Into This World We’re Thrown: L.A. Woman Turns 50

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The Doors – L.A. Woman

Released April 19th, 1971 on Elektra Records

Produced by Bruce Botnik and the Doors

Peaked at #9 U.S., #28 U.K.

Singles:

“Love Her Madly” (#11 U.S.)

“Riders On The Storm” (#14 U.S., #22 U.K.)

By the end of 1970 the Doors were persona non grata in what was even then the industry of rock ‘n’ roll. Despite being one of the most commercially successful groups of the late 1960s psychedelic era – indeed, emblematic of the entire era – an incident on March 1st, 1969 proved to be a trainwreck for them. At a concert in Miami, a drunken Jim Morrison swore at the crowd and allegedly showed off his penis to them. Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek claimed in his autobiography that Morrison never actually showed the crowd his dick; it was a “bullfighter’s illusion” and the crowd simply assumed they had seen it. Manzarek was always a little too willing to cover for Morrison being an asshole, but he could be right in this instance, who knows. The police didn’t care much; they arrested him for public profanity and indecent exposure and the subsequent eighteen months were hell for the band, who couldn’t do much of anything until Morrison got through the trial. Radio stations stopped playing the band, concert promoters dropped them from tour dates, and while they were eventually able to cobble together some new dates to keep momentum going (including a big spot at the Toronto Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival in September of 1969) drummer John Densmore estimated that they lost around a million dollars in income during the period. They spent their time in late 1969 and through 1970 recording two albums. Their previous album, The Soft Parade, had been ripped by critics for being too pop-oriented; the big, brassy arrangements were seen by many fans as well as proof that the band had sold out. Morrison Hotel, released in 1970, was an initial attempt to right the ship by bringing the band back toward the pysch-blues fusion they had made their name on three years prior. L.A. Woman was in essence the band doubling down on this effort, returning to hard blues-influenced songs that channeled the band as they’d been when “Light My Fire” had made them all famous.

It cost them their producer. Paul Rothchild, who had produced everything up until that point, walked out of early sessions with the recommendation that studio sound engineer Bruce Botnik produce instead. Rothchild later claimed that it was in particular the song “Love Her Madly” that made him throw up his hands and quit. He called it “cocktail music”, echoing the sort of barbs the press had thrown at The Soft Parade. He was also fed up with the band’s unfortunate ability to drag their heels when it came to writing songs, and Morrison to even show up for writing sessions and rehearsals in the first place. Manzarek later explained that Morrison was spending his time drinking whiskey and shooting guns with rednecks; his interest in the band had been waning since 1968, and by 1970-71 he had nearly checked out entirely. Still, they managed to cobble together one final saving grace of an album, a record that resurrects all their voodoo-blues magic for one last hurrah.

Right from the beginning it presents a tougher sound than the band had become accustomed to presenting.. “Love Her Madly” may have been the concession to pop hits but “The Changeling”, leading off the album, has a hard-nosed little riff that resembles The Doors. “Cars Hiss By My Window”, “L.A. Woman”, and “Crawling King Snake” were all recorded on the last day of the recording sessions, a day that Morrison declared to be “Blues Day.” The latter song, a blues standard/John Lee Hooker cover, along with older compositions “L’America” and “WASP (Texas Radio And The Big Beat)” all dated back to a session for a Michelangelo Antonioni film that they ended up not getting on the soundtrack to. The middle song, “L.A. Woman”, was Morrison’s kiss-off to Los Angeles with the appropriate ambivalent feelings present therein. The final song on the album, “Riders On The Storm”, is an ominous send-off for the band. Morrison would die mysteriously in a bathtub in Paris three months after the release of L.A. Woman and the creeping, murder-haunted epic is oddly appropriate as a goodbye from one of the most intense bands of the era. Listening to it – to the whole album, really – it’s no surprise that Joel Schumacher decorated the vampire den of The Lost Boys with a sprawling picture of Jim Morrison staring into the void.

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