Revisiting “Strange Days” The Doors 2nd album
The Strange Days Of The Doors
The Doors are to this day one of the most influential rock bands that ever existed,no doubt about it, even if you don’t like their music, but their influence spreads beyond rock music and beyond music even. In this article we’ll explore The Doors second album “Strange Days” , one that for me it remains among their best studio albums and one (like their first album) that injected on the grooves the organic unique Doors sound everyone knows and recognizes.
For a lot of bands, when they get such a strong debut album that launches them into the top of the charts in a matter of a few months, specially containing a solid classic like “Light My Fire” , the follow up seems pretty much an impossible task. Their first album, self-titled “The Doors” released on Elektra label in January 1967 had a slow start at the charts, although it featured an amazing collection of songs, somehow different from what other rock bands were doing back then, with the perfect opener “Break On Through (to the other side)” that shreds through with Robby Krieger’s hard driven guitar, Ray Manzarek’s hypnotic organ, John Densmore’s jazzy fast drum beat and Jim Morrison’s mild to wild vocals, it lead listeners on a journey across crystal ships, soul kitchens, Nazi Germany cabarets, fire and funeral pyres, bright midnight, rape and family slaughter. Unusual and dark, specially coming from a sunny California band, but the upbeat jazzy “Light My Fire” cut in half as a single during the Summer Of Love brought The Doors to a country wide attention followed up by global moderated success in 1967. Was time for Elektra to cash in their investment with a second album that was expected to contain the next number 1 for The Doors. The band started recording their second album in May 1967 on Sunset Sound studios, Hollywood, before their first one even hitting the charts. There was plenty of material to start a second album though, which that, on it’s own is impressive, given the fact that hadn’t even been two years since they had formed in the Summer of 65. The sessions ran from May to August 1967 in-between tour breaks. By September it was ready for release. Most of the songs had been already part of the band’s live set since they were playing small clubs, some were even left overs/rejects from their debut album, such as “Moonlight Drive” that became one of The Doors most recognizable and popular songs. The song was to be included on their first album, however, producer Paul A. Rothschild and the band were not satisfied with the way it sounded, and end up cutting it off. The two surviving outtakes of the song from those sessions were officially released during the band’s 40th anniversary remastered releases. It was also according the band, the first song where they tried Krieger’s snake/slide guitar signature sound that was featured in most of The Doors songs, in big part because of Jim Morrison who loved the slide guitar sound so much that wanted it featured in every Doors song. The opening track and the song that gives name to the album, “Strange Days” also goes back to the band’s club days, and was part of the band’s live set before they signed for Elektra. The only existing live version of the song is actually the one that can be heard on the 2016 release of “London Fog”, the oldest live recording of the band to emerge to this date. It was recorded on Sunset Boulevard’s club London Fog where The Doors were a resident band from 1965/1966. When the band played The Matrix in San Francisco, in early 1967, in an extensive and diverse set (that would later become unusual for the band), they included most of the songs that would appear on the album, including the seldom played ones, such as “Unhappy Girl” or “I Can’t See Your Face In My Mind”. This was around the time the recording sessions were taking place, and maybe could be a way of the band practicing some of their new songs, a technique they already had used for the first album, live rehearsals. That could explained why a lot of the songs from “Strange Days” were cut out from their live sets most of the time.
The tracks: Side A
During the recording sessions, the band got serious upgrade on studio resources, starting by using the (back then) cutting edge 8-track recording machine. They were also offered the chance of using a Moog Synthesizer, which by itself turned this album into an historical landmark in modern rock music. Moog Synthesizers were a novelty and not common to be used by rock bands at the time. The Doors were pioneers on the use of that instrument in a rock album. It can be better heard on the title track “Strange Days”, but also discretely on a song like “I Can’t See Your Face In My Mind”. And did it sound good. Indeed it did, and pushed The Doors sound into an even more unique direction than their debut. The haunting synthesizer and organ intro of “Strange Days” cut by the bass guitar chords of the session musician Douglas Lubahan that already have worked with the band on their first album and the Densmore’s discrete drum beat becomes the start of a short but dark, psychedelic and confuse journey into the psyche. Morrison sings about how “Strange Days Have Found Us, Have Tracked Us Down”. A significant meaning, it was after all during this period that the beginning of his descent into wild excess as a rock demon or a rock electrical poet fascinate by the abyss would start. The chorus features no words, nothing but a yell and then all the instruments frenetically finding each other in a frenzy, almost an apocalyptic carnival madness. The second track, “You’re Lost Little Girl”, a soft gentle melody, with a very characteristic Californian mood into it, maybe because of Krieger’s sometimes slide guitar being the main instrument and not the organ as in the opening track, was also a song that was seldom played live, however, the few recordings of it show that this could had been a great Doors track to play live. The third track was “Love Me Two Times” that became the band’s 4th single. Again, the track shifted in musical direction and style from the two initial tracks. This was a Krieger’s composition, which means that was meant to be a hit (was Krieger who wrote the music and the first verse of “Light My Fire”) . With an upbeat standard blues guitar riff intro, the song’s lyrics were considered somehow “risque” for it to be aired on the radio, due to the oral sex references “Love