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.