Photo by Henry Diltz
These six Doors albums are all Rock classics featuring great music
The Doors Studio Albums With Jim Morrison Rated And Reviewed
The Doors career as a band with Jim Morrison was short, only six years, but those years were enormously creative and productive for them. The band always have been known as one of Rock’s most distinctive and different one due to their unique sound that blends musical styles so diversified such as Blues, Jazz, Latin, Psychedelic, Rock and Classical Music, they have gained new fans and followers over the years, and are still one of the most influential Rock bands today. The Doors never intended to be different from their contemporaries but they were, and together created timeless music that hasn’t aged or fade with the years.
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“The Soft Parade”, 1969
Might seems like a cliché to list “The Soft Parade” as the weakest of all the six Doors studio albums with Jim Morrison, but it’s a necessary evil. The Doors 4th album, released on the aftermath of the Miami concert incident, was overall hated and smashed by the critic back in 1969 when it was first put out, and today, it’s still considered by the majority of the fans and Rock historians as their weakest. But how weak it’s “The Soft Parade”? Is it really a weak album or it just suffered from the enormous lack of promotion back in 1969 and the bad publicity about The Doors reputation that made it unable for the band to promote it? It might be a a bit of both. This was the first Doors album where the band decided to separate the songwriting credits, something that had never happened on their first three albums. Jim Morrison was the one who insisted the most for this to be done, mainly because he didn’t identified with the songs that had been written by Robby Krieger to the album, and because of that he disliked the idea of people associating him to some the lyrics or songs on the album. One example was the song “Tell All The People”, that contains the lines: “Follow me down / Can’t you see me growing, get your guns / The time has come /To follow me down”, with the increasing controversy and public hysteria about the band and him in particular, Morrison, who was an anti guns person, thought would be dangerous for some people to think he was inciting them to follow him and get guns given the current times they were living. It’s curious to notice that the majority of the strongest songs included in “The Soft Parade” are exactly the ones that Morrison wrote or co-wrote, such as “The Soft Parade”, “Wild Child”, “Easy Ride” and “Shaman’s Blues”, curiously, with the exception of “Do It” co written with Krieger, these four mentioned songs, all written by Morrison alone are the ones in the album where only the band are featured as musicians, and this leads to another one of the possible reasons for “The Soft Parade” failure. After several Rock bands started to experiment with orchestration, such as The Beatles, The Doors decided to give it a try and slightly abandoned their classic distinct sound in favor of orchestration on all the Krieger songs, Despite the fact that “Touch Me” was the biggest hit that came out of the album, and was indeed a song where the orchestration parts fitted well, most of the tracks that follow that line aren’t compatible with it and would had stayed better off without it, again, curiously enough, a song that was recorded during the album sessions but was not included on the final track-list, instead it was released as a stand alone single, “Who Scared You?”, written by Morrison , it’s the best one coming out from “The Soft Parade” sessions featuring the use of orchestration, in this case, it does helps the song reaching a “more than just Rock” feeling to it, reminiscent of Jazz and R&B and makes it more “grand”. The Doors only had one chance to promote this album on TV, it was on the PBS channel where they were invited by journalist and Rock critic Richard Goldstein to talk about the album, their music and perform some of their new songs. In that special the band performed “Tell All The People” and “Wishful Sinful” with their instruments only, and the difference can be heard, it’s more organic and that’s the way it should maybe been recorded in the album. Needless to say that for their next album, the band dropped the orchestration formula and never got back to it. The Doors are one of those bands that have very little low moments in their albums, “The Soft Parade” it’s not weak album, it’s the weakest, yes, but it’s still a solid record with again an outstanding Paul A. Rothchild production and filled with great music and moments, such as the title track “The Soft Parade”, one of The Doors finest.
