D is for Doors

Singer Jim Morrison had a mesmerizing stage presence and his lyrics were shear poetry.  The Los Angeles quartet known as the Doors arrived on the rock scene in 1967 and they had a string of hit singles and albums that would all become classics.  They refused to be mere entertainers, and there’s never been another band quite like them.  Over the course of their six extraordinary albums and countless boundary-smashing live performances, Jim Morrison and the Doors changed the course of rock music.  Many critics have viewed The Doors as a band of misfits led by a drunken buffoon; however, they have many adoring fans that praise them for being a beacon of free thought.  Jim Morrison’s lyrics delved into primal issues of sex, violence, freedom and the spirit.

The group was born when Jim Morrison and organist Ray Manzarek who both attended UCLA’s film school, met when Morrison was a senior and Manzarek was a graduate student.  They unexpectedly met again, on the beach in Venice, CA, during the summer of 1965.  Morrison never intended to be a singer, as he was a shy unseasoned performer who was unsure of his voice, but he was invited to join Manzarek’s group Rick and the Ravens a fraternity rock & roll combo because of the strength of his poetry.  Ray Manzarek played in the group Rick & the Ravens, which was led by Ray’s brother Rick Manczarek on guitar, another brother Jim Manczarek on harmonica, Ray Manzarek on piano and background vocals, John Densmore on drums, Patricia “Pat” Hansen on bass guitar and Jim Morrison on vocals.  Ray had been playing with the group since 1961, and he changed the spelling of his last name to “Manzarek” dropping the “c” when the Doors were formed.

Rick & the Ravens headed into Los Angeles’s World Pacific Studios to record a demo in September 1965, that featured songs ‘Moonlight Drive’, ‘Hello, I Love You’, and ‘Summer’s Almost Gone’.  Guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore, who played together in the band Psychedelic Rangers, were recruited soon after.  They took their name from Aldous Huxley’s psychotropic monograph The Doors of Perception, that was published in 1954, and elaborates on his psychedelic experience under the influence of mescaline.

The Doors got a gig working at the London Fog, a club situated on the Sunset Strip.  In the first months of 1966, the group worked out the kinks in their chemistry and material while at that venue, so when they started playing the Whisky A Go Go that summer, they had found their voice and then they were signed to Elektra Records.  Seven days after they signed with Elektra Records, the Doors were fired from the Whisky, thanks to Morrison’s on-stage profanity during ‘The End’ and they headed into Sunset Sound to record their debut.

Their eponymous first album, released in January 1967, kicked off with ‘Break on Through (to the Other Side)’ and also featured the chart smash ‘Light My Fire’, the scorching ‘Back Door Man’ and the visionary masterpiece ‘The End’.  In 2012 this album was ranked No. 42 in Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 greatest albums of all time, it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and Acclaimed Music ranked it 27th on their all-time list.  The album peaked at #2 on the US Billboard 200 and the two singles from this album also made the charts.  This debut album was cut in less than a week.

This album featured eleven songs and nine of them were originals credited to the group.  The two covers were ‘Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)’ written by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill along with ‘Back Door Man, which was written by Willie Dixon.  ‘Break On Through (To the Other Side)’ backed by ‘End of the Night’ peaked at #126 on the Pop singles chart, while ‘Light My Fire’ backed by ‘The Crystal Ship’ went all the way to #1.

Over the course of the summer of 1967, ‘Light My Fire’ climbed its way to number one on the Billboard Hot 100, an ascent punctuated by an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show where Morrison sang “girl we couldn’t get much higher”, instead of “girl we couldn’t get much better” as the show’s producers requested.  His defiance to use the more appropriate lyrics on this part of the song prevented the Doors from being invited back on the show.  This was the first rock song to feature both a guitar and keyboard in the instrumental section.

Morrison seemed intent on giving himself permission to go as far as he could, like he had a license for destruction.  ‘Light My Fire’ was the first song written by guitarist Robby Krieger, and it is about leaving inhibitions behind in flames of passion.  This song was over 7 minutes long and Elektra thought this was too long to put on radio, so producer Paul Rothchild cut it down to 2:52, but the radio DJ’s ended up playing the full version, which was later released as a single.

