The Doors – The Doors
Released January 4th, 1967 on Elektra Records
The Doors hurled mainstream pop music into the mystic unknown, launching missives of darkness, poetry, and power on the unsuspecting masses. Fittingly, the album began on a beach, with Jim Morrison appearing back into Ray Manzarek’s life and singing the melody to “Moonlight Drive”. After hooking up with a flamenco guitarist (Robby Kreiger) and a jazz drummer (John Densmore) the group spent a time perfecting their act as the house band at the Whisky A-Go-Go in L.A., where they expanded nightly on their songs until they included the stretched-out jams found on “Light My Fire” and “The End”. The latter would cause the group to lose their gig at the Whisky due to the Oedipal nature of the song and Morrison’s heavy willingness to scream the word “FUCK!” in the middle of it. It would go on to have a searing second life in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now! where it would soundtrack Martin Sheen’s descent into his final madness and his assassination of Colonel Kurtz. Following the recording session for the song, Morrison returned to the studio high on acid and mistook the studio’s red lights for a fire, resulting in all of the recording equipment being sprayed down with a fire extinguisher.
Elsewhere, “Break On Through”, the album’s first single, failed to make much of a dent in the charts but “Light My Fire” (the first composition Robby Kreiger ever penned) drove the album to #2 in the U.S. Ray Manzarek’s autobiography (Light My Fire: My Life With The Doors, highly recommended) contains a passage where he gets his first royalty check for $50,000 and he thinks that it’s supposed to be split among the whole band and his girlfriend breaks the news that it’s actually just his share. Also of note: the two covers, “Alabama Song”, a German opera song from the 1920s and “Back Door Man”, a slick, sleazy Willie Dixon song that the band hones into a finely-edged switchblade; the party-all-night swirl of “Soul Kitchen”; and the hard-charging bounce of “Twentieth Century Fox”. The combination of hip, blues and jazz-influenced rock ‘n’ roll and eerie, mystical psychedelic unease would, er, light the fire of an entire generation of kids; that half-mad nighttime beat would inform both the more direct homage of the Psychedelic Furs and the more subtle insanity of Joy Division, as well as the vampires of 1987’s The Lost Boys.
Ray Manzarek died today at the age of 74, following a long battle with bile duct cancer. He founded the Doors with Jim Morrison on a beach outside of L.A. – they’d discussed forming a band in the white hot L.A. rock ‘n’ roll scene of the mid-60s, and when Morrison showed up on the beach with the words to “Crystal Ship” it became a reality. Manzarek described himself as the least intelligent person in the Doors (apparently everyone had tested at higher IQs than he did, including his then-wife). Despite the handicap of being the only smart guy in a room full of geniuses, he managed to be arguably the most talented. Pulling double duty as keyboard player and bassist, Manzarek created a twisting, serpentine sound that exemplified the increasingly tripped-out end of the Psychedelic Sixties and set a standard for keyboard playing in pop bands that has been chased ever since. His influence became especially felt in the early Eighties, as waves of keyboard-flashing synth-pop bands took his ideas and ran with them. Bands like Echo and the Bunnymen, and the Cure, would simply not exist if not for his jazz-inflected passages, and his experimentation with the early Moog synths pushed the envelope that the prog bands would pick up as the Seventies wore on.
So let’s play some Doors; I haven’t properly done so in nearly a decade. When these songs get scratched into your soul, you don’t need to play them. They’re already there. It’s a sharing culture now, though, so here. Let’s share.