Sunday, January 15, 2012

Set the Night on Fire: The Doors' debut at 45

 The Doors - The Doors
The Doors
The Doors
Rating: **** 1/2 or *****

On January 4, 1967, a band from LA released their self-titled debut album. That band was the Doors. Formed in 1965, the Doors already had a following in LA as the house band for the Whiskey A Go Go. The album, The Doors, was praised and today it still is. Not only is it considered one of the best debut album from a band but it’s also considered one of the best albums of all time. For me, I have The Doors placed at #10 on my list of favorite albums. It’s a great album and I’ll go into this album song-by-song.
            The Doors were formed in 1965 by UCLA students Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek. It was in the summer of 1965 when the band formed. According to Manzarek, he and Morrison were on the beach. Morrison had told Manzarek that he had written some songs. Manzarek wanted Morrison to sing them but Morrison was shy. Eventually, Morrison sang to what would later become “Moonlight Drive”. Right there, Manzarek said they should form a band. Manzarek knew drummer John Densmore from a previous band. With Densmore help, he knew guitarist Robby Krieger from a meditation class. The band tried to find a bassist but Manzarek discovered a bass organ, which he played with the keyboards. The Doors quickly started playing shows and even got the money to record a demo. By 1967, The Doors were the house band for the Whiskey A Go Go. It was at the Whiskey where Elektra Records president Jac Holtzman saw the band at the suggestion of Arthur Lee of Love, who were signed to Elektra. In August 1967, the Doors were signed to Elektra Records and began work on their first album. Producing the album was Paul Rothchild, who had also produced Love and other Elektra artists. The band recorded the album from August 24 till August 31.

1.      “Break On Through (To The Other Side)”- The first Doors album begins to the sounds of John Densmore playing a bossa nova drum beat. According to Densmore in the Classic Albums episode on this album, he appreciated the music coming from Brazil. “Break On Through” is a great way to open up the album and it introduces people to the Doors as the first song on the first album. The lyrics are poetic and seem to be written by Jim Morrison. Morrison did attend UCLA to study film but according to Manzarek and many others, Morrison seemed to be much more of a poet. The guitar riff is quite catchy. According to Robby Krieger, he was inspired by the guitar riff in the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s “Shake Your Money Maker”. When listening to the Butterfield track, it doesn’t sound exactly like “Break On Through” but it is a variation of that riff. Manzarek’s work on the keyboards is outstanding and possibly with Krieger, they really lead the song. In fact, all four members of the band really contributed to this song in their own way. It might be my favorite song by the band.

2.      “Soul Kitchen”- This funk-tinged track is a favorite amongst Doors fans. Krieger has said before that the guitar playing in “Soul Kitchen” was inspired by funk music and what he was trying to do was recreate a James Brown horn section. The lyrics are another thing: they seem to talk about the night life and staying all night at club. The song is funky, but still sounds very eerie. Once again, “Soul Kitchen” is a great song.

3.      “The Crystal Ship”- It’s amazing at how many of the Doors’ best songs are on their debut album, and the order they fall in. “The Crystal Ship” is a very dreamy-sounding song, almost hypnotic. The lyrics seem to be Jim’s. According to Densmore, Morrison said that he had the melodies in his head yet Morrison wasn’t a guy seen playing an instrument. Engineer Bruce Botnick said that Jim sang this song through a Telefunken U-47. According to the band and others, Morrison was a big Frank Sinatra fan. In this song, Jim is crooning the song and it does sound like something that Sinatra would have done.

4.      “Twentieth Century Fox”- This is a song you probably won’t spot on too many compilations of the Doors music but this is one of their best album tracks. “Twentieth Century Fox” might be thought of as too poppy or commercial and they might be right. Still, this is a really great track: Morrison’s vocals are awesome and Manzarek’s keyboard playing is really psychedelic sounding. Very underrated.

5.      “Alabama Song”- Believe it or not, this is a cover song done by the Doors. “Alabama Song” was written by Bertolt Brechet and Kurt Weill around the 1930’s. It appeared in the opera Rise and Fall of the City of Mahogany and it’s sung by the character Jenny and her prostitute friends. It seems like such a strange song to cover and the band didn’t see how they could cover it. The band worked it out by playing the music differently. It seems that the band nailed it and you would have never guessed it was a cover (that is, if you didn’t look at the song credits). Mazarek’s organ playing has this very cool sounding “oom-pa” beat to it and Morrison works his magic with the vocals. Easily one of the band’s best songs.

