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“Day Destroys The Night, Night Divides The Day”: An Introduction to The Doors


The Doors (1967)

Recorded in the space of one week in August 1966, The Doors has always been regarded as one of the very finest albums of the sixties. Central to the progression of psychedelic rock in the second half of the decade, the group’s debut contains a fair amount of their best known songs. Opening with the band’s manifesto, ‘Break On Through (To The Other Side)’, challenging their listeners to journey through their doors of perception (the Aldous Huxley quotation from which they took their name), they cycle through ‘Soul Kitchen’, the Sinatra-aping ‘The Crystal Ship’, the decadent Brechtian ‘Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)’, the sleazy bar blues cover of Willie Dixon’s ‘Back Door Man’ and, of course, the Oedipal murder epic of ‘The End’.

Ranging from hard-edged rock radio classics to obscurantist, indulgent epics, The Doors were chaotic but disciplined enough as musicians to have complete mastery of the experiments they were undertaking with their debut, with Jim Morrison delivering many of his finest vocal performances. It’s hard to find many other successful ‘60s ‘pop’ albums, aside from Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper’s, which incited the listener to expand their consciousness in such a way, marrying poetics and theatrics with radio-friendly structures. Having sold more than 20 million copies around the world, and selected in 2015 by the Library of Congress for permanent preservation in the National Recording Registry, for works of cultural and artistic significance, The Doors belongs in the highest echelon of rock’n’roll works. (10/10) (LISTEN)

Strange Days (1967)

Following an all-time classic debut, The Doors delivered a sophomore effort just eight months later. Both at the time of its release and 50 years later, opinion was divided on Strange Days, with some praising the sense of continuation from The Doors but at least as many arguing that it was a pale photocopy of it. The truth is somewhere in the middle, but when you realise that the majority of its songs had been written at the same time as the ones for their debut, there is definitely the suspicion that Morrison and his bandmates had underwritten in preparation this time around, the best tracks having already been cherry-picked.

Strange Days displayed a greater degree of experimentation, allowed by a nearly three-month recording period in the studio as opposed to the six day process of their debut. Moog synthesisers adorn the title track, one of the very first examples of the instrument on a rock record, while the poetic interlude ‘Horse Latitudes’ features some pretty ground-breaking sound effects, and the sumptuous ‘Moonlight Drive’ is a stand-out moment. However, the rather inert 10-minute epic ‘When The Music’s Over’, clearly intended to be Strange Days’ ‘The End’, feels like a tacked-on afterthought.

While it yielded two Top 30 Billboard hits – the jazzy, European-cabaret-influenced hymn to alienation of ‘People Are Strange’ which remains one of the band’s highlights, and the much straighter ‘Love Me Two Times’ – Strange Days itself underperformed commercially has generally dwelled in its predecessor’s shadow ever since, despite successfully continuing many of the themes of that classic record. (7/10) (LISTEN)

Waiting For The Sun (1968)

While it became The Doors’ first and only US Number One album, Waiting For The Sun was generally regarded as a step down in quality compared to the highlights of their first two records, receiving mixed reviews from critics who didn’t see any particular evolution in their sound. Certainly, there’s very little on it that comes close to the likes of ‘People Are Strange’ or ‘The End’, the experimental and forceful anti-war track ‘The Unknown Soldier’ being the exception. The woozy weirdness of ‘Not To Touch The Earth’ (formerly a snippet from Morrison’s abandoned, mammoth song-cycle ‘The Celebration Of The Lizard’) and the flamenco of ‘Spanish Caravan’ displayed progression.

On the more accessible side, there were a number of successes such as the warm, light ballads ‘Love Street’ and ‘Wintertime Love’, or Morrison’s snarling performance on menacing closer ‘Five To One’. Lead single ‘Hello, I Love You’, that became a million-selling chart-topper, bore such a resemblance to The Kinks’ ‘All Day And All Of The Night’ that they were sued. It remains a rock staple today but was pretty much Doors-by-numbers by 1968. Overall, Waiting For The Sun is an intriguing and largely enjoyable mixed-bag of an album, that certainly didn’t deserve the indifference that greeted it. (7/10) (LISTEN)

The Soft Parade (1969)

Another record that splits Doors fans pretty much down the middle, The Soft Parade was the result of a 15-month recording process that cost $86,000 – a very long time and amount of money by the music industry standards of the time. Toying with brass and strings on many of the tracks, it seemed that The Doors couldn’t please their critics either way: slammed for playing Waiting For The Sun too conservatively, they threw caution to the wind and experimented with The Soft Parade and were deemed to have abandoned their fanbase. The hippy dream had all but died by 1969, the year of Altamont, and the psychedelic leanings seemed to belong to a bygone age already. Some contemporary reviews were absolutely scathing, effectively writing the band off as a creative force in rock.

However, it’s perhaps best to understand this curious album as a necessary step in The Doors’ evolution, one that finally saw them fulfil their desire to introduce more jazz and blues influences into their work. The Soft Parade certainly isn’t a bad record by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s also the case that too many of its ideas aren’t executed well enough to make it a particularly good record either. On a handful moments, such as the sun-kissed horns of ‘Touch Me’ or Robby Krieger’s smooth rock on ‘Tell All The People’, their tilt to experimentation pays dividends. On others, such as the infuriating banjo-twanging of ‘Runnin’ Blue’ or the preposterously extravagant title track, it could have done with being clipped and rationalised.

It’s also an uneven experience, possibly stemming from the band increasingly tending to write separately during this period. However enjoyable bits of it are, it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that it’s the worst Doors album released during Morrison’s lifetime. (6/10) (LISTEN)

Morrison Hotel (1970)

After the difficult year that was 1969, The Doors began the new decade with one of their most consistent records in their catalogue. Released just seven months after the divisive The Soft Parade, and prefaced with the assured radio hit ‘Roadhouse Blues’ that restored their reputation in the eyes of tastemakers and critics, things were back on track for The Doors – at least in artistic terms. Morrison’s personal life was still going off the rails, and during this time he was charged with disturbing a flight to Phoenix in a drunken state, and had a possible 10-year sentence hanging over him.

You wouldn’t have been able tell this from Morrison Hotel, however. Boasting a lean, back-to-basics approach that featured a much more solid foundation of blues than they had ever managed before, it featured all of the core elements that had popularised the band in the first place yet re-formulated them into something a bit different from their first three records. Morrison himself had transformed from the acid shaman of their early tracks to a boozy, lascivious reptile.

The wah-wah hook of ‘Peace Frog’, a political and controversial track, took the temperature of late-sixties America and remains a rock radio staple to this day. ‘The Spy’ and ‘Queen Of The Highway’ documented the end of Morrison’s troubled relationship with girlfriend Pamela Courson, and their sinister atmosphere pointed the way forwards to their final album L.A. Woman. Meanwhile, the doom-laden keyboard sounds that formed the spine of ‘Waiting For The Sun’ make for some gravitas and gave Morrison a familiar outlet for his theatrics. His voice, while feeling the strain of hedonistic excess, lends grit and poignancy to the record’s more tender moments like ‘Blue Sunday’.

While it contains very few of The Doors’ classic tracks and is often overlooked in comparison to their first and last albums, Morrison Hotel is the sound of the band entering the final phase of their career with confidence and maturity. (8/10) (LISTEN)

L.A. Woman (1971)

Further exploring their rock and R&B roots, The Doors’ last album with Jim Morrison carries with it a distinctive air of finality, looking at it in retrospect and the knowledge of the singer’s fate. His voice is sad and haunted, constantly straining for catharsis and redemption, as the band members lay down some of their most inventive music yet. A fall-out with producer Paul Rothchild, who had produced all five of their previous records, led the band to record L.A. Woman themselves with the assistance of Bruce Botnick, while extra musicians Jerry Scheff (bass) and Marc Benno (guitar) bolstered the group’s sound. There is a detectable of sense of new-found freedoms being explored throughout the record as The Doors deliver some of their most memorable tracks of their career.

Containing two Billboard chart smashes, the danceable rock of ‘Love Her Madly’ and the swirling, psychedelic atmospherics of ‘Riders On The Storm’, arguably Morrison’s signature song, it returned the band to radio prominence after a couple of years in the PR doldrums. Garrulous opener ‘The Changeling’ seems like a defiant personal testament from Morrison as he completes his reinvention. The road-trip classic ‘L.A. Woman’ exposed the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles life in a raging inferno of a climax, while the band explore ice-cold blues to its fullest in the depressed ‘Cars Hiss By My Window’ and ‘L’America’, tracks that constitute some of their finest and most sinister work.

The low-key nature of much L.A. Woman grounded it and lent its appeal, separating it effectively from the rest of their catalogue as The Doors fully entered a new period of their career in the 1970s. However, three months after it was released, Morrison was found dead. Though they couldn’t have known it at the time, L.A. Woman would be the epitaph for The Doors’ career. There can be fewer greater examples in rock history. (9/10) (LISTEN)

What is your favourite Doors album? Tell us what you think below!

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