Full Circle by The Doors

August 9, 2010

The Doors began working on Other Voices during the summer of 1971 with the expectation that Jim Morrison would return from Paris. He didn’t. The result was an album that contained music identifiable with the Doors but with the major piece missing. The music was both good and bad and the commercial reception average.

Ray Manzarek, Robbie Krieger, and John Desmore returned to the studio during the spring of 1972 with no expectation that the deceased Morrison would ever return. The resulting album, Full Circle, was poorly received and their least commercially successful studio album.

Either the ideas had worn out or they made the conscious decision to make a Doors album unlike any others. If it was intentional at least they tried to move in a new musical direction that would have put some distance between them and the Jim Morrison era. Unfortunately the results were for the most part poor and they would break-up during 1973.

The music moves in a boogie rock direction with some jazz thrown in for good measure.

They released two singles, neither of which was successful. “The Mosquito” was an odd song. The musical breaks and tempo changes have a sort of a jazz feel. While Manzarek’s keyboards are excellent, the nasal sounding vocals detracts from the songs appeal. It would spend four weeks on the American singles charts but only reach number 85. “Get Up and Dance” is a bouncy number and was released as the second single but would fail to chart. Its claim to fame was the B side which is the rarest studio track in The Doors catalogue. “Tree Trunk” was a non-album track which has rarely been released on any compilation album.

“The Piano Bird” is really a jazz number rather than a rock song. They took “Good Rockin’” by the old rhythm & blues artist Roy Brown and move it in a rock direction. “It Slipped My Mind,” and “The Peking King and The New York Queen” are average rock songs and quite forgettable.

Full Circleremains a historical curiosity. It was a valiant, if failed, attempt to keep The Doors alive. While Manzarek, Krieger, and Desmore would reunite several times down through the years, the classic Doors died with Jim Morrison.

Article first published as on Blogcritics.org

Light My Fire 45 by The Doors

July 26, 2010

The Doors released their first single, “Break On Through,” and it only reached number 101 on the American singles charts. If you don’t succeed, try try again. “Light My Fire” was the second single and it would top the American charts for three weeks during September of 1967. It is now recognized as one of the classic songs of its era.

The single was a shortened version of the album track. Jim Morrison’s vocal, and Ray Manzarek’s organ would propel the song and their debut album to massive sales and become the group’s first step toward The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1993.

While most songs by the Doors would have writing credits attributed to the group, it would be Robbie Krieger who was mainly responsible for this song. If it had been the only song he ever wrote, his career still would have been memorable.

Today “Light My Fire” remains a radio staple and one of the cornerstones of rock ‘n’ roll.

An American Prayer by The Doors

July 25, 2010

An American Prayer by The Doors is definitely an acquired taste and for many it is a taste that is difficult to swallow. Whatever one’s feelings about the album, it does remain an interesting look into the mind and poetry of Jim Morrison.

I must admit it is an album I have not listened to for decades. If I want some Doors on my turntable, I usually turn to L.A. Woman, Morrison Hotel, or their debut. Whatever my feelings, though, American Prayer was a commercial success at the time of its release. It may have only reached number 54 on the American album charts but it did sell a million copies and receive a platinum sales award.

This was a posthumous album. Robbie Krieger, Ray Manzarek, and John Densmore reunited seven years after Jim Morrison’s death and recorded backing music to set to some of his poetry. While recognized as an official Doors studio album, it is very different from all of the band’s other releases.

The poetry is typical of Morrison. He had a way with words and was able to create images that would mesmerize. These words and images were not always clear or understandable but they have a weird depth about them.

The music tends to fit the words well. While the band revisited some psychedelic sounds from their past, they were smart enough to fit the music to the individual poems. Rock, classical, and even some smooth-jazz tones provide a nice background and add a positive effect to Morrison’s spoken words.

The only oddity is a seven-minute live version of “Roadhouse Blues.” While it does not fit in with the rest of the material, it is so good that it makes you wish for more of the same. It may have been included because of the record company’s desire for a single from the album.

An American Prayer is probably just for committed fans of The Doors. The 1995 remastered release is divided into sections and is a good deal longer. In the final analysis it occupies an interesting if nonessential place in The Doors’ catalog.

Article first published as on <a href="Article first published as on Blogcritics.org“>Blogcritics.org

Absolutely Live by The Doors

July 25, 2010

Absolutely Live was released during July of 1970 when The Doors were at the height of their creative and commercial power. The album remained the definitive document of their concert style for years. It was not until the CD era opened the flood gates of unreleased material that this album was superseded by better releases.

