The flawless and timeless debut album of The Doors

“The Doors” was released on January 4th, 1967 and remains a timeless and fresh Rock album

The flawless and timeless debut album of The Doors

One of the greatest debut albums of all time, the self-titled “The Doors” was released on January 4th, 1967 after a very short recording session with a then young band fresh out of playing the Sunset Strip club circuit for little over a year. With the production secured by the respectable Paul A. Rothchild and supervised by the Elektra’s head Jac Holtzman, this is The Doors album that features more covers and in this case, it means only two; the only other studio album where they included a cover was curiously their last one with Morrison. This is significant when putting that period of Rock music history in perspective, it was a time where young bands barely had any original material, even less common was to have enough original material to fill several albums which was The Doors case, most of the younger bands would opt to record an album filled with covers, but for The Doors, putting on songs from other artists was not something they did out of necessity. The covers they’ve put in the album were no ordinary or common ones, they “dared” to cover a 1920’s German cabaret/opera song by by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill , “Alabama Song”, and their rendition was so astonishing that to this day a lot of people still think of it as a Doors original. The other cover was “Back Door Man” originally by the Blues artist Willie Dixon, being a band that were heavily influenced by the blues but at the same time with multiple musical influences on each member, the song also went through an enormous transformation under their rendition of it and became one of their live staples. “The Doors” it’s a flawless album, it opens with one of the best Rock songs of all time “Break On Through (to the other side), a proto-punk song, fast drums, crunchy guitar and yelled vocals. This was the choice for their first single, however, it ended up being only a local hit in the Los Angeles area. “Soul Kitchen” it’s a highly crafted song for a young band, it has indeed lots of soul put into it, lyrically and musically, “The Crystal Ship”, a semi-psychedelic ballad about alienation and lost love also became one of The Doors favorite songs among the fans, “Twentieth Century Fox” it’s a little bit more closer to the Californian Rock sound of the era, but that doesn’t makes it a weak song, then “Alabama Song”, the unexpected cover of the 1920’s German cabaret/opera song. “Light My Fire” closes the Side 1 of the record and it’s one of its finest moments, perhaps the first real Rock fusion song, including such diverse styles as Jazz, Rock, Bossa Nova and even Classical Bach style music. This song it’s the reflection of The Doors coming together as musicians from different backgrounds and different influences, something that wouldn’t necessary work with some bands, but with The Doors, it helped creating their unique sound that no other band came close to sound like since then. “Light My Fire” it’s for most of the people The Doors signature song, it was their first No.1 and projected their music into the mainstream. The song was originally composed by Robby Krieger and the lyrics wrote both by Krieger and Morrison, but during the development of the song all members contributed in particular to the final result, Manzarek created the Bach inspired organ intro, Densmore the groovy, lose Jazz and latin beats, Krieger the Psychedelic Bluesy and Jazzy guitar and Morrison the wild Rock vocals. The song runs for almost 7 minutes and was not initially thought to be released as a single, but after several radio stations started to receive requests to play it, which due to radio time had often to be cut, Elektra decided to cut it down to 3 minutes in order to be fit in a single that could be air-played. Though it breaks the identity of the song in half, it worked as a commercial success giving them their first No.1. The Side 2 of the album opens with the Willie Dixon cover of “Back Door Man”, which again The Doors transformed into something more than just blues, and when played live had a harder Rock kick to it. “I Looked At You”, just like “Twentieth Century Fox” it’s a Rock song that is closer to the Californian Rock sound of the era, in a way Psychedelic Rock blends into Surf Guitar Rock. “End Of The Night”, one of the eeriest songs in the album it’s classic Doors. It’s deep, dark, moody and mysterious, this is one of the songs that defines the band’s sound. “Take It As It Comes”, often forgotten, it’s personally for me one of the best Doors songs. Lyrically flawless, basic chord structure, however, catchy and unique, it’s one of the songs that The Doors left out of their live sets and there isn’t any live version known of it, but undoubtedly, the few lucky ones that were able to catch the band during their Sunset Strip days got a real treat by witnessing them performing this song; The Doors practiced and rehearsed all their songs mostly live during their period as a club band, that is one of the reasons why this debut album has the live kick so present. Finally, closing the album, The Doors most controversial song, “The End”, a song so different and daring from everything else that was done at the time, at least on the U.S West Coast. Initially thought to be a simple love song, it developed into a long 11 minute carnival of sound and poetry. The theme of the song was, like in a lot of their songs, death, sin and goodbye. Inspired by the Greek tragedies, halfway during the song Morrison describes a night where a boy kills his brother and sister, goes to his parents bedroom, kills his father and then rapes his mother. It was too much to be put on record back in the day, only a label like Elektra who fell in love with The Doors since the first moment Jac Holtzman caught them playing live at the Whiskey , could allow that. It’s unthinkable that labels like RCA or CBS could allow a band to put on their debut album something like this. When The Doors performed this song live at the Whiskey for the first time, Morrison improvised the lyrics with the now famous poem that describes the killer’s steps, and that enraged the famous club owner, but it attracted followers and fans to the band, eventually leading Jac Holtzman to sign them, despite their eerie sound and attitude, Holtzman was a music visionary who wasn’t afraid to bet on a band like The Doors. But despite all that, parts of Jim Morrison’s vocals were cut down or lowered down from the final mix as it was too offensive to be heard, such as his “fuck fuck” ramble, only decades later the original mix with Morrison’s clear vocals was officially released; but when played live, Morrison was not shy to yell the words loud and clear as he did in 1968 on famous Hollywood Bowl concert. The Doors were always an unusual band, for them, this was good, they broke down musical barriers just like The Velvet Underground with their debut album, the main difference between both bands are perhaps the different background and philosophy, and the Velvet’s didn’t had a “Light My Fire” to project their music into the mainstream like The Doors had. They can be fairly considered the first non-commercial or underground band to achieve mainstream success. This first album it’s the perfect introduction for their music, it’s some of their very best as musicians and songwriters.

