The Doors | The Doors 1967 | 50th Anniversary Retrospective
The Doors | The Doors 1967
50th Anniversary Retrospective
Label: Elektra Records
Release Year: 1967
Genre: Dark/Psychedelic Rock/Blues/Folk Rock
Jim Morrison- Vocals
Ray Manzarek- Bass Organ/Keyboards/Hammond Organ
Robby Krieger- Guitar
John Densmore- Drums
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The year is 1967, the first successful heart transplant happens in South Africa, the first ever bank ATM machine comes on to the landscape, the Monterey Pop Music & Arts Festival takes place in Monterey California, the first ever Super Bowl played between the Green Bay Packers vs Kansas City Chiefs plays and the Six Day War In Israel occurs. Meanwhile the USA is involved in the nations first ever televised war in Vietnam.
The war in Vietnam would ultimately lead to the infamous ‘Flower Power’ peace movement birthed in San Francisco California, the United Kingdom would begin to export some that would later be known as Progressive Rock and the United States was still being over run with music of peace from home and longer form progressive music from both the United Kingdom and Germany with ‘Krautrock’. However in the world of music and pop culture that all was about to change.
It was 1965 and two film students from UCLA Jim Morrison and Ray Manzerek would be on a collision course with melodic destiny. On the streets and in the underground of 1965 Los Angeles, Jim Morrison would develop a cult like following as a poet. Though he’d never intended to be a singer, Morrison was invited to join Manzarek’s group Rick and the Ravens on the strength of his poetry. Robby Krieger andJohn Densmore, who’d played together in the band Psychedelic Rangers, were recruited soon thereafter; though several bassists auditioned of the new collective, none could furnish the bottom end as effectively as Manzarek’s left hand. Taking their name from Aldous Huxley’s psychotropic monograph The Doors of Perception, the band signed to Elektra Records following a now-legendary gig at the Whisky-a-Go-Go on the Sunset Strip. Later The Doors of Perception would be shorten to just The Doors.
In 1967 The Doors would release their self titled debut on a Elektra Records and it is that very self titled debut that is the subject of this very ‘retrospective piece’. It is always good to do these retrospectives because it allows for those who were there to reflect in a pool of nostalgia, a possible introduction to the band and album of the generations that would come after and finally to pass the stories down along the lines of posterity. In this particular retrospective I will share some fun song facts I researched for this and to introduce a newer generation to the very fabric of origins of the music we love . This album in a very backhanded way was my gateway into progressive rock and I will explain that later on in this piece.
As far as the dark content and imagery The Doors painted on their debut, it was a total rebellion to the ‘Flower Power’ movement of the day. The Doors were not feeling all the peace and love many of their contemporaries were. The Doors lyrically and instrumentally walked down the darker and less travel road. Their collective mindset deliberately took the road less traveled back in that day and time. The fact they were taking the much darker approach in the music also certainly allowed for the band to not only be as distinctive as night and day among their peers but would garner the attention of watchdog groups set up by both governments and some religious organizations of the day.
A lot of the lyrical content of the album was influenced by the very childhood of Jim Morrison. Constantly challenging censorship and conventional wisdom, Jim Morrison’s lyrics delved into primal issues of sex, violence, freedom and the spirit. He outraged authority figures, braved intimidation and arrest, and followed the road of excess (as one of his muses, the poet William Blake, famously put it) toward the palace of wisdom. Ray Manzarek was the architect of The Doors’ intoxicating keyboard sound. Manzarek’s evocative playing fused rock, jazz, blues, bossa nova and an array of other styles into something utterly, dazzlingly new.
Drummer John Densmore was far more than merely the rhythmic engine of The Doors. Strongly influenced by jazz skinsmen like Elvin Jones and the supple grooves of the Brazilian wave, he brought a highly evolved sense of dynamics, structure and musicality to his beats. Inexorably drawn to music from childhood, Los Angeles-born Densmore honed his sense of dynamics playing with his high school marching band. In the mid-’60s he joined guitarist Robby Krieger in a band called Psychedelic Rangers; shortly thereafter they hooked up with keyboardist Ray Manzarek and Morrison, and an explosive chapter in the development of rock ‘n’ roll began. A raft of paradigm-shifting recordings and epochal live performances would follow. With a flair for wicked bottleneck slide, exploratory solos and gutbucket grooves, guitarist Robby Krieger brought a stinging, sinuous intensity to the sound of The Doors. But he was also a key songwriter in the band and penned some of their biggest hits – notably their mesmerizing #1 hit, “Light My Fire.” Before picking up the guitar at age 17, the L.A. native studied trumpet and piano. The inspiration for switching to guitar came not from rock ‘n’ roll, but Spanish flamenco music. His first guitar hero, however, was jazz legend Wes Montgomery. After Morrison’s death in 1971, Krieger, Manzarek and Densmore carried on as a trio. They released two more albums as the Doors before calling it quits in 1973, though they did reconvene a few years later to create music for poetry Morrison had recorded shortly before his death, released as the 1978 album An American Prayer.
Now some highlights and song facts track by track on the self titled 1967 debut of The Doors, The Doors.
Break On Through (To The Other Side) takes off with some seriously blues laden rock riffs laid down by Robby Kreiger who sets the table for the listener. In this urgent song, Jim Morrison looks to shake things up, a common theme in his songwriting. In 1966, he said: “I like ideas about the breaking away or overthrowing of established order. I am interested in anything about revolt, disorder, chaos, especially activity that seems to have no meaning.” This was the first song on The Doors first album, and also their first single. It got some airplay on Los Angeles radio stations after their friends and fans kept requesting it.
The original line in the chorus was “She gets high,” but their producer Paul Rothchild thought that would limit the song’s airplay potential, and convinced the group to leave it out. Instead, “high” was edited out, making it sound like, “she get uuggh,” but the “high” line can be heard in live versions. You can also hear the song as intended in the 1999 reissue of the album, which was overseen by their original engineer Bruce Botnick. He also replaced Jim Morrison’s “f–k”s on “The End.” These edits went over about as well as the digital revisions to Star Wars.
Soul Kitchen perhaps a highly under rated and hidden anthem for The Doors is a tribute to a soul food restaurant Jim Morrison ate at on Venice Beach called Olivia’s. Morrison often stayed too late at Olivia’s, where he liked the food because it reminded him of home and warmed his “soul.” They often kicked him out so they can close, thus lines like: “let me sleep all night, in your soul kitchen.”
“Soul Kitchen” as a restaurant title, would have of course referred to “soul food.” That’s a traditional kind of cuisine popular with African Americans of the mid-20th century, named in harmony with other “soul” affectations. Soul food usually revolved around ham (cuts like hog’s feet and hog jowls), beans, okra, hushpuppies, cornbread, collard greens, and