“Waiting For The Sun”, 1968
A somehow troubled album to record and to complete, “Waiting For The Sun” caught The Doors for the first time as a successful band that already had No.1 singles on the charts and a following growing bigger around the world. Also for the first time The Doors try to do a hit single, all their hits on the previous first two albums weren’t thought, and now they wanted to do something that could project their music even further. With Jim Morrison’s erratic behavior and lack of interest in showing to the recording sessions or showing up under the influence, “Waiting For The Sun” took longer than it was supposed to complete; as one example, “The Unknown Soldier” went through over a 100 takes to be finished, most of the times due to Morrison passing out while doing it. The original concept for the album was to have one side entirely dedicated to Jim Morrison’s poem “The Celebration Of The Lizard”, where for the first time he presents his alter-ego “The Lizard King”, this was something the band had started to play live and it worked perfectly, but on studio, after several takes, unsatisfied with the results, they decided to shelve it and press the lyrical poem on the album sleeve alone, only one part of the “Celebration” was included in the album, titled as “Not To Touch The Earth”, one of The Doors darkest and more eerie songs. Only during the 2000’s the studio out-takes from the complete “The Celebration Of The Lizard” were finally released to the public. With “Celebration” out, the band focused on doing a normal length album. The Doors still had a lot of material from their days as a club band on the Sunset Strip and even before, from their first demos. They re-worked two of those of those songs, “Summer’s Almost Gone” and “Hello, I Love You” which was the album’s opener. The song came to be The Doors first big hit outside the U.S, and they finally were able to establish themselves securely as one of the biggest Rock bands in the world. But “Hello, I Love You” it’s not the strongest song in the album, “Waiting For The Sun” blends together some of The Doors finest with some of The Doors weakest or less good songs, along with some stunning songs such as “The Unknown Soldier”, “Five To One”, “Not To Touch The Earth” and “Spanish Caravan”, there are songs like “We Could Be So Good Together”, “Wintertime Love” or “My Wild Love”, which are OK songs, but not at the level of what a band like The Doors was able to do; the most flagrant aspect of it it’s the lack of cohesion between the tracks unlike it happened on their previous albums. “Waiting For The Sun” might had be one of The Doors most commercially successful albums around the world, but it’s also the proof that something was not well within the band.
“Morrison Hotel”, 1970
After the sales flop of “The Soft Parade” and the boycott to their music by the mainstream audiences due to the 1969 Miami incident, The Doors abandon all the failed orchestration formula that they’ve tried on their previous album and presents “Morrison Hotel”, a solid, bluesy, hard and rocking album with a mature and unpretentious songwriting, a sort of comeback of The Doors reputation as one of the best Rock bands in the world and the opening of a door to a new era: the 1970’s. The album, which is the first where Robby Krieger guitar gets more prominent and heavier, features the anthem and concert staple “Roadhouse Blues”, the opening track, Blues Rock at it’s best, everything’s there, an intro with a bluesy catchy guitar riff, harmonicas, Morrison’s vocals tuned and matured, one of The Doors best guitar solos and epic lyrics. This was not the song the band thought would be the big hit coming out of the album, but it was this song that made the critics love The Doors again and to this day one of Rock music biggest classics. The whole album it’s cohesive, there is an obvious care about the songs featured on it, the order of it, the proof that The Doors didn’t needed an orchestra to do very good music. The album consists mainly in songs written by Jim Morrison, undoubtedly a great songwriter, and that is reflected on the appropriately titled “Morrison Hotel”. “Waiting For The Sun”, a song that possibly would fit better due to it’s title on their previous album, it’s one of the greatest ones present on it. The blend between Hard Rock and the band’s classic dark/moody/mysterious music vibe it’s superb. “You Make Me Real”, the band’s bet for the first single of the album, it’s a great moment too, when performed live, specially during the 1969-70 concerts sounds powerful, sounds fat and solid, it’s Rock music, without any pretensions. “Peace Frog” lyrically one of the best songs in the album starts with a catchy funky guitar rif that is present throughout the song, except during a part where Jim Morrison invokes his childhood story of how a dead native American possessed his body when he was five. “Peace Frog” lyrics are perhaps some of the most biographical that Morrison ever wrote, when he touches subjects like the one about the mentioned childhood episode and when he sings “Blood In The Streets Of New Haven” with an audible spray sound effect, which alludes to his on stage arrest in New Haven back in 1967 after being maced by the police. “Blue Sunday” it’s a love song, fresh and with the classic Doors vibe. “Ship Of Fools” and “Land Ho!” are