Reviewed on this page:
The Doors - Strange Days - Waiting For The Sun - The Soft Parade - Morrison Hotel - L.A. Woman
Critical opinion of the Doors is, uh, mixed. But it doesn't mean a damn thing to the band's millions of fans, who still worship Jim Morrison like the second coming of Christ. Here I'll attempt to straddle the fence. Sure, Morrison's vocal range was pathetic; Krieger's guitar playing was minimally competent; Manzarek's keyboard parts were utter kitsch; and the band didn't even have a bass player.
People get so upset arguing over the lyrics that I won't even start on the topic - suffice it to say that they were interesting (usually). But on the plus side, the Doors had a unique sound; substantial commercial success; and a blacker view of the world than any of their contemporaries, except perhaps the Velvet Underground.
Most of their records are still enjoyable today, and they've captivated generations of current and former teenagers (including yours truly). I'll say one important thing against them, though: Love, their biggest local L.A. competition when they were just starting out, had them beat on virtually every count - catchy tunes, flashy guitarists, clever orchestration, smooth vocal harmonies, and even more idiosyncratic lyrics. Oh, and a real live bass player. Maybe Arthur Lee should have worn some tight leather pants.
I won't review the three official live records and innumerable compilations, because almost all of the band's original output surfaced immediately on their official albums. If you really care, though, I would advise avoiding the ridiculously brief Hollywood Bowl and trying to dig up Alive She Cried instead - it's the closest thing to a "lost Doors album." My co-author Wilson vouches for Absolutely Live, released while Morrison still fit that description, and featuring wonders like a complete version of "Celebration Of The Lizard."
There are enough Doors home pages to keep you browsing for days. You could start with the "official" Doors page, but it's not terribly up-to-date. A better idea is a Dawn's Highway, a site with an extensive set of links to other Doors sites and plenty of good stuff of its own.
This is one of many pages on the site that diehard fans find offensive. I humbly submit that you have better ways to spend your time than presenting me with the same tired arguments in favor of Jim and the boys that I've already heard from other fans. If that doesn't stop you, then at least check our flame writer's FAQ first. I don't hate the Doors, I don't idolize the Doors, and I'm not going to rewrite my reviews. Have a nice day...(JA)
Lineup: John Densmore (drums); Robby Krieger (guitar); Ray Manzarek (keyboards - usually organ, some vocals); Jim Morrison (vocals). Manzarek filled in the bass parts on the first record, and after that the band used a different studio bass player on each album.
The Doors (1967)
The Doors' debut was knocked off in just a couple of studio sessions, but it captures their entire schtick anyway. The main goal was to blast out a string of catchy pop songs with creepy, hard-to-follow lyrics, like the incoherent but exciting "Break On Through," the band's first single but not a success; the ultra-clever "20th Century Fox"; and Krieger's lengthy #1 hit "Light My Fire," with technically amateurish, but hypnotic guitar and organ solos that were edited out of the single version.
But the band shows their other side on quieter, thoughtful numbers that are even more creepy ("Crystal Ship," an elliptical drug anthem; Kurt Weill's "Alabama Song"). One of the Doors' persistent themes was the rambling beat poetry freakout, done here for the first time and never surpassed ("The End" - yeah, the one where Morrison's Oedipal "FUCK YOU" got edited out on the official release). (JA)
Strange Days (1967)
Solid all the way through, but it's still not much of an advance over the first record. The band makes much more use of studio overdubs ("Horse Latitudes," a bizarre but brief poetry reading), but the sound is still extremely spare. The record is my personal favorite, with many more catchy pop songs than the last time around: the driving, apocalyptic title track; the arrestingly morbid "Moonlight Drive"; the bluesy "Love Me Two Times"; and "People Are Strange," practically teenage-hood's own anthem and the group's second Top 40 hit ("Love Me Two Times" was the successful followup single).