The Doors didn’t have a bass player, so when they performed this live, Ray Manzarek played the song’s bass line with his left hand on a Fender Rhodes Piano Bass, while performing the other keyboard parts on a Vox Continental with his right.  Carol Kaye claims that she played the bass part on the album, but Larry Knechtel of The Wrecking Crew also claims the credit and he did play bass on ‘Soul Kitchen’ which is also on this album and his work went uncredited.  ‘Light My Fire’ was the last song Jim Morrison performed before he died.  This song turned the Doors into stars and by the time ‘Light My Fire’ ended its run on the charts, the Doors had their second album, Strange Days, ready to go.

Morrison was already deeply immersed in drug and alcohol abuse and public misbehavior by the time their second album Strange Days was recorded and although it was not received as well as their first album, it was an entirely new approach for the Doors, as they began to feel more comfortable in the studio.  It included ten original songs and new technology played a role in this record, as the Doors took advantage of an eight-track recording system for the first time, which allowed them to have four more tracks for overdubs.  Many of the songs for this new album were written when they recorded their first album The Doors.

The album peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard charts but failed to produce any hit singles, with ‘People Are Strange’ reaching #12 and ‘Love Me Two Times’ only getting to #25.  The Doors hired Paul Beaver, a pioneer user of synthesizers, to distort the vocals on the title song ‘Strange Days’, which also makes use of some wild telephonic sound effects on the guitars.  Morrison plays the Moog synthesizer on this song with his microphone plugged into the synthesizer, and he pressed a key with each syllable he sang, giving his voice that eerie sound.  Much of the credit has to go to session bassist Douglass Lubahn, who really added quality to the studio tracks which were hard for the group to replicate during their live performances.  Lyrically, this song is about debauchery and sin, making it a bit creepy.  Morrison asks on ‘When the Music’s Over’ for us to “turn out the lights” and this song always reminds me of the saying, “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings”, because when that happens, “before I sink into the big sleep, I want to hear, the scream of the butterfly”, whatever that means.  I do consider music to be a special friend of mine and it makes my life worth living.

Waiting for the Sun was their third studio album, it contained 11 original tracks and it was released in 1968.  It became the band’s only number one album (topping the charts for four weeks) and included their second US number one single, ‘Hello, I Love You’, but several critics pointed out the main vocal melody is very similar to The Kinks’ ‘All Day and All of the Night’.  The Kinks didn’t sue the Doors, but an agreement was later reached so that a portion of the single’s sales in the U.K. would go to Ray Davies.  Two of my favorite Doors songs are also on this album, ‘Love Street’ a clever ballad, and ‘Five to One’, which is hard rhythm and blues.  ‘Love Street’ sounds like a show tune, but it contains some hardcore rock elements and this pop song originated as a poem that Morrison wrote about the street that he lived on in Laurel Canyon, CA with his girlfriend Pamela Courson.

Jim Morrison wrote a poem called “The Celebration of the Lizard” which appeared on the sleeve of this album.  The poem contained the line, “I am the Lizard King, I can do anything.”  Fans thought Morrison was referring to himself instead the persona who Morrison created.  He invented this alter ego to help him overcome his shyness and from then on, he had no more fear.  The nickname stuck, and, after a while, the band added music and the poem was performed several times live, and an advanced version of the piece appeared on the band’s 1970 album, Absolutely Live.

This album is filled with themes of war, general truths, and songs about nature which are still appropriate today.  Lead vocalist and lyricist Jim Morrison admitted that he was not the top of his game in 1968 for this album, however this album still contains some brilliant moments which helped to define the group’s strong legacy.  At this time, Jim Morrison’s drinking himself into oblivion hindered, more than helped his work and this dragged him into the trenches of depression.  At times, tensions among band members ran high, and drummer John Densmore even walked out during a session after being frustrated with Jim’s behavior.

In March 1969, the Doors played an infamous concert in Miami, which became a pivotal moment in rock ‘n’ roll history.  The Doors had been scheduled to perform at 10:00 p.m. but had been delayed for nearly an hour due to a dispute with the show’s promoters.  By the time the group arrived onstage, Morrison was already inebriated, and he continued to hold up the performance while he solicited the audience for more to drink.  Morrison took his shirt up in front of the crowd and asked if they wanted to see even more and the crowd did.  At one point, he pulled on the front of his weatherworn leather pants and threatened to produce his penis for the crowd, but it has never been clearly determined whether Morrison actually succeeded in exposing himself that night and Florida’s clemency board later conceded that there was inadequate evidence to convict Morrison of indecent exposure.  Some people remembered seeing it and some didn’t, but Jim Morrison was arrested and charged with exposing himself.  Concert promoters began canceling shows across the country, in fear of a similar act occurring on their stages, so things got a little bumpy for the Doors.