solid songs that link well together but not the strongest in the album, although the “Land Ho!” dark interlude marks the difference. “The Spy” it’s one of the best songs from the band, a soft jazzy song inspired on the Anaïs Nin book “A Spy In The House Of Love”, the Morrison discreet literary reference that was a rule to have in all of the band’s albums. “Queen Of The Highway”, curiously one of the most forgotten songs in the album it’s also one of the best, lyrically flawless, transports the listener to one of those desert highways that Morrison loved so much. “Indian Summer”, a gentle song, that was one of the first to be recorded by the band when they were formed makes it’s way in “Morrison Hotel” played exotically in Indian style, it could had been easily a song composed by George Harrison. The album closes with “”Maggie M’Gill” the bluesiest of the whole songs in the album, another song that is often forgotten despite being one of the best the band did. In “Morrison Hotel” The Doors return to be an unity that musically communicate with each other, something they had somehow lost during the previous two albums, it may not be the best introduction to The Doors music, but it’s definitely some of their best music and a timeless Rock classic
The Doors second album “Strange Days” is the most Psychedelic of all, recorded in early 1967 before the band even had the No.1 hit with “Light My Fire”, this album it’s a full on classic. For the first time the band was able to experiment with studio technology and explore it, when they recorded their first album just some months earlier they had no studio experience and the recording sessions were fast and closer to a live performance. Most of the songs present in “Strange Days” were composed or started during the little over a year period that they played on the Sunset Strip club circuit, the amount of original songs they gathered during that year was impressive for such a young band; the songs were extensively re-worked on the studio, some tracks, such as “Moonlight Drive” were thought to be included on their debut album but left out, on “Strange Days” the song was re-worked and re-recorded becoming one of The Doors greatest hits and most recognizable songs. The album opener it’s the Psychedelic/Edgy “Strange Days”, a Morrison song, with haunting lyrics and haunting ambiance, for this song, the band used for the first time a Synthesizer, something unusual back then for Rock bands, making them pioneers on it’s use. Morrison, who never really cared on how to learn to play or master an instrument, did played the Moog Synthesizer for “Strange Days” and achieve a brilliant effect that defines the whole song and pretty much the whole album ambiance. “You’re Lost Little Girl” it’s a smooth, soft guitar based ballad with dark lyrics followed by another big Doors hit, the Krieger song “Love Me Two Times”, Psychedelic Blues Rock with risqué lyrics and strong Morrison vocals who sounds so much mature than he actually was back then. “Unhappy Girl” it’s a Psychedelic song, with a carnivalesque organ intro by Ray Manzarek, one of The Doors classic sound features. The album continues with a short track that is not really a song but the first inclusion of a spoken word poem by Morrison on an album, in “Horses Latitudes” Morrison’s voice increasingly goes louder and frenetic while backed by eerie sound effects, piano strings, backward tapes, a choir of lamenting voices (that are actually the Jefferson Airplane uncredited) and even a bottle of Coke being dropped into a metal trash bin to make it sound like a whip, this experimental cut gives way to the pleasant “Moonlight Drive”. The opener for the Side 2 of “Strange Days” it’s another brilliant song, the great “People Are Strange”, an enduring Doors song written by Morrison that speaks about alienation, while musically, Ray Manzarek’s organ and electric piano reminisces about old time European cabaret songs. “My Eyes Have Seen You” was one of songs included on the band’s first demo that was rejected by several labels, it makes it’s way to the album totally re-worked but keeping the same lyrical content, a fast groove and beat Rock song, “Can’t See Your Face In My Mind” it’s a Psychedelic dark ballad/love song focused on unusual love subjects, and the album closes with “When The Music’s Over”, the finest moment of the album, due to it’s length was never released as a single, but was played live often in almost every Doors concert with lots of improvisation. This is classic Doors at their very best, at every level, lyrically and musically, a song where you can hear John Densmore’s unique drumming technique, Krieger’s snaky, crunchy and sometimes heavy guitar, Ray Manzarek’s mysterious organ ambiance and Jim Morrison’s superb lyricism, all blend together in an hypnotic groove present throughout most of the song. “Strange Days” was The Doors attempt to do a Psychedelic album, the trend back in the day, however, despite achieving it, the way they did it was very different from what the other West Coast bands such as the Jefferson Airplane were doing as The Doors were never a band that followed trends. They already had their signature sound developed and “Strange Days” ends up being the most experimental of all their albums. This is one of the best introductions to their music and an essential album for any Rock fan.
