Review Summary: While not their best, L.A. Woman remains a fitting finale to one of the most legendary rock acts ever.
Despite the disaster at Miami, The Doors are encouraged to make another album. But some things stay the same. Jim shows up late, and drunk. Only now, he’s added cocaine to the mix. The band is alternately bored and furious at Jim. Producer Paul Rothchild falls asleep at the console. He tries to motivate the band by accusing them of playing cocktail music. Rothchild finally realises it’s time for him to leave. His part words to The Doors: ‘the only way you’ll survive is if you make this record yourselves.’ Shocked by his departure, The Doors turn to engineer Bruce Botnick. He urges the band to ‘just play’. To John, it’s like they’re back in the garage, just playing music. It’s his idea to slow down the middle of L.A. Woman. Jim comes up with a phrase he wants to repeat over and over. After they record it, Jim scribbles something on a piece of paper and shows it to the group:
MR. MOJO RISIN’
They record quickly, doing several songs a day. To keep Morrison interested, Botnick brings in Jerry Scheff, Elvis’ bass player. The band wants Love Her Madly to be the first single, but Robbie resists, calling his own song too commercial for The Doors. His choice – is Riders on the Storm. It takes just over a week to record the entire album. Once again, all songs are credited to The Doors. On December 8th 1970, Jim Morrison celebrates his birthday by recording his own poetry. He’s 27. Friends can’t believe the change in just two years. The poetry sessions snap him out of a depression, and he agrees to perform live with The Doors again. On December 12th, they play in New Orleans, performing the new songs from L.A. Woman. For a moment, the old Morrison appears. Then, he sits down on stage and doesn’t get up. It is here that Ray says he sees all Jim’s psychic energy leave his body.
A few days later Jim’s girlfriend Pam Courson returns to L.A. from a vacation in Paris. She discovers Jim sleeping with a woman who claims they were married in a pagan witch ceremony. But the witch flies back to New York, and Jim goes back to Pam. She still envisions a life for the two of them, that starts with Jim leaving The Doors. He’ll stay home and write poetry while she runs an exclusive clothing boutique. Just after the band finishes mixing L.A. Woman, Jim announces he and Pam are moving, to Paris. They’ll relax for a while. He’ll quit drinking. He’ll concentrate on his poetry. Ray asks when he’s coming back. Jim just shrugs. On April 17th 1971, with the Miami conviction still hanging over him, Jim flies to Paris.
For a while, things go according to plan. Jim does concentrate on his poetry. He shaves his beard. He wanders the streets alone, visiting the Père Lachaise Cemetery, where Chopin, Oscar Wilde, and Edith Piaf are buried. He develops a persistent cough. Back home, Elektra releases L.A. Woman. Critics call it ‘The Doors comeback album’.
In retrospect, it was of course highly ironic to call L.A. Woman a comeback. It was their sixth, and last with Jim Morrison, as the three remaining members recorded two more albums, with limited success, before definitely breaking up. Any self-respecting Doors fan however knows that L.A. Woman really was their last. Due to Rothchild’s absence during this final recording, the sound of the album is much rawer then their previous ones, which works well with the style the band embraces. Continuing from Morrison Hotel, the band delves even further into the blues, and while the results are uneven at times, not as consistent as their previous offering, the record works well as a whole, and is a worthy last offering from this legendary group.
The change in Morrison’s vocals is immense compared to The Doors’ past work. For almost the entire running length, it sounds like he’s aged at least ten years. This however, like the different production, works in the album’s favour, and results in an unique atmosphere that isn’t quite found on any of their others. It also means that you have to be in a certain mood to enjoy all the tracks, because a lot of them will not yield their true value too easily.
The true classics here are Love Her Madly, the title track, and Riders on the Storm. The former is easily the most accessible song here, catchy and short. The two others are both more than seven minutes in length, and also count among the band’s all-time best. The title track has a fantastic groove and maintains it for its entire length, including the characteristic slowdown, but the greatest achievement here, and possibly the greatest song of the band’s entire career, is Riders on the Storm. It was this song in particular that made Rothchild dismiss the album as cocktail music, and how wrong he was. The atmosphere is unparalleled: the rain and thunder effects it incorporates are real, and Morrison gave the vocals their unique echo effect by first recording his main singing and then whispering the lyrics over them. Though it wasn’t actually popular in the US itself, hitting its peak at a no. 7 spot in Holland (where, I can tell you, it is still their most popular song to this day), it couldn’t have been a more fitting final swansong for the band, and specifically Morrison himself.
The Doors thankfully ended their career as a quartet on a worthy note. L.A. Woman may not be as consistent as some of their other albums, but has a unique sound, that can be certainly rewarding in the right mood. Jim Morrison however threw himself on a path to self-destruction, and his death was, when looking back, completely inevitable...
When Jim’s cough worsens, Pam takes him to the doctor, who strongly urges him to quit drinking. As he roams the city, he carries his notebooks in a white plastic shopping bag, which are filled with fragments of song lyrics and poetry. But the solitude of the writer offers little of the kick he knows so well. One day Jim makes a phone call home. John Densmore is surprised to hear from him. Jim says he’s thinking of coming home, to make another album with The Doors. But John can tell – his voice is slurred. And one night, after hours of heavy drinking, Jim says he doesn’t feel well. He takes a bath. After calling out to Pam: ‘are you still there?, he dies, in the bathtub.
To some, Jim was a poet, his soul trapped between heaven and hell. To others, he was just another rock star, who crashed and burned. But this much is true: You can’t burn out if you’re not on fire. It would take his father another 10 years to say: ‘My son had an unique genius, which he expressed without compromise.’
The Doors were together for 54 months. They’ve sold over 80 million albums worldwide. They still sell a million albums a year.
- John Paul Densmore, born December 1st, 1944: drummer
- Robert Allen Krieger, born January 8th, 1946: guitarist
- Raymond Daniel Manzarek, born February 12th, 1939: organist
- James Douglas Morrison, born December 8th, 1943 – died July 3rd, 1971: singer and poet
‘Riders on the storm/Riders on the storm
Into this house we’re born/Into this world we’re thrown
Like a dog without a bone/An actor out alone
Riders on the storm’