Review Summary: The Doors' debut stands as their best, most focused album, as well as an essential document of the late 1960's.
The Doors are one of the few classic rock bands that truly deserve to be described with the term legendary. Led by their enigmatic, but also dangerous and highly unpredictable vocalist Jim Morrison, they were propelled to fame, or rather perhaps, infamy, in no time. Releasing six albums in a span of five years, their short but undeniably influential tenure has made them one of the most iconic bands of the late 1960’s.
Jim Morrison is already reading poetry by William Blake at age 16, and is also obsessed with Elvis Presley. After attending three colleges, he eventually goes to film school. This is where he meets Ray Manzarek, who is at that point playing keyboards in his brother’s surf band. Ray’s musical background consists of classical piano training, followed by a love for jazz and the Chicago blues. He shares the latter interest with Jim. Morrison makes a single film, which earns him a D. Skipping his graduation, he informs Manzarek that he’s moving to New York City.
A few months later, Manzarek however encounters him at the beach in Venice. He’s been writing up some songs, for a rock concert ‘he hears in his head’. He hesitates when Ray asks him to sing one, but follows through, impressing his friend. At this point, the two decide to start a band. The name has already been chosen by Jim, from one of Blake’s poems:
If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is: infinite.
The line-up is eventually completed by drummer John Densmore, whom Manzarek invites from his mediation class to come jam with them, and guitarist Robby Krieger, who Densmore brings in on his part. Although the two new additions like Morrison’s poetic lyrics more than his voice, something about him pulls them in. In the summer of ’65, The Doors are born.
Morrison has never actually sung before, and Krieger has only been playing the electric guitar for six months, originally trained on acoustic. He’s played in a band in high school, together with Densmore, who’s unpredictable drumming borrows from jazz. Krieger writes their first song, Light My Fire. At their first gig, Jim is still unsure as a singer and turns his back to the audience. After they are seen performing by the talent booker for the Whiskey á Go Go, she falls for Morrison. The Doors are hired to be the Whiskey’s house band. By late ’66, the band is opening for the likes of The Turtles, Buffalo Springfield, and Van Morrison. Word spreads fast, especially about Morrison, and the owner of Elektra records is so impressed with the band he offers them a 3-album deal.
It is shortly after that Morisson’s behaviour starts getting dangerous and unpredictable. When he doesn’t show up for a gig, the other members find him in his hotel room, tripping on acid. They get him back, and Jim has a different song he wants to play: The End. No one in the band knows where’s he going with it. Perhaps more than a narrative poem than a song, it has Morrison belt out the infamous lines: ‘Father?’ ‘Yes, son?’ ‘I want to kill you.’/’Mother? I want to ***, ***, *** you!’.
The Whiskey’s owner calls Morrison ‘a sick bastard’, and the band is directly fired. A few weeks later, they record their debut. Elektra brings in veteran producer Paul Rothchild, who allows them to use state-of-the-art equipment. The Doors is recorded in a mere five days. Light My Fire and The End are over seven and eleven minutes long, respectively, a most unusual length at the time. The lead single is Break On Through (To the Other Side), which stalls at #106 in the charts. Elektra chooses to bring out Light My Fire next, in a shorter version. Unexpectedly, it becomes a #1 hit. Quicker and quicker, The Door’s fame is growing.
As The Doors was released at the beginning of the band’s career, it is their most focused, and in result, best album, before Morrison’s increasingly extravagant behaviour would become a growing obstacle in their writing and recording abilities. Break on Through, despite failing to chart high at the time, is an excellent opener and a definite Doors classic, showcasing Manzarek’s dominant instrumental position, which he would keep throughout basically all of their material, and one of Morrison’s best vocal performances, in which he surprisingly doesn’t sound drunk or high. His poetic lyrics are an important factor in all of the tracks, and the organ-led sound of the band is a perfect accompaniment for Morrison’s singing style. The flawless interplay between the vocals and instruments is a typical feature of The Doors, especially on this album. When the poet is wandering with his words, the music is dreamy, surreal almost. When the words intensify, the music effortlessly follows. It is what makes cuts such as Soul Kitchen and The Crystal Ship so attractive to listen to.
The highlight of the record, and one of the band’s very best songs remains Light My Fire, with Morrison’s famous lines, the immediately recognizable organ, the extended instrumental bridge. The even longer and ambitious The End, although dragging slightly after multiple listens, must be commended for the excellent skills of the trio of behind the singer, who improvise fantastically on Morrison’s poetic outburst. Three of the band’s future records would have another epic-length closer in this vein.
The Doors is the band at their most captivating, and the only real weak moment is the cover Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar), which’ bouncy rhythm and silly attitude make it a single moment of annoyance. It is a minor flaw in an otherwise superb, unique and highly influential record that is an essential moments of the later 60’s, when drugs opened the doors to new kinds of perception and the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll.
Break on Through (To the Other Side)
The Crystal Ship
Light My Fire
For those who DO NOT want a boring history lesson: just skip the italics.
I was inspired to do their discography (why not, it's been so long since I've done one, you guys must miss them) after seeing the recent documentary on them, which is also the basis for the history part.
i love you for doing their discog. this is my second favorite album of all time
Your favourite being Pink Floyd - ?
fantastic album. only weak song is twentieth century fox imo. interesting lil backstory here too
That one is right behind Whiskey Bar for me, I could probably 5 this if it weren't for those two songs.
Background and history is what many, many reviews on Sputnik could use more of. Seeing it here is indeed a welcome sight.
Not everyone appreciates it, as I've come to realize with my past discog reviews, in which I mostly used it quite a lot, so now I'm writing these purposely so the reader can choose and the regular part still makes sense without the history. Anyway, just a little something new to try. Thanks also.