6.      “Light My Fire”- Of all the songs off the album, “Light My Fire” is the most popular as it was a #1 hit for the band. The song, like every other original composition, is credited to the Doors. The song was actually written by Robby Krieger. The story goes that after a band rehearsal, Morrison told the band to go home and all write a song. Krieger came back with this song written and the rest of the band helped expand on it. According to Krieger, the second verse of the song was written by Morrison. Manzarek’s keyboard work is amazing and the way the song opens was all his idea. The song was a #1 hit but it had to be cut down for radio and also to fit onto a 45 record. Later in the year, the Doors performed the song on The Ed Sullivan Show. The band was told at the last minute to omit the lyric “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher”. It’s unknown what was going on in Morrison’s head but he didn’t change it, which caused the show to not invite the Doors to play again. While some might think it is overrated, “Light My Fire” is a classic.

7.        “Back Door Man”- This, like “Alabama Song”, is a cover song. This time, the Doors are covering Willie Dixon’s classic “Back Door Man”. The song is down-right bluesy and could best be described as blues done Doors style. It also became a live favorite and during the instrumental bit, Morrison would improvise on the spot.

8.      “I Looked At You”- The Doors are known for their dark and, sometimes, depressing sound. When there is an upbeat poppy song like “I Looked At You” on a Doors album, many people aren’t going to like it. In fact, it might be the weakest track off the album easily. Still, the song has its strengths. It is very catchy and Morrison’s vocals are pretty good.

9.      “End of the Night”- Jim Morrison will not only be remembered as the singer of the Doors but as one of the greatest songwriters/artists of all time. A song like “End of the Night” is a perfect example of Morrison’s writing, not only as a songwriter but as a poet. Listen to the lyrics: they are very eerie and spooky. Death was a topic Morrison seemed to like writing about often. His vocals are good to and Manzarek’s keyboard playing is hauntingly good.

10.  “Take It As It Comes”- Along with “I Looked At You”, “Take It As It Comes” seems to be another Doors song from this album that gets little love. I actually think it’s a decent song: the lyrics are pretty good and it’s very psychedelic vibe (like all the other songs on the album). I really like Jim’s vocals on this one and in some ways, this song is a bit dark. Believe it or not, the Ramones would later cover this for their 1992 album Mondo Bizzaro. One of the band’s most underrated, in my opinion.

11.  “The End”- It is as epic as the Doors will get: a song called “The End” and it’s at the end of their debut album. This song was done in one take and it was recorded live in the studio (according to Ray, most of the first album is). In a 1969 interview, Jim said that he thinks of the song as “goodbye to childhood” or to a girl. The middle part of the song was improvised by Morrison himself. There’s a part in the song when Morrison says “Father/Yes son?/I want to kill you” and then “Mother, I want to…” According to John Densmore, Morrison was crying at one point after babbling “Kill the father, fuck the mother” asking if anyone understood him. Many believe that Morrison might have been influenced by Oedipus complex, which was a psychoanalytic theory term to describe a boy’s desire to kill his father and have sex with his mother. Oedipus was coined by Sigmund Freud after he had seen the play Oedipus the King. Whatever the case might be, the song runs at nearly 12 minutes. The song would later be used in the 1979 Francis Ford Coppola movie Apocalypse Now. The song’s appearance in the movie would help regenerate interest in the music of the Doors. Without a doubt, “The End” is an amazing song.

            When released in 1967, The Doors didn’t really take off until the band had a #1 hit single with “Light My Fire”. By that time, the album had peaked at #2 in the charts. Only a few months after the release of their debut album, the Doors released their sophomore effort. That album, Strange Days, was another hit album. In fact, there are some people who prefer Strange Days more than the debut album given that Strange Days is much darker. Still, the debut album is viewed by many as the best album the Doors ever made. The Doors would continue to tour and make music till the end of the 1960’s and in the beginning of the 1970’s. Things came to a halt on July 3, 1971 when Jim Morrison died under mysterious circumstances. The band continued on without Morrison for a while but it wasn’t the same: the band called it quits in 1973. Four decades after the death of Jim Morrison, his music with the Doors has become more popular than it was back in the day.

The Doors is definitely one of my all time favorite albums. I have it charted at #10, which is saying a lot. Not only is it one of my favorite albums but it looks like it’s my favorite album by an American band. It’s a great introduction to a fantastic band and the music is just great. The Doors is an example of why music in the late 1960’s was so important.

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