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The Doors

+ {Jim Morrison}

Amid a raft of controversy and contempt for the establishment while the USA was deep into the political mire that was Vietnam, The DOORS took the world of psychedelic rock’n’roll music by storm. No other top pop group at the time was quite as nihilistic as this riveting quartet. Fronted by the enigmatic mystique Jim Morrison, whose poetry and theatrical imagery was the group’s tour de force, The DOORS marked their stoner-rock terrain from the first whispers of 1967 until their mainman’s mysterious departure four years later.
Taking their moniker from Aldous Huxley’s work The Doors Of Perception, UCLA film school buddies – and ex-Rick & The Ravens members – Jim Morrison (vocals) and Ray Manzarek (organ and bass pedal) formed The DOORS in July 1965 at their Los Angeles, California base. The group went through a few personnel changes before they settled with drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger, both from the Psychedelic Rangers. Released from a Columbia records contract, when LOVE’s Arthur Lee recommended them to his Elektra label boss Jac Holzman, The DOORS combined a residency at the Whisky A Go Go with other gigs on the Strip.
Early in 1967, debut THE DOORS {*10} was issued, an album which soon climbed to US No.2 after an edited version of the track `Light My Fire’ hit No.1 in July ’67. The single and album showcased Morrison’s overtly sexual vocal theatrics against a backdrop of Manzarek’s organ-dominated, avant-garde blues. This classic debut also contained `Break On Through (To The Other Side)’, two cover versions (WILLIE DIXON’s `Back Door Man’ and Brecht-Weill’s `Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)’), the lucid psychedelia of `The Crystal Ship’, plus the extremely disturbing 11-plus minute epic, `The End’ – this closing magnum opus was famously used for the soundtrack to Francis Ford Coppola’s anti-war movie, Apocalypse Now.
While other bands of the era were into peace and love, The DOORS found their salvation in a much darker vision, once again in evidence on their sophomore set, STRANGE DAYS (1967) {*8}. Although not a patch on their debut, this was indeed another minor classic, tracks such as `Love Me Two Times’, `You’re Lost Little Girl’, `When The Music’s Over’ and `People Are Strange’ further enhancing the band’s powerful mystique. It was also Morrison’s first vinyl induction into the world of poetry via the weird and wonderful `Horse Latitudes’. The band were now America’s biggest-selling act, although Jim was never at ease with the fame. Nevertheless, late in the summer of ‘68, The DOORS found themselves at the top of the US charts again with the 45, `Hello, I Love You’, a short song taken from their third album, WAITING FOR THE SUN {*6}. With temp bass player Leroy Vinegar superseding Doug Labahn, the set displayed a few schismatic themes, including `Five To One’ and the anti-war cue `The Unknown Soldier’; the latter (alongside other gems such as `Spanish Caravan’) to feature on their subsequent Granada UK TV documentary film, The Doors Are Open.
As Morrison’s drink and drugs antics became increasingly problematic, he was arrested many times (on stage and off), mostly for lewd simulation of sexual acts and indecent exposure. A disappointing 4th album, THE SOFT PARADE (1969) {*6}, comprised all sorts of orchestral and gospel-meets-bluegrass experiments. It did however, contain the faux-jazz US Top 3 number, `Touch Me’, while `Wishful Sinful’, `Runnin’ Blue’ and `Shaman’s Blues’ were the only songs to raise the bar slightly. Preaching to the converted, the 8-minute title track finale suite had many tangents and off-kilter bubblegum moments in amongst Jim’s poetic mastery.
More controversy was generated, when, in November ‘69, Morrison was accused of interfering with an airline stewardess during a flight. Jim was later acquitted, although he was given eight months hard labour after being found guilty of indecent exposure and profanity; he was subsequently freed on appeal to began work on a much-improved 5th set, MORRISON HOTEL (1970) {*8}. A return to rawer, more basic rock’n’roll and spurred on by Jim’s recent extracurricular activities, the album restored the faith with their loyal legion of disciples. Despite no particularly startling or major hit 45s (`You Make Me Real’ only just cracked the Top 50), there were two aspects of The DOORS on show here: the “Hard Rock Café” side one (featuring `Roadhouse Blues’, the protest of `Peace Frog’, leftover `Waiting For The Sun’ and the solemn `Blue Sunday’); “Morrison Hotel: Two” was equally enlightening as Jim the jazzman took on `The Spy’ or by contrast rocked-out via `Maggie M’Gill’.
The DOORS sixth successive Top 10 set, ABSOLUTELY LIVE (1970) {*4} – a double document in lazy live aplomb – was found wanting among the critics who stood by Jim and his jammers throughout their torturous times. Thankfully leaving an opening, overdrawn-out “house announcement” to appease future CD buyers (and, you’d have to be there!), side one was beset with a medley of three covers (plus) headed by BO DIDDLEY’s `Who Do You Love’; side three featured a second WILLIE DIXON cue `Close To You’ (`Backdoor Man’ was the first). Interesting as it was bleak and self-indulgent, the exhaustive 7-part trip of power and poetry, `The Celebration Of The Lizard’ was arguably one for the converted connoisseur.
