistence.  That’s followed by “Summer’s Almost Gone,” which is more a return to from and reminiscent of “Love Street,” a softer song that brings Morrison’s voice to the forefront as the music floats around in the background.  “Wintertime Love” is almost martial music, very formal, structured, and paced, with Densmore’s drums controlling much of the early direction and even Morrison’s vocals bouncing up and down and up and down.  Manzarek’s organ playing actually reminds me of something out of the movie Amadeus.  The side closes with “The Unknown Soldier,” a song particularly disturbing for it’s portrayal of a man being killed by a firing squad right in the middle of it.

Krieger gets his moment in the spotlight on the start of side B, playing some impressive Spanish guitar on “Spanish Caravan.”  While the general public focused all their attention on Morrison, The Doors were consistently a “band first” kind of group who believed it very important for everyone to contribute and have an opportunity to shine, and this is a perfect example.  Waiting for the Sun takes another odd turn with “My Wild Love,” which has a tribal, shamanistic sound to both the music and Morrison’s cadence.  The next few songs didn’t do much for me at all, but the record closes out with the intense “Five to One,” the song that gives us the famous “No one here gets out alive” lyric.

The further I get through The Doors’ catalog, the more I see how incredibly varied and complex their output was.  I haven’t run across a song I hadn’t known before that I feel was an overlooked gem per se, but I’ve been hit between the eyes a few times by the emotional intensity and quality of some of the deeper cuts, once again being reminded why it’s so important to listen to a band’s albums, and not just their songs.

 

The Doors – “Strange Days”

I’m dipping back into The Doors Vinyl Box set as I work my way through The Doors catalog.  I listened to and wrote about their debut a few weeks back, and figured it makes sense to move through the albums sequentially, hence today I put on 1967s Strange Days.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I was never a Doors superfan, more of a greatest hits kind of fan.  The Doors have an impressive number of iconic songs, but there’s a lot of really odd and interesting stuff on their albums as well.  I’m currently reading drummer John Densmore’s book about the band, Riders on the Storm, and it provides an interesting insider’s perspective into both the man and the psyche of Jim Morrison, making me hear the band’s music in a slightly different way.

Strange Days has ten songs, though most are quite short – all but one come in at less than three and a half minutes, and four don’t even make it to the 2:30 mark.  The album ends, however, with a monstrously long track, just like their debut did, with “When the Music’s Over” lasting an even eleven minutes.  As near as I can tell I’d heard six of the ten songs before, not being familiar with “Unhappy Girl”, “Horse Latitudes”, “My Eyes Have Seen You”, and “I Can’t See Your Face in My Mind”.

One track struck me right away.  I suspect “Horse Latitudes” is the only song ever recorded about sailors tossing horses off a seagoing ship during a storm.  I know, that may be a bold statement, but I’m guessing I’m on firm ground here.  It’s absolutely disturbing, but it does fit with the artistic vision of the band.  Not that they’re about animal cruelty, but that they wanted to explore the possibilities that existed in music and words.  I think describing songwriters as poets is massively overdone and that label gets applied to a lot of people who aren’t particularly deep thinkers just because they can rhyme some words.  But that title fits Morrison to a T.  Yes, he was a drunk.  Yes, he was an asshole a lot of the time.  But he was also smart, introspective, and had an amazing ability to use words.

Cancel my subscription to the resurrection.
Send my credentials to the house of detention,
I got some friends inside.

[…]

What have they done to the earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered
And ripped her and bit her,
Stuck her with knives
In the side of the dawn.
And tied her with fences
And dragged her down.
— “When the Music’s Over”

Musically the band is almost always impressive, especially on longer tracks like “When the Music’s Over” where they can do a lot of things with timing to help change the mood and charge the song with emotion.  I didn’t unearth any gems here in the songs that were new to me but all of them had strong points, even “Horse Latitudes”.  I have to admit I’m becoming more and more intrigued with the band (and not just Morrison) as I read more about them and listen to more of their music, so I’m curious to see where I’ll end up after I work my way through their catalog.