My only real complaint with this album is the method in which the songs were assembled or, I should say, put together. I have always preferred to hear a concert in its entirety, the good with the bad, as it presents an accurate picture of the artist live. Such is not the case here. Not only do the performances come from many different shows, but the actual songs are pieced together. Separate parts of the same song were originally spliced together in the hope of creating the perfect track. Legend has it that hundreds of song bits were used to create this double album. It all adds up to The Doors live but without a true concert feel.

The band’s choice of material was consistently excellent and interesting; it was not just a regurgitation of their greatest hits at the time. A number of rarely performed tracks made the album, which made it unique in The Doors’ catalog at the time. They also included complete versions of two of their lengthy pieces.

Their version of the old blues tune “Who Do You Love” gets the album off to a strong start. The ominous lyrics fit Morrison well plus the band was able to demonstrate their improvisational skills. Other rarely presented gems included “Love Hurts,” “Build Me A Woman,” “Dead Cats, Dead Rats,” and “Universal Mind.”

Among their well known songs to be included were “Break On Through (To The Other Side) #2″ — featuring some creative guitar work by Robbie Krieger — as well as“Five To One,” which is always welcome no matter what the format. This early live version of the latter finds The Doors at their best. A seven minute “Soul Kitchen” then brings the album to a nice conclusion.

The two long tracks probably sum up the live Doors best. “When The Music’s Over,” at sixteen minutes, and “Celebration Of The Lizard,” at fourteen-plus minutes reveal Morrison, Robbie Krieger, John Densmore, and Ray Manzarek at their most powerful. Morrison’s charisma, stage performance, and lyrics move front and center while the group expands the material into unexplored territory.

Today there are a number of other live performances by The Doors that are equal too or superior too Absolutely Live. Still it remains a nice look at the career of one of rock’s classic bands circa 1970.

Article first published as on Blogcritics.org

When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors (DVD)

July 25, 2010

From The Sundance, Berlin, Deauville, and San Sebastian Film Festivals to your living rooms;When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors.

I have always found any film or project concerning The Doors both interesting and problematic at the same time. The Doors and Jim Morrison remain shrouded in myths and legends almost forty years after their demise. Whenever someone pries into those mysteries it always ends up a little disappointing. Maybe its best to just let The Doors be and worship them from afar.

The latest entry into The Doors documentary sweepstakes was written and directed by Tom DiCillo with narration by Johnny Depp. This is a production of love for DiCillo. He considers their story the most compelling in American rock music. Sometimes, however, love does not allow a person to think and see clearly and so there are both positive and negative aspects to this film.

First the good news! The footage which is used is for the most part crystal clear and in many instances appears pristine. Whoever cleaned some of this archival material should be commended as it looks like it was shot recently. The story also makes sense and flows well while Depp’s narration is smooth and enhances its effect.

There is a lot of excellent and rare footage. The performance of “Light My Fire” on The Ed Sullivan Show, the Miami concert riot, the too short creation of “Wild Child” in the studio, and more help to create and make the story interesting. Bonus features include interviews with Admiral George Stephen Morrison and sister Anne Robin Morrison-Chewning. His father died during 2008 and this interview is all to short. He does not come across as the over bearing parent that history has portrayed him but rather appears caring and proud.

Now the not so good! The film could have made use of any number of interviews. There are still many people alive who could have added greatly to the story. There was also too much emphasis upon Morrison’s addiction problems. While part of the story, these problems are well known. There is also not enough accountability for the group’s problems. Manzarek, Krieger, and Desmore were just as responsible as Morrison and these issues should have been explored.

Sort of in the middle were clips from Morrison’s film Hwy – An American Pastoral. While they were used judiciously, it left me wanting to see the entire film.

When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors,while by no means exhaustive, is interesting in many places. It is a treat for the eye and examines their career from some odd angles. However at the end I find myself wanting more.

Article first published as on Blogcritics.org

Morrison Hotel by The Doors

July 19, 2010

“I woke up this morning and got myself a beer,” and with those lyrics, The Doors were off and running with one of the best albums of their career.

The Doors released their fifth studio album during February of 1970. Morrison Hotel and the album which followed, L. A. Woman, would be the culmination of their career.

Robbie Krieger was the primary creative force behind their last album,The Soft Parade, but now Jim Morrison stepped to the forefront again. His fusion of a blues/hard rock sound with his poetry opened a new chapter in the band’s career. The album was a critical and commercial success. Despite not containing any huge hit singles, it still reached number four on the American charts.

This is an album that just makes sense and hangs together well. I was working for my college radio station when it was released and remember many of the songs being in heavy rotation. My personal copy received a lot of play on my turn table at the time, and I still give it a spin every now and then. Forty years has not lessened the enjoyment or impact of this release.