Side 1
1 “Break On Through (To the Other Side)”
2 “Soul Kitchen”
3 “The Crystal Ship”
4 “Twentieth Century Fox”
5 “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)” (writers: Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill)
6 “Light My Fire”

Side 2
7 “Back Door Man” (writer: Willie Dixon)
8 “I Looked at You”
9 “End of the Night”
10 “Take It as It Comes”
11 “The End”

All tracks written by the Doors (Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, and John Densmore), except where noted

Personnel:
Jim Morrison: lead vocals
Ray Manzarek: Vox Continental organ, piano on “The Crystal Ship”, “Back Door Man” and “End of The Night”, keyboard bass, marxophone on “Alabama Song”, backing vocals on “Alabama Song”
Robby Krieger: lead guitar, bass guitar on “Soul Kitchen” and “Back Door Man”, backing vocals on “Alabama Song”
John Densmore: drums, percussion, backing vocals on “Alabama Song”
Larry Knechtel (uncredited): bass guitar on “Twentieth Century Fox”, “Light My Fire”, “I Looked At You”, and “Take It as It Comes”

Produced by: Paul A. Rothchild
Recorded during: August 19–24, 1966 at Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, California
Released: January 4th, 1967
Label: Elektra

Singles:
“Break On Through (To the Other Side)” Released: January 1967
“Light My Fire” Released: April 1967

Strongest tracks:
“Break On Through (To the Other Side)”, “Soul Kitchen”, “The Crystal Ship”, “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)”, “Light My Fire”, “Back Door Man”, “End of the Night”, “Take It as It Comes”, “The End”

Watch The Doors 1966 promo clip for “Break On Through (To the Other Side)”

Listen to “The Doors (50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)” on Spotify

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David Warren

David Warren

David Warren is co-founder, editor and author for Pop Expresso

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