The last album that The Doors did with Jim Morrison closes the circle with a golden key. What their producer Paul A. Rothchild perceived as a burned out band that had ran out of ideas and creativity, end up being something very different, quite the opposite. Perhaps there was some motivation from the fact that Rothchild abandoned the production of the record leaving The Doors for the first time with the hard choice of choosing a producer, but what is certain it’s the fact that “L.A Woman” it’s the pinnacle of the band’s maturity as musicians and songwriters. There was several differences during the recording process of “L.A Woman” regarding all their other studio albums, the production was secured by the band themselves and by the engineer Bruce Botnick who had worked in all their albums, it was not recorded on a studio, instead the band decided to record it on what they called “The Doors Office” which was their headquarters, setting up recording equipment all over the place and the fact that it was uncertain that Jim Morrison would remain a member of the band. This was The Doors last required album on their Elektra contract, after it was done their commitment with the label was over and Morrison wanted to abandon the music business and dedicate himself to writing, at the same time, there was the Miami trial dark cloud hanging over the band, which meant that even if Morrison didn’t left the band, he could end up in jail for a long time. What Rothchild called “cocktail lounge music” turned out to be some of The Doors finest. As in their previous album “Morrison Hotel”, the band again shows a greater sense of unity and cohesion, and together developed the songs “L.A Woman”, “Riders On The Storm” and “Love Her Madly” among others. Just like their first album, when they were fresh out of being a club band and it was recorded in a live fashion, the circle closes with the same formula or in the same way, only this time the band knew they wanted it to be a more organic album and to sound live instead of being entirely studio created, and one of the reasons was also because a lot of the songs in the album relied heavily on Blues, such as the John Lee Hooker cover of “Crawling King Snake”. Other songs such as “Been Down So Long” and “The Cars Hiss By My Window” are also pure Blues songs with very little Rock infusion into it. But there’s a bigger Pop approach on songs such as “Love Her Madly” or “Hyacinth House”, the funky and different “The Changeling” and the Rock only moments of “L’America” and “The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)”. Two great songs stand out from the album though, “L.A Woman”, the ode to L.A and to it’s darker corners where Morrison takes inspiration from the John Rechy’s gay novel “City Of Night”, the Los Angeles-based portion of the book relies heavily on characters who are drag queens and transgender who are refereed to as “Lost Angels”, a line Morrison uses throughout the song. And then, the darkest song in the album, the final touch of The Doors mysterious sound closing the circle: “Riders On The Storm”, a Morrison song based on a screenplay he wrote while in film school called “The Hitchhiker”, a story about a young serial killer who murders people while hitchhiking across the country. In 1969 Morrison started his film project “HWY” based on the same subject with him playing a wanderer killer in the California desert, “Riders On The Storm” catches back the subject in perfect musical mood. With a rain storm effect that was added in the post production of the album, “Riders On The Storm” remains the most memorable cut from it. “L.A Woman” it’s as mentioned before, The Doors maturity as musicians and songwriters at it’s pinnacle. After the album was recorded Morrison took off to Paris and never returned, however he gave enough motivation to his bandmates to keep recording Doors music without him, always praising their abilities as individual artists. And indeed they were brilliant musicians, but their post- Morrison albums “Other Voices” and “Full Circle” lacked something essential and irreplaceable in their music: Morrison.
One of the greatest debut albums of all time, the self-titled “The Doors” was released in January 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
Listen to all the The Doors 1967-1971 six studio albums with Jim Morrison on Spotify
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