Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Doors 1: The Doors

Depending on whom you ask, The Doors were either one of the most unique bands of the second half of the ‘60s or an overrated band whose inexplicable posthumous success warped reality to support the first half of the sentence. How you feel about it will be dictated by whether you consider Jim Morrison to be a true poet, visionary and modern-day shaman or a drunken blowhard whose “poetry” was about as deep as your bathtub, and if you’re not bothered by Ray Manzarek seemingly never changing the tone settings on his organ.
We could go on, and we might, but whatever your opinion, that’s the sound, and any deep bass croon accompanied by staccato organ will invite comparisons to The Doors. It helps if the singer is good-looking, as Jim undoubtedly was at the time of the first album. Created after a solid year of gigging in the clubs, the songs on The Doors, for good or bad, present the band in if not its best then its purest light. A few hit singles helped, too.
So many of the songs have become radio staples that it’s hard to believe something like “Break On Through (To The Other Side)” was a flop when it debuted. All these years later the band’s riding of the “I Wish You Would” riff for two and a half minutes is part of the national fabric. “Soul Kitchen” and “Twentieth Century Fox” are pretty much the same song, though the latter gets points for the title and guitar solo. In between is “The Crystal Ship”, one of Jim’s better attempts at singing a melody on an album full of shouting over a small handful of notes. Ray’s piano nicely overpowers the organ here. “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)” transports us to Oktoberfest before the big one, the inescapable “Light My Fire”. (Meanwhile, it’s interesting how nobody ever seems to complain about drummer John Densmore or guitarist Robbie Krieger. While we’re at it, it’s not all Ray’s left hand on bass; an actual Fender is played here and there by Larry Knechtel, and kudos to him, as ever.)
Side two seems slight at first. “Back Door Man” puts a twist on standard blues with a suggestive lyric that still makes junior high school boys snicker. “I Looked At You” is the one track that never gets played on the radio, because it’s not very good, and “End Of The Night” leans on lots of vibrato to convey spookiness. “Take It As It Comes” isn’t Jim’s best use of poetry, but he was saving that for “The End”. Possibly the most ridiculed song in their catalog, it’s still an excellent example of the band’s dynamic capabilities, and a thorn in the side of labelmate Arthur Lee. Once you get over the “shock” of the Oedipal section, feel free to read meaning into the imagery of the blue bus, the west being the best, riding the snake to the lake and so forth. Then you can wonder whether being the son of one of the highest ranking officials in the U.S. Navy had any bearing on Jim’s poetry. (Likely not.)
One of this writer’s dear friends served a tour of duty in Vietnam, and says that unlike what various movies would have you believe, nobody in the jungle liked the Doors. Nobody. So he really didn’t get how the band got as big as they did ten to fifteen years after the fact, and would likely agree that the first album has everything you’ll love and hate about the band. The version of The Doors you can buy (or stream) today not only adds three outtakes of two songs that would eventually make their way to future albums, but sports uncensored versions of two songs. The bridge of “Break On Through” no longer repeats “she get” but “she gets high”, and various F-bombs have been restored to “The End”. Hooray. (The original edits were used for the album’s 50th Anniversary Edition, which included both the stereo and mono mixes of the album, plus a disc containing live versions of eight of the album’s songs from a performance at San Francisco’s Matrix club from 1967, in better quality than the official bootleg version of the show released ten years earlier.)

The Doors The Doors (1967)—4
2007 40th Anniversary Edition: same as 1967, plus 3 extra tracks


  1. Sandro PellegriniMarch 24, 2015 at 2:25 PM

    I'm confused Ward. You gave this album a 4 out of 5 but your review comes off as mildly negative. Please also consider the possibility that there are listeners who don't see Morrison as a visionary or a blowhard, but rather just the singer. Additionally, I find Manzarek's keyboards mostly annoying and Densmore's drumming wonderful. A collection of songs, mostly good or great that hold together really well as an album - a rare feat, I feel.

  2. It's been my observation that the Doors are one of the most divisive bands ever, and most of the complaints come from people's reactions to the sounds of Ray and/or Jim. (The rest of the complaints are simply variations on "They suck.") I've never managed to become a fan of the band, but I can appreciate them, and this album. Hence the 4 rating.