For a band whose entire viable body of work had been completely
compiled by the early 1970s, California quartet The Doors continues
to fascinate the imagination of rock fans the world over -- largely
due to the ever-present legend that surrounds its long-deceased
rock god frontman, vocalist-poet Jim Morrison.
The Lizard King, as Morrison is reverently remembered, died
somewhat mysteriously in a bathtub in Paris during the summer of
1971. Desite his absence, his presence in the genre ranks alongside
that of Jimi Hendrix as being among the most influential
personalities to exit the rock and roll game while still in the
prime of their youth.
Morrison literally drifted into an organized music opportunity
by chance, having penned a few songs in his free time before
running into a fellow UCLA film school student, keyboardist Ray
Manzarek, on the beach in southern California in the summer of
1965. After sharing their musical visions, the two decided at that
moment to form a band. Before the year was over, they had recruited
drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robbie Krieger to fill out
After more than a year of seasoning playing the Los Angeles club
scene, The Doors signed to major label Elektra Records and released
their eponymous debut LP in early 1967. More than half of the
record's eleven songs went on to become regulars on rock radio
across the United States, an unheard-of feat for any band not named
during that era. "Break On Through (To The Other Side)" rocked hard
in the vein of England's
popular trio Cream, "Back Door Man" interpreted blues with a
Yardbirds-esque experimental bent, and individually, "Soul
Kitchen", "The Crystal Ship", "Twentieth Century Fox" and "Alabama
Song (Whiskey Bar)" each received their fair share of attention on
eclectic Summer Of Love FM playlists.
Two other songs from The Doors, however, rose
in stature above even those heavyweights. "Light My Fire" took a
simple two-chord progression and turned it into a smoldering sexual
workout. Krieger's scorching guitar solo and Morrison's earnest
croon sold over a million 45s and dominated airwaves for months.
But looming just as large at the end of the album was Morrison's
incestuous noir tale "The End". The most experimental disc jockeys
of the era braved withering criticism for airing the tune -- which
is still hard-pressed to pass obscenity laws decades after its
original release. But the exercise in Oedipal violence instantly
established Jim Morrison as a major persona to be reckoned with in
the fast-evolving phenomenon of album-centric rock and roll.
As was the custom in the 1960s, The Doors followed up their
wildly successful debut collection right away, releasing
Strange Days before the end of 1967. Each of the
LP's two sides kicked off with a decidedly strange theme, the airy
title track "Strange Days" on Side One and the almost
Russian-sounding progression in the Sergeant Pepper-influenced
singalong, "People Are Strange". And while it wasn't the smash that
"Light My Fire" had been, the bouncy "Love Me Two Times" became
another radio staple for the group. Strange Days
closed with another fan favorite, "When The Music's Over": a
less-controversial but no-less-unconventional monologue-centered
marathon complementing "The End".
During the chaotic summer of 1968 the band unveiled their lone
chart-topping album, Waiting For The Sun. Fueled
by the enormous popularity of the Number One single that it spawned
-- the simple words and overdriven keyboards featured on the
radio-friendly "Hello, I Love You" -- Waiting
remained largely in character with The Doors' first two albums.
Save, perhaps, for the downright creepy Manzarek keyboard
flourishes and other-worldly Morrison imagery that permeated "Not
To Touch The Earth". The album also offered an obligatory Vietnam
War protest in an albeit relatively tame "The Unknown Soldier".
By this point, Morrison had developed his now-infamous
reputation for erratic behavior, both onstage and off. Morrison's
various run-ins with venues and the law across the United States
only served to enhance his reputation as a counterculture icon, and
he didn't curb his envelope-pushing ways as the group shifted their
sound somewhat for 1969's The Soft Parade. The
LP's feature radio track, "Touch Me", greeted fans with a slick,
prominent brass section, which helped the 45 to a Top Three pop
chart peak. The album's three other singles, though, were notably
coolly received throughout the duration of the year, and none of
the songs on the album outside of "Touch Me" became classic rock
Morrison continued to slowly descend into a Syd Barrett-like
alienating state heading into 1970, as The Doors plowed ahead with
their fifth album, Morrison Hotel, released that
spring. The straightforward, driving "Roadhouse Blues" became an
instant classic. Fans also latched onto the light-and-heavy bolero
dynamic of "Waiting For The Sun" and the quirky tracks that
followed it on Side One, "You Make Me Real" and "Peace Frog".
After the release of Hotel, Morrison
effectively retired from live performance with The Doors -- less
than a week after his 27th birthday. In retrospect, it's remarkable
that the engimatic singer was capable of recording his final album
with the band, 1971's L.A. Woman. The record
hearkened back to the group's early efforts, featuring a bevy of
memorable tracks. "Riders On The Storm" may have been the only time
anyone had ever heard it raining in Los Angeles, while "Love Her
Madly" told of a different aspect of life in SoCal. L.A.
Woman's title track seemed to encapsulate life on L.A.'s
endless freeways, chugging along frantically toward an unknown
That fate ultimately turned out to be the untimely demise of
Morrison himself. The singer left the band in the spring of 1971,
settling into the existence of a secluded writer in Paris, France,
accompanied by his sometime girlfriend. Within three months,
Morrison had departed the planet. The rest of The Doors
half-heartedly attempted to continue the band devoid of their
charismatic heart, but eventually folded up the tent in 1973.
In spirit, however, Jim Morrison lives on in the body of work
that he left behind with his overshadowing presence in the music of
one of the greatest bands that the 1960s ever produced: The
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