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The Doors – STILL Underrated

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By 1965 Johnny Rivers and the Byrds had put Hollywood’s Sunset Strip and clubs like the Whiskey-a-Go-Go and Ciro’s on the map. Keyboardist Ray Manzarek and singer/songwriter Jim Morrison had met in film school at UCLA and decided to form a band together. In the best ’60s tradition, guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore were in Manzarek’s meditation class, and when they all got together, it clicked.

Elektra scout/producer Paul Rothchild saw the band live at the Whiskey in July, 1966 and was astonished – so much so that he wanted to create a studio album that was an “aural documentary” of their live set. Manzarek’s inventive organ dominated the live sound, complemented well by Krieger’s blues riffs, jazzy runs, and Spanish finger picking on guitar, and Densmore’s fluid, interpretive drumming. Morrison was the focal point, his commanding baritone grabbing the ear while his erratic antics and arresting good looks captured the eye.

Rothchild’s most enduring achievement is capturing that sound in the studio. Rothchild’s first sessions at Sunset Sound for The Doors went well – the band was well prepared by a year’s worth of nightly gigs – and several songs were recorded in only two or three takes. But that was not to last as they prepared to record “The End.”

Per Jerry Hopkins in No One Here Gets Out Alive, for the “End” session, Morrison was inebriated, laying on the floor in the corner of the Sunset Sound studio near the drums, softly mumbling the words to his Oedipal nightmare: “Fuck the mother, kill the father, fuck the mother, kill the father, fuck the mother, kill the father…”

As Rothchild tried to capture his attention, Morrison picked up a television set and threw it toward the control room. Rothchild ended the session and sent Morrison off with a girlfriend. As the young woman drove down Sunset, Morrison suddenly opened the car door and bolted down the street on foot. He dashed to the studio, scaled the gate, penetrated an outer and an inner door, then panting, peeled off his clothes.

Feeling heat all around him, Morrison did the sensible thing and yanked a fire extinguisher from the wall and doused the studio.

Alerted by the woman, Rothchild returned to the studio and persuaded the naked, dripping, foamy Morrison to leave, and left word with the owner to charge the damage to Elektra. The next day the studio was spotless and they got “The End,” one of the most dramatic moments on record, in two takes.

The Doors is a great and enduring album, wherein Morrison explores the dark side with the seriousness of an artist over a deep and appealing sonic palette laid down by the band. While Morrison the person can be viewed as a pretentious, self-destructive clown who drank himself to death by 27, Morrison-the-artist was one of best singers, lyricists and performers in rock history.

“Break On Through” bounds in on the momentum of Densmore’s irresistible double time bossa nova cymbal ride, Manzarek’s charging organ bass and Krieger’s tough unison guitar. Rothchild’s production is timelessly immediate and alive, and Morrison delivers his sermon with a bodhisattva’s certainty:

“You know the day destroys the night
Night divides the day
Try to run, Try to hide
Break on through to the other side”

Morrison captures the good/evil, light/dark dichotomy with eerie economy. There are no rookie jitters here – the Doors arrived whole and complete.

“Light My Fire,” a Robby Krieger composition and the band’s signature tune, stretches out on great Manzarek and Krieger solos, but returns home on ballsy Morrison vocals and an insistent melody. The song shot to No. 1 and remains a radio staple. Rothchild’s production and Bruce Botnick’s engineering isolate the instruments from the vocals, creating a classic clean but live sound.

The Doors is one of the greatest rock debuts of all time.

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About Eric Olsen

  • http://www.bjkresearch.com/bugblog Bruce Kratofil

    I second the motion —

    When it came time to move from albums to CDs, this and “LA Women” were towards the top of the list.

  • James Bondage

    I agree with Lester Bang’s line in the movie Almost Famous: “Jim Morrison is a drunken buffoon”.

  • http://www.foliage.com/~marks Mark Saleski

    morrison was most defintely a drunken buffoon…but there’s no denying that the first Doors records was great.

    no holes in it. none.

    then, The End.

    perfect.

    …and kudos to Eric for writing about the Doors and managing to not use the word “Dionysus”.

  • http://ari.typepad.com Steve Rhodes

    Ray Manzarek is rather full of himself, but very entertaining talking about the early days of the doors if you ever have a chance to hear him speak.

    And as a former filmmaking student, he says he gave Oliver Stone all sorts of great ideas for the movie which were ignored.

  • http://mcfrank.blogspot.com Chris Arabia

    or bacchanalian. never forget bacchanalian.

    unless i’m mistaken, the doors recorded two albums after jimbo “died.” not quite as weak as would have been another jimi hendrix exp album, but still pretty bad.

  • Eric Olsen

    I think the fascination with Morrison is that he was a drunken buffoon AND a great singer/performer/figurehead/lyricist (only sometimes on the latter) – again with the duality.

  • andy

    the question is…was he only great at what he did because of the drugs and alcohol? in other words, could he do it sober?

  • http://www.makeyougohmm.com/ TDavid

    Val Kilmer played a great Morrison, I thought, but I’m not sure how accurate that movie was portraying Morrison’s life though. The Doors have some great songs, but I haven’t bought much of their music. Sad, but true. Crystal Ship, now that’s an interesting song.

  • http://www.foliage.com/~marks Mark Saleski

    so i’ve read “No One Gets Out Of Here Alive” and also Manzarek’s book…both books had big problems (including using that danged Dionysus word a bazillion times)…

    is there a good book on the Doors?

    Densmore’s?

  • Eric Olsen

    Mark, my favorite Doors/Morrison book is “Break On Through” by James Riordan. He is a FAN, but not a nut, and is sickened by the decline.

  • David

    I like the 2nd album best. I like the single version of Light My Fire with long crappy solos chopped out.

    I heard Manzerik on the radio, talking about how he had his “chops together” when he was with the Doors.

    Wrong.

  • Eric Olsen

    Clearly you like the “pop” side of the Doors, which is fine, but ultimately not their greatest strength from my perspective.

  • http://www.foliage.com/~marks Mark Saleski

    i agree…some of the stuff on The Soft Parade was just plain icky.

  • Eric Olsen

    In general, the first and last (with Morrison) seem the most real to me, although there are plenty of great songs scattered between.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com/ Eric Berlin

    Great take on the album — EO. Fascinating how the story of “The End”‘s recording both heralds the birth and death of the band.

    Maybe Morrison wouldn’t have had it any other way.

  • LizardKing73

    Jim was definitely a free spirit who challenged our perception of this world reality. He explored every facet of human understanding, possibly to his peril, but he was able to change a lot of people’s preconceptions of life and understanding. He was a visionary.