Me One Time Yeah My Knees Got Weak”, but was still considered to be one of the few songs from the album that had the capacity to be released as a single, cause it was “catchy”. It became part of The Doors live set specially during the 1968/1969 concerts. It was one of the few songs that The Doors were able to finish during the infamous Miami 69 concert, all though with the lyrics mumbled and in an obnoxious drunk vocals. “Unhappy Girl” was the next track, started with Manzarek’s carnivalesque organ, a Morrison song, that seemed by now, that could only find comfort in writing about more gloomy subjects, contrary to Krieger. The live version that can be found on The Matrix live recordings features a more extensive and virtuoso organ intro by Manzarek that one can only imagine how it would sound in studio in clear crystal sound. Before the last song that ends Side A, the band decided to include a track of spoken word by Morrison, the poem “Horses Latitudes” that he wrote about an illustration he saw as child of horses being thrown out of ships in the sea. This was the most experimental track on the album and overall one of the most experimental Doors tracks. There was haunting sound effects, Morrison’s loud scary baritone voice speaking “When The Still Sea Conspires An Armour…”, there was noise, backward tapes, piano strings being played and even a bottle of Coca-Cola threw in a metal trash bin to make it sound like a wipe. The haunting lamenting voices that can be heard in the background were allegedly from, among others, members of The Jefferson Airplane, the San Francisco band that later would tour Europe with The Doors. The band included often in their live sets this track, or the poem, in between the track that followed, “Moonlight Drive”. After the unsuccessful attempts to include this song on their 1st album due to dissatisfaction with the end results as stated earlier in this article, they finally were able to find the perfect version that fit in “Strange Days”. Abandoning the electrical organ intro of the song, Manzarek opted by a simple piano intro which result perfectly and blended with Krieger’s guitar. Among The Doors fans, is nothing new that this was the lyrics that brought to Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek the thought of forming a band, after Morrison sang the lyrics to him in Venice Beach back in 1965. Morrison never knew how to play an instrument or write music in paper, however, he would compose it inside his head and mumbling it to his band members that would transfer it to the instruments.”Moonlight Drive” was one of those cases. The guitar solo can be probably recognized as one of the best Doors guitar solos.
The tracks: Side B
The Side B, all Morrison compositions, opens with one of all time Doors classics “People Are Strange”, a simple, yet, well crafted song that speaks about alienation and isolation, musically influenced by cabaret and carnival music.This was the first single from the album, and remains to this day one of their most recognized songs. Unfortunately was never explored properly on their live concerts, the most it was played was during some concerts of their 1967 American tour, can be heard live in best quality on the Matrix, San Francisco Sets of early 67; there is also a TV live performance of it on their infamous “Ed Sullivan Show” appearance in September 1967. The album follows with “My Eyes Have Seen You”, another song that was one of their earliest, for which they used as a demo in 1965. The version on “Strange Days” is better produced, slower contrary to the demo version, faster and messier. “My Eyes Have Seen You Let Me Photograph Your Soul” is a typical Morrison line, influenced by some of his favorite themes like TV and Cinema, he sings “Television Skies”. Again this is another song that only was played live mostly during the 1967 shows, prior to the album release. “I Can’t See Your Face In My Mind” is a dark somber love song in slow tempo and though not credited as one of the tracks that they used the Moog Synth on, if you listen closely there are some background notes, specially loop ones that seemed to feature it, but there’s no official note on it, you need to use your ears.
The record ends with “When The Music’s Over”, one of The Doors masterpieces, side by side with “The End” from the first album, this track, that runs through a length of 10:58 talks about many diverse subjects, as for example how music can make you change the world “We Want The World And We Want It Now”, it speaks about chaos, dreams,death “The Scream Of The Butterfly”, and even ecology “What Have They Done To The Earth? What Have They Done To Our Fair Sister”, it is often referred as the first rock song featuring an ecological conscience. The song starts with Manzarek signature organ and explodes with Densmore’s drums, a Krieger heavy distorted guitar with feedback (not often used by The Doors), the song is divided in 3 parts, musically and lyrically. The first part, a soft gentle organ, drums and guitar verse, repeated twice, then the chorus with a pounding drum and stressing the fact that “music is your only friend until the end”, it ends with a muffled “Fuck Her In The Ass” yell,.Anal sex, another one of Morrison’s favorite references,in songs (“Back Door Man”) The second part of the song is hypnotic and bass based only with some guitar and drum weeps, this is a great example of Densmore’s unique drumming technique. The third part, starts with the famous already mentioned a Capella line “We Want The World And We Want It Now. Now”” and opens the door to an explosion of a distorted guitar solo by Krieger, yelled Morrison vocals that scream about “Persian Nights” and “Jesus Salvation”, Densmore lose drums and Manzarek’s carnival haunting organ. Then, in feedback noise, it goes back to the beginning, where it ends. Just like “The End”, that was a long length track and finishes the first album, “When The Music’s Over” followed the same trend, that would be repeated again in 1969 with “The Soft Parade”, and became a staple on The Doors shows until the very end,often opening their shows and played in a jam fashion, altered with different lyrics or keys. Sometimes would run for over 20 minutes in later shows. Some of the most famous live versions are the ones featured in “Live At The Bowl 68” during one of their Hollywood Bowl performances in June 1968, or the one featured at the 1970 “Absolutely Live” album, recorded live in New York.