“Roadhouse Blues” is the first track and sets the tone for the album. It is straight ahead rock ‘n’ roll. Lonnie Mack was the bassist but also played the sophisticated lead guitar runs even though he was unaccredited in the album notes. The final track, “Maggie M’Gill,” is a fine blues rocker and is a nice bookend for the album. There was also a lot of good material in between these two rocking tracks.

I don’t know why “Waiting For The Sun” was left off the prior album of the same name, but this slowing building track is excellent. “Peace Frog” with its social commentary and wah-wah guitar intro is one of the classics in the Doors’ catalogue. It also segues into “Blue Sunday,” which is a nice change of pace.

There are a number of other very good to excellent tracks. “Queen Of The Highway” was a rocking tribute to girlfriend Pamela Courson. “Indian Summer” has a simplistic beauty. “Ship Of Fools” has a wonderful soulful vocal by Morrison. “You Make Me Real” may be filler but it is superior filler.

Morrison Hotel is raunchy, energetic, and explosive. It is bar band music at its best. It remains a superior testament to one of rock’s enduring bands.

Article first published as on Blogcritics.org

The Soft Parade by The Doors

July 14, 2010

The Soft Parade was released about a year after Waiting For The Sun and it found a far different Doors. Jim Morrison was in an alcoholic daze much of the time and working on solo projects. Robbie Krieger would be the central character in the creation of this album. He added some brass and strings in places and created a more pop/rock album than their previous releases. I don’t know if it’s the weakest of their six main studio albums but it is very different.

The album was the first time individual writing credits were issued rather than the compositions being attributed to The Doors as a group. It seemed Jim Morrison was not happy with some of Krieger’s lyrics and wanted to make sure the public knew he was not involved with their creation.

Four Krieger compositions were released as singles with varying degrees of success. The biggest hit and one of the better songs in their catalogue was “Touch Me.” The sound was fuller than most of their material and Morrison’s vocal is classic. It would reach number three on the American charts. “Tell All The People” was a song Morrison disliked to the extreme. I have always liked the song but then I also like Blood, Sweat & Tears, who could have recorded it and not missed a beat. “Runnin’ Blue” was a brass laden track on which Krieger and Morrison shared the lead vocals. “Wishful Sinful” was closer to the classic Doors sound but it was the flip side of the original single that was the gem .”Who Scared You” was a rare non-album B side and an excellent song in its own right.

Jim Morrison did write a number of tracks that were very different from Krieger’s which gave the album a disjointed feel. “Wild Child” was urgent, hypnotic, sensual, and dark. “Shaman’s Blues” was threatening and stripped down as it looked ahead to the group’s future. The title track clocked in at over eight minutes. It began with Jim Morrison ranting like a possessed preacher. The line “petition the Lord with prayer” was a look into his mind. The song takes off from there with tempo changes and mood swings.

The Soft Parade was an ambitious affair in some ways. It was also uneven and for many fans of The Doors, an acquired taste. It remains an interesting part of The Doors journey.

Article first published as on Blogcritics.org

Waiting For The Sun by The Doors

July 11, 2010

The Doors returned in July of 1968 with their third studio release Waiting For The Sun. It would become their only number one album in The United States and produce their second number one single.

Their first two albums had been comprised of material primarily written before they signed their recording contract with the Elektra Records label. That material had now run out and, except for a couple of tracks, the band had composed new songs for this album.

I consider Waiting For The Sun just about the equal of their debut. It may not have the overall consistency, but the high points are more or less equal.

The first and last tracks have always been highlights for me. “Hello, I Love You” was one of their earliest compositions and how it avoided being issued on either of their first two albums is beyond me. From the opening riff to Jim Morrison’s vocal it is a superior work. It was catchy enough for massive radio airplay and, when released as a single, shot to the number one position in The United States. “Five To One” ranks among my top five Doors songs. This dark rocker anthem demands your attention. The lyrics, “no one here gets out of alive,” have become associated with Jim Morrison and can be considered prophetic after the fact. This odd tempo rocker is a song The Doors got just about perfect.

You could always count on The Doors to try some ambitious experiment. Originally Jim Morrison’s poem, “Celebration Of The Lizard,” was supposed to have been included on this album. Only one section, the musical, “Not To Touch The Earth,” made the final cut. While it was out of context, it presents the mind of Jim Morrison at its enigmatic best as his vocal floats over Manzarek’s psychedelic keyboards. “The Unknown Soldier” traveled in a different direction. It was a biting anti-war song released at the height of the Vietnam War era. It was an odd choice for a single release and proved too intense as it only reached number 39 on The American charts.

“Spanish Caravan” included some flamenco flavored guitar by Robbie Krieger, which gave it a unique flavor. “My Wild Love” featured only Morrison’s lead vocal, back-up vocals by the other band members, and some hand clapping in support. “Love Street” was an actual place in Laurel Canyon where Morrison lived with a girlfriend and contained an odd beauty.

It all added up to another memorable album by The Doors. I remember almost wearing out my original vinyl copy when it was released. It remains a very good, if somewhat disjointed, listen today.

Article first published as on Blogcritics.org

Strange Days by The Doors

July 11, 2010

The Doors debut album sold over four million copies, and its number one single “Light My Fire” received massive radio airplay during early 1967.

September of 1967 found The Doors releasing their sophomore effort, Strange Days. While the album would climb to the number three position on The American album charts, it would be far less commercially successful selling just over one million copies.

Most of the material for Strange Days was written at the same time as their debut album, but for whatever reasons were not included. Beyond that fact the music is very different in places than their norm, it was very dark and took a decidedly psychedelic turn. The album jacket, which pictures an odd assortment of people to say the least, probably gives the best hint of what is contained inside. Still, the music resonates and in places mesmerizes. It produced no huge hit single, which may have hurt its initial appeal, and was not the grand affair of its predecessor but does have an intimate appeal which gets inside your brain.

The two tracks which were released as singles were very different from one another. “People Are Strange” was dark and hypnotic with a number of tempo changes. It is a song which has grown on me over the years and now remains fascinating over four decades after its release. “Love Me Two Times” was Robbie Krieger’s attempt at a blues song. This light weight affair is almost unique within their catalogue.

There were a number of other songs that can be described as either highlights or interesting; take your pick. “Strange Days” lyrics exemplify Jim Morrison’s poetry at its darkest and best. The psychedelic keyboards give the song a haunting atmosphere. “Moonlight Drive” was one of Morrison’s earliest compositions and, despite its dreaminess in places, explores the dark side of love. “Unhappy Girl” features some nice slide guitar by Krieger, but it was Manzarek’s keyboards recorded in reverse which made the song memorable. The eleven minute, minus two seconds, closer “When The Music’s Over” pales in comparison to the ultimate brilliance of “The End,” but Krieger’s, Manzarek’s and Desmore’s jamming and Morrison’s screaming over it all has a certain appeal.

Strange Days is an acquired taste as it is just different from their other releases. In some ways it fits their legacy well as it is scary and primal. If you want to explore the music of The Doors, this is not the place to start but is an album that will need to be considered and visited.

Article first published as on Blogcritics.org

The Doors by The Doors

July 9, 2010

Dangerous, charismatic, legendary, controversial, talented, and terminally cool are just a few of the words that can be used to describe The Doors.

Singer/poet Jim Morrison, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, drummer John Desmore, and guitarist Robby Krieger came together during 1965 and, after becoming the house band at the Whiskey a Go-Go, released their self-titled debut album in early January of 1967. Four million copies sold later they were stars and Morrison had emerged as one of the dark kings of the rock world.

The Doors is one of the better debut albums in rock history. Many of the songs had been honed via hundreds of live performances. In addition to reaching number two on The American album charts and receiving wide critical acclaim, Rolling Stone Magazine would place it at number 42 on their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

I consider the A side of the original vinyl release to be just about perfect. The first track, “Break On Through,” introduced The Doors to the world. This frenetic rocker may have failed as a single, but its high energy and, at the time, controversial lyrics about getting high added up to the perfect lead track. “Soul Kitchen,” which was supposedly about a real restaurant, contained a soulful vocal over the organ and guitar of Manzarek and Krieger, who do not get enough credit for The Doors sound. “The Crystal Ship” is one of the great and often over looked songs in The Doors catalogue. Its poetry finds Jim Morrison at his sensitive best. “Twentieth Century Fox” is solid pop/rock. “Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)” was an old German opera song first published during the late twenties. This unlikely composition was transferred into an interesting and gritty rock song.

The A side’s final song was the legendary “Light My Fire.” It was released as a single in a shortened form and spent three weeks as the number one song in The United States. The seven minute plus album track contains a brilliant instrumental interlude propelled by Manzarek’s keyboards, which make it a far better and superior version than the well known hit single.

Side two may not be as consistent but does contain a couple of classics. The old Willie Dixon blues tune, “Back Door Man,” is reduced to a primal level by Morrison’s vocal. The final track in one of Jim Morrison’s grand opus’ “The End,” at over eleven and a half minutes, features a spoken middle from the play by Sophocles and is dark and hypnotic. While I now associate it with the movie Apocalypse Now because of the visuals, this original version is what The Doors were all about.

The Doors remains a stunning album yet only scratched the surface of what was to follow. It remains an essential part of American music history.

Article first published as on Blogcritics.org