Sunday, February 19, 2012
Just the other day, when discussing w/ a friend what I'd been spinning lately at home, I had to confess: I've been going through a "major Doors phase". Like, for real. When he stopped laughing, he asked me what prompted such a thing, as if "Doors phases" are the sole domain of tortured teenaged poets and dreadlocked college students. I couldn't pinpoint it... or perhaps I could and was afraid to confess the root source of my fascination: the documentary film from 2 years back, When You're Strange, narrated by alleged coolster, Johnny Depp. I had seen it over the Xmas break, and whilst the film is not much in and of itself - it rarely, if ever, goes beyond all the cliches you've heard before, contains no further information than what you could find at Wikipedia regarding the story of the band, and tends to swallow the whole myth of Jim Morrison being a tortured genius in a laughably uncritical light - it did at least prompt me to drag out a 4LP Best Of The Doors set I'd been known the spin throughout the prior decade. I bought the set in question when I was working for a certain music chain and the label (that'd be Warner) were obviously stuck w/ a mountain of what they perceived to be overstocks. The shrinkwrapped 4LP set me back a whopping $2.50. I figured it was worth a shot. As a Best Of, it's a staggeringly stupid endeavour: along w/ all the tracks band is famous for (you don't need me to list them), as well as some cool lesser-known numbers, there's a disc featuring remixes by dunces of yesteryear such as P'nau, as well as a few post-Jimbo tracks from the group when they indulged in ersatz lounge-rock w/ Morrison's vocals reciting waffle on top. But I'd skip those tracks, obviously.
Somehow, in the 6 weeks or so after having viewed When You're Strange, I have managed to accumulate all 6 "proper" studio Doors records on CD - they're cheap as hell, remastered and packaged and annotated by folks who give a shit - by the exchange of legal tender. First came Waiting For The Sun (don't ask me why I started there; I think it's because I read many years ago that one of the members of the original Destroy All Monsters rated it as one of his top 10 discs of all time), and then the flood began. It's all there: The Doors, Strange Days, Waiting For The Sun, The Soft Parade, Morrison Hotel and LA Woman. That series of LPs were released between the years 1967 - 1971, and they're nothing to laugh at.
Why do some folks I know think the Doors are laughable? Because they represent a frat-boy version of what a "wild" rock & roll band should be? Because they sold a lot of records? Because Jim Morrison was a pretentious, self-absorbed, delusional drunk w/ a penchant for bad poetry? Or is it because Ray Manzarek, the keeper of the flame, the insufferable bore whose business card probably simply reads "Ray Manzarek: ex-member of The Doors"? A combination thereof. I understand that all these points have their validity, some in degrees greater than others, though it still doesn't answer the question as to whether the band made rock & roll records you'd want to sit down and listen to in the year 2012 and receive some kind of satisfaction from the experience. For my two cents, they were absolutely one of the better American outfits of their day, up there w/ the VU, Stooges, MC5, Byrds, Seeds, 13th Floor Elevators, Mothers Of Invention, Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, Love and Creedence. Their musical evolution throughout the albums is also an interesting thing to behold: stack 'em up next to each other, play them in succession and there's something fascinating going on, as the band rarely stayed within the same musical parameters for more than one disc. The combination of the players - Jimbo's croon alternating w/ a white-boy blues howl; Manzarek's intricate keyboard work, much of it based on his classical/jazz background, and one which eschewed many obvious blues-based rock cliches; Robby Krieger's guitar work, a highly under-rated mix of surf, jazz, psychedelia, flamenco and modal/Indian scales; and drummer John Densmore's adventurous, jazzy drumming whose fills perfectly accentuated the dynamics of the songs - made an interesting whole which shouldn't be overshadowed by the most famous member of the band's antics.
Each album contains at least 2 or 3 songs you would be familiar with: their career was a fairly even spread of hits, and as said, the band's evolution, de-evolution and musical rebirth of sorts means that every single one of them has something to offer. The debut is a tough and raw garage-rock disc, seeing them still hanging onto their roots in the Love/Seeds vein, and contains songs you may want to hear (again) in this lifetime such as "Break On Through (To The Other Side)" and "The End"; the follow-up, probably my fave of the lot, sees the rawness toned down by a more experimental, studio-based sound, and features the title track (duh), "People Are Strange" and "When The Music's Over"; 1968's Waiting For The Sun is an album that some critics say sees the band standing still, and one littered w/ lesser material - that it may be, though it still has "Summer's Almost Gone and "The Unknown Soldier", as well as the perennial/ubiquitous "Hello (I Love You)"; 1969's The Soft Parade was one where they lost a percentage of their harder-edged fan base, and their harder-edged sound w/ it. Being stuck in the studio for months on end and w/ pressure from the label to deliver a pop hit, the record is bathed in strings and brass, as if it was mixed by Herb Alpert, though that doesn't mean I don't recommend it. Check out the clip above. It possesses the same level of schlock as Las Vegas-period Elvis - a rock band derockifying itself with an army of tuxedoed putzes - and in it still lies a level of sublime beauty. If Scott Walker had released that very disc in '69, you'd be talking about it, and the 8-minute title track is just fruity enough to tickle my funny bones. Morrison Hotel, from 1970, was seen as a comeback disc by many. They ditched the studio trickery in favour of a more blues-based sound, returning to their roots the way everyone was during that period (think of the hoopla praised upon The Band at that time, a band who rejected psychedelia as if it was a wrong turn in rock's evolutionary path), grounding their sound w/ the addition of bass work from Ray Neapolitan and blues/roots legend Lonnie Mack. It also contains two tracks later ably covered by LA bands I'd highly rate: "Indian Summer", recorded by Opal and released on a Chemical Imbalance giveaway 7", and "Peace Frog", covered by Saccharine Trust on 1984's Surviving You, Always. LA Woman was the unplanned swan song by the group, and one often hailed as their finest work. It's more blues-based than previous albums, contains a great cover of John Lee Hooker's "Crawling King Snake", "Riders On The Storm" and the ace title track, and for me is their equal best outing. Where would the original 4-piece had gone from here had they survived? I don't like to ponder such things. I may not like the hypothetical answer. It's a well-known fact that they tried to get Iggy to take over the frontman slot in the mid '70s when Pop was frying his brain in LA at the time, and it's probably best for everyone that it never happened.
Writing about The Doors on this blog may seem like a laughable excercise in redundancy and pointlessness, but since I now own all 6 of their albums proper (don't think for a second I'm about to tackle Full Circle and Other Voices) and have played them constantly the past month, I felt it needed to be done. Hardy underground rockers seem pissed that the Doors got all the fame and money whilst the Stooges and the Velvets - two bands intrinsically linked to the story of the band (the former being influnced by the Doors; the latter being an influence) - toiled in obscurity and poverty at the time, though the general public's stupidity and bad taste is not headline news. Strangely enough, if the history books are to be believed, the Doors were still largely seen as a "cult" band until the 1980s, the starting point of their rebirth as "classic rock" being the point at which Jim Morrison's head was placed on the front cover of Rolling Stone in 1982. It may seem hard to believe, but it's true. The fact that some group of assholes at a keg party are currently singing along to "Light My Fire" somewhere on earth at this point in time is no reason not to like them.