Recorded before the bearded Jim cut loose from his group connection for good; relocating with wife Pamela to Paris in the process, and amid rumours of an imminent split from the group, studio set number six L.A. WOMAN {*9} was delivered to an unsuspecting fanbase in May 1971. A seminal masterpiece that carried on the re-evaluation of their blues roots, Morrison at least left behind vocal tracks for his foreboding former buddies. The group was somewhat overshadowed and understated by their foreman, but collectively (sometimes individually), Densmore, Manzarek and Krieger once again had much more than a supporting role in the songwriting department. Jim’s over-indulgence in drugs and booze, had given his vocal chords a deeper resonance, showcased on such classics as major smash `Love Her Madly’, the 7-minute closer, `Riders On The Storm’ (edited for a transatlantic Top 30 hit), the JOHN LEE HOOKER cover `Crawling King Snake’ and the freewheeling title track. Nearly 8 minutes in entirety, the latter piece de resistance was a fitting frame around the group’s collective canvas, while their was cool courtesy of `Cars Hiss By The Window’ and `The WASP (Texas Radio And The Big Beat)’.
Ironically, just as The DOORS seemed to have found their feet again, James Douglas Morrison was found dead in his bathtub on July 3, 1971. Speculation was rife at the time, but it later became apparent he’d died from a drugs/drink induced heart attack; he was also buried in Paris (Poets’ Corner), his grave becoming a shrine to all but his parents, who disowned him in 1967 after he’d publicly described them as dead. Morrison had almost immediately succumbed to the trials and tribulations that had only recently took the lives of legends JIMI HENDRIX, JANIS JOPLIN and Brian Jones – all aged 27. The “god-like” genius and cult of Morrison has since mushroomed to incredible proportions in the years following his death, rumours continuing to spread (ELVIS-like), that he was still alive. There have been many imitators over the last quarter of a century, although none have matched his/their dark majesty.
The DOORS continued as a trio for the next two years, but sadly the public refused to acknowledge them as the real McCoy, still reeling after the untimely death of their leader and confidante Jim Morrison. The lead vocal role(s) were taken by Ray or Robby on the rush-released OTHER VOICES (1971) {*6}, but even the cool ’n’ classy `Ships w/Sails’ was a little amiss of their long-lost crooner; minor hit 45 `Tightrope Ride’ could’ve the Stones in their prime. Featuring a cover of Roy Brown’s R&B nugget `Good Rockin’’, second comeback set FULL CIRCLE (1972) {*5} completed the transition from legends to leg-ends; but for `The Mosquito’ and `The Peking King And The New York Queen’, the grooves were a pale comparison to the once giants of psychedelic rock. Music had moved with the times and left them behind as prog/heavy acts like JETHRO TULL and BLACK SABBATH were now in vogue. Still working on a revival of sorts, both Krieger and Densmore would split from solo bound RAY MANZAREK to form post-DOORS act The Butts Band; two albums were issued in the mid-70s; KRIEGER also took the jazz-rock route via several subsequent solo sets.
The legacy of The DOORS and JIM MORRISON continued to supersede anything that the remaining trio could conjure up, one of many exploitation pieces to emerge was the collaborative poetry-meets-music set AN AMERICAN PRAYER (1978) {*5}. One can definitely vouch for `Ghost Ship’ and `Newborn Awakening’ songs, while several others were starters or suites rather than main courses.
In 1991, with a number of live-in-concert sets previously issued, Oliver Stone released a feature film simply entitled The Doors; the equally enigmatic Val Kilmer playing the role of Jim. Nearly two decades on, another general-release motion picture (When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors) found it way into the minds of new found fans and aficionado alike; Johnny Depp would read the mainman’s poetry.
The DOORS’ hard-rock café had earlier took shape, when in 2002, Manzarek and Krieger reactivated a new post-millennium version of the group (aka The Doors Of The 21st Century), choosing ex-CULT man Ian Astbury(!) to front them, while Angelo Barbera (on bass) and STEWART COPELAND (drums) supplemented their live shows; the latter was duly replaced by Ty Dennis and Brett Scallions before the MANZAREK-KRIEGER project took precedence. A long way indeed from the halcyon days of The DOORS of the late 60s and early 70s.
With a revitalised solo career taking shape through collaborative efforts alongside Roy Rogers (the last being “Translucent Blues” in 2011), MANZAREK died of bile duct cancer on May 20, 2013.
© MC Strong 1994-2008/GRD-BG/MCS // rev-up MCS Apr2012-May2013

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