But the second side is dominated by a dull carbon copy of "The End," full of laughable lines like "I want to hear... I want to hear... the SCREAM of the butterfly" ("When The Music's Over"), which makes it hard to say whether it's a better buy than the debut album. (JA)
Waiting For The Sun (1968)
The record leads off with the brief, intensely psychedelic pop song "Hello, I Love You," the band's second and last #1 hit; its brainless, but unforgettable riff was stolen from the Kinks' "All Day And All Of The Night." The rest is similar, artistically less substantial but more lavishly produced than the earlier efforts. Morrison's sentimentality unexpectedly rises to the fore throughout the record (catchy pop like "Love Street"), and it doesn't always work ("Wintertime Love"). Even more strangely, the band is going through a political phase, cutting anthems that are cathartic but frustratingly preachy and loud (the anti-war "The Unknown Soldier"; the revolutionary "Five To One").
Another new theme is the Indian spiritual chant ("My Wild Love"), which again can be a bit hard to swallow. And Morrison even croons a pleasant waltz laden with classical guitars that suddenly recreates itself as a screeching, nightmarish acid trip ("Spanish Caravan"). Despite being all over the place - or perhaps because of it - the record is more inventive than anything else the band did, and it stands up to repeated listenings. (JA)
The Soft Parade (1969)
More like The Listless Death March. With Morrison debauching himself beyond the point of functionality, the band got fed up with him and Krieger wrote half the record himself. His songs are passable pop rock, but he consistently drowns them with gloppy orchestral arrangements ("Touch Me," the only hit, and not a very memorable one at that despite being their third-best seller; the unbelievably overblown, too-late-for-'68 "Tell All The People"; "Runnin' Blue," with Krieger foolishly taking the vocal on the country-western choruses).
Meanwhile, Morrison hits a new low with his title track, yet another stream-of-consciousness poetry jam, this time ruined by a multi-part, multi-track, mega-trite arrangement; otherwise he and the others fall back on unimaginative blues numbers that range from good-timey ("Easy Ride") to dreary ("Wild Child"). There's enough of the Doors' brooding idiosyncrasy here to satisfy diehards, and those who enjoy over-orchestration might get something out of it. But my advice to such people is to dig up the earlier and better Forever Changes first; everyone else should keep a good distance.(JA)
Morrison Hotel (1970)
Morrison's body and voice were giving out from all the abuse, but he rebounded for this record and the following one, although he didn't come up with a hit single here. The band's old vitality seems to have come back on the first side: the chugging rave-up "Roadhouse Blues," the funky "Peace Frog," the classic Strange Days-style ballad "Blue Sunday," and effective pop-rock like "Waiting For The Sun" and "Ship Of Fools." But on the second side they're way too laid-back: blues numbers like "The Spy" (decent) and "Maggie M'Gill" (terrible) go down like molasses; "Queen of the Highway" is trite despite its cleverness; and "Indian Summer" is the kind of thing you put on to get the damned kid to go to sleep. (JA)
"Peace Frog" is probably the funkiest thing to come out of the LA
rock scene, and easily the Doors' most entertaining song. If you're
looking for a greatest hits, I think the only one to include "Peace
Frog" is Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mine. (DBW)
L.A. Woman (1971)
Fans have been left wondering what Morrison might have accomplished if he hadn't dropped dead a couple months after this came out, but it seems pretty clear to me that he was spent. The two big radio hits this time around - the title track and the Top 40 single "Riders On The Storm" - are pretty and well-produced, but musically shallow, overlong at about seven minutes each, and not terribly profound (come on, what the hell is "Riders" even about?) And the band was still wallowing in its late-period mellow blues sound ("Crawling King Snake"; "Texas Radio And The Big Beat"), which merely highlights their lack of grit and technical proficiency.
Although it's as listenable as the first three albums, and it has a couple of stand-out tracks like Krieger's entertaining pop song "Love Her Madly" (a Top 40 hit in its own right), L.A. Woman shows that the Doors no longer had anything new to say. Jerry Scheff is the bass player here. (JA)
Shortly after this, the remaining "Doors" cut two studio albums with Manzarek handling most of the vocals, including Full Circle (1972); both of them were flops, they don't appear to be in print, and I don't have them. Since Morrison's singing, songwriting, and theatricality were the Doors' main selling points, it's hard to imagine they're worth tracking down unless you think Densmore, Krieger, and Manzarek were musical virtuosos. The remaining members later released an album called An American Prayer (1978) based on tapes of Morrison reading his poetry, gussied up with incidental instrumental passages, and after hearing it a couple of times I strongly recommend avoiding it. (JA)
This is the end...