Production and Release Notes
The album was mixed both in Mono and Stereo. The Doors were always a band that aimed more to the FM radio playing than AM (like The Beatles for example that always favored the Mono mixes) , so in The Doors case, the Stereo mixes normally were the best ones to listen to as it was the ones Rothschild would put more thought into it, supposedly. They only did three albums in Mono, the first three ones, being the last “Waiting For The Sun” in 1968. This was around a time where mono mixes were being dropped to favor the FM Radio airplay and new home audio technology. The album saw a re-release in mono in recent years though. The stereo vinyl re-releases are immense through the years. Having listened to a few of the different releases I would recommend the original U.S stereo version from 1967, a 1976 U.S release on Elektra’s butterfly label and the more recent Rhino re-issues, being mono or stereo (stereo’s easier/cheaper for you to find). On CD get the Rhino pressings or the 40th Anniversary special releases that also features some bonus tracks and are remastered.
The Art Work
The artwork of the album reflected the band’s state of mind back then. The initial idea was to feature a picture of several dogs inside a room, a Morrison idea that was rejected. He explained that his concept was because God spelled backwards is Dog. Because the band didn’t wanted to be featured on the cover, it was decided for Joel Brodsky, that shot many of The Doors early professional photos such as the first album publicity and cover photos or the famous “Young Lion” sessions of the iconic bare chest Jim Morrison, to photograph several different circus characters in a New York alley, Sniffen Court in Manhattan to be more precise and featured a strong man, a juggler, a gypsy woman, an acrobat and a dwarf. There is a reference to the band and name of the album that was demanded by Elektra. The reference is a small advertisement poster on the brick walls of the alley from their first album, with a “Strange Days” paste over strip on it. Because this reference was so discreet, some record stores decided to put a sticker on the front of the cover with the name of the band and the album so buyers would identify it faster. This album art became a classic and also one of the best recognizable album covers of all time. Special note for one of the circus models on the cover, the dwarf, was the actor Michu Meszaros which later became one of the men inside “ALF” on the famous 80’s TV Series.
“Strange Days” is one of The Doors best studio works, it features their signature sound in every track, distances itself from the bluesy sound that was the base for “Morrison Hotel” and “L.A Woman” (except on “Love Me Two Times”) , wanders into a psychedelic/acid rock domain, and it is more of a “dream” journey than the first album, but the two together makes the perfect introduction to The Doors. In a year that saw some of the best rock albums releases ever such as their debut album “The Doors”, Jefferson Airplane’s “Surrealistic Pillow”, Jimi Hendrix Experience “Are You Experienced”, “The Velvet Underground and Nico”, The Who’s “Sell Out”, of course The Beatles “Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” among countless others, “Strange Days” fits perfectly in it as, most of them, didn’t faced the terrible burden of ageing. That’s part of The Doors fascination and magic. The Doors never really did an album thinking of the sales,they always remained faithful to their art, their uniqueness, never went after musical trends of their day. Their fan base grew immensely after the band was over, partially because of the Morrison icon, but surely that would not mean a thing if the music was not good and timeless. When music is timeless, it’s forever. You can turn off the lights to hear this album (as suggest by the band itself) , but the music on it, will never be over, and the light (even if dark) will never go out.
“Strange Days” (The Doors)
“You’re Lost Little Girl” (The Doors)
“Love Me Two Times” (The Doors)
“Unhappy Girl” (The Doors)
“Horses Latitudes” (The Doors)
“Moonlight Drive” (The Doors)
“People Are Strange” (The Doors)
“My Eyes Have Seen You” (The Doors)
“I Can’t See Your Face In My Mind” (The Doors)
“When The Music’s Over” (The Doors)
Jim Morrison: Vocals, Percussion, Moog synthesizer
Ray Manzarek: Vox Continental Organ, Fender Rhodes Piano Bass, Tack Piano, Harpsichord, Backwards Piano, Marimba, Backing Vocals
Robby Krieger: Guitar, Backing vocals
John Densmore: Drums, Backing vocals
Douglas Lubahn: Bass Guitar tracks 1–3, 6–9
Jefferson Airplane members (not credited): Backing Vocals Track 5
Recorded during: May-August 1967 Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, CA
Produced by: Paul A. Rothschild
Release Date: September 25, 1967
“People Are Strange/Unhappy Girl” Released: September 1967
“Love Me Two Times/Moonlight Drive” Released: November 1967
“Strange Days”, “Love Me Two Times”, “Unhappy Girl”, “Moonlight Drive”, “People Are Strange”, “When The Music’s Over”
Watch the music video for “Strange Days” by The Doors, where the album cover and concept comes to life
Listen to “Strange Days” on Spotify:
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