Soft Parade was their fourth studio album released on July 18, 1969 and this was experimental, being filled with brash brass and swirling strings, but the album peaked at #6 on the US Billboard 200.  The album produced four singles, ‘Touch Me’ / ‘Wild Child’ reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, ‘Wishful Sinful’ / ‘Who Scared You’ got to #44 on the Hot 100, ‘Tell All the People’ / ‘Easy Ride’ reached #57 and ‘Runnin’ Blue’ / ‘Do It’ went to #64.  Additional musicians were brought in and Harvey Brooks and Doug Lubahn played bass guitar, Curtis Amy did some sax solos, George Bohanan did a trombone solo, Champ Webb did an English horn solo, Jesse McReynolds played mandolin on ‘Runnin’ Blue’, and Reinol Andino played conga.  The use of the brass and the string arrangements which were recommended by producer Paul A. Rothchild was a perplexing move by the band, which many fans felt was weird, experimenting with sounds, noises and music that wasn’t quite what they expected.  Part of it had to do with Morrison’s increasing unreliability, him constantly drinking booze got so bad that guitarist Robby Krieger ended up writing half the songs and even singing one, but part of it also had to do with the band’s restlessness.  ‘Touch Me’ reached #5, but other than that, most fans were scratching their heads at this confusing mess.

At the very end of the long meandering title song ‘The Soft Parade’, Jim Morrison says “When all else fails, we can whip the horse’s eyes and make them sleep, and cry.”  Whip the horse’s eyes comes from the 1866 Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel Crime & Punishment.  The term “whipping the horse’s eyes” means that you have tried every option without success, so why not do the only thing that is left.  Possibly this will be the most violent thing.  Even stranger still is that this image of a horse being beaten is also an important episode in the life of the 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, which may have precipitated Nietzsche’s eventual spiral into madness.  The legendary scholar experienced a nervous breakdown when he intervened to stop a carriage cabbie from mercilessly beating his horse.  Morrison’s use of this incident at the very end of the song, stands as a metaphor depicting the only alternative mode of expression left to a race that continues to repress itself.

Morrison Hotel was their fifth studio album, released February 9, 1970 by Elektra Records and on this album the band with their 11 original songs returned to their initial blues-rock style.  This album peaked at #4 on the Billboard 200 and was certified gold by RIAA.  They got help from session bassists Lonnie Mack and Ray Neapolitan on these songs.  The single from this album ‘You Make Me Real’ / ‘Roadhouse Blues’ peaked at No. 50 on the Billboard 100 chart.  Ex-Lovin’ Spoonful frontman John Sebastian billed as “G. Puglese” for contractual reasons, contributed harmonica on ‘Roadhouse Blues’ and this song became a concert staple for the group.  Alice Cooper who would often drink a case of beer a day, claimed that he was the inspiration for the line, “Woke up this morning and I got myself a beer”.

The Doors sounded good on this album, much more focused, as Morrison was involved in composing every song on this album and he solely wrote more than half the tracks.  The album has always been commonly referred to as Morrison Hotel due to the front cover, but the original LP labeled each side of the album separately, with side one being Hard Rock Café and side two Morrison Hotel.  This album features angry hard rock which the Doors always excelled at along with a collection of bluesy music.  It couldn’t have come at a better time for the battered Doors when it was released, and ‘You Make Me Real’ and ‘Peace Frog’ are among the Doors’ finest songs, combining gutsy performances with some of their cleanest production.

L.A. Woman was their sixth studio album, released on April 19, 1971, on Elektra Records.  It is the last to feature lead singer Jim Morrison during his lifetime, due to his death three months after the album’s release.  This album peaked at #9 on the Billboard 200 and was certified 2× Platinum by RIAA.  In the title track song on this album ‘L.A. Woman’ Morrison repeats the phrase “Mr. Mojo Risin’” which is an anagram of Jim Morrison.  The two singles from this album ‘Love Her Madly’ / ‘(You Need Meat) Don’t Go No Further’ went to #11 on the US Pop singles and ‘Riders on the Storm’ / ‘The Changeling’ reached #14.  Jerry Scheff played bass on this album and Marc Benno played rhythm guitar on four songs.

After recording LA Woman, Morrison decided to take some time off and he moved to Paris with his girlfriend, Pamela Courson.  Jim died on July 3rd 1971 at the age of 27 from a heart attack caused by using heroin and he was buried in Paris.  Morrison’s drug of choice was cocaine, he didn’t like heroin, but Pam did.  One night, he came to the apartment, and saw Pam with some white powder on the table, and when he asked what it was, she lied and said that it was cocaine.  He snorted some, and almost immediately had a heart attack.  There was no autopsy performed, as that is only done if foul play is suspected.

The Doors is a 1991 American biographical film directed by Oliver Stone about the 1960–1970s rock band of the same name, which emphasizes the life of its lead singer, Jim Morrison.  It stars Val Kilmer as Morrison and Meg Ryan as Pamela Courson (Morrison’s companion).  The film begins with the aftermath of a road accident in the desert.  Driving past in his family car, four-year-old Jim Morrison sees scores of grievously injured native Americans.  The real Morrison’s parents and sister disputed his memory of the incident, which is referenced in several Doors songs (“Indians scattered on dawn’s highway bleeding… All over the highway, bleeding to death”), as exaggeration.  But this movie is concerned with creating a historical picture of Jim Morrison’s psyche, not necessarily with creating a historical picture of reality.  The soundtrack features some great music including ‘Riders On The Storm’, ‘Love Street’, ‘Break On Through’, ‘The End’, ‘Light My Fire’, ‘Roadhouse Blues’, ‘Stoned Immaculate’, ‘When The Music’s Over’, ‘L.A. Woman’ and a few other songs.

Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore released two albums as a trio under the Doors moniker, with Manzarek and Krieger handling vocals. bManzarek next formed the group Nite City. bIn 1978, the surviving members of the band keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore reunited to record the instrumental backdrop accompanying music for An American Prayer, a compilation of Morrison’s poetry readings.

From the early 2000s, Densmore tried to stop Manzarek and Krieger, from touring under the Doors name as well as selling the band’s music for use on a Cadillac commercial, but he gave in when Cadillac upped their offer of $5m to $15m.  Ray Manzarek died in Germany from a type of cancer known as Cholangiocarcinoma on May 20, 2013.  Robby Krieger is listed among Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.”  The Doors were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 1993.  In 2007, the Doors received a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement, and the same year they received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  In 2010, ‘Riders On The Storm’ was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame under the category Rock.

26 thoughts on “D is for Doors

  1. Wow, this is so interesting! I liked the Doors’ music as a teen. At the same time, my sister was into Janis Joplin. This was in the 2000s, but it’s still tragic that both Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison died at the age of 27. Though I liked the music, I’d never really read up on the Doors, so thanks for all this information.

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  2. It’s a fantastic debut album and a few others come close as being just as good.
    David Bowie did a very good version of the Alabama Song if I recall?
    I have a very good compilation double album by The Doors called ‘Weird Scenes Inside The Goldmine’

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  3. Although I liked “Touch Me” and “Riders on the Storm,” I was never a huge Doors fan. However, I had older sibs, cousins and uncles who were mega fans so I still heard their music. A lot. 😀

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  4. I went through a Doors phase like most teenagers. I do like them but I always feel bad for the band because of the shenanigans they had to put up with…with Jim…of course he was the big appeal to them also.
    Great post Jim.

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      1. No at first I thought about you breaking up what you have into different posts…on different days but….like I said…you would have people who would not get them all.
        Personally I love the post the way it is…but it would be a pain to write in one sitting.

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      2. As you know…love the Kinks…very very underated band and wasn’t as big here because of that no touring ban on them. I’ll be looking forward to reading it.

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  5. Such a lot of interesting information you are putting in this A to Z, Jim. I will have to go back and re-read when I have some time. Even though we are both showcasing music, we haven’t hit any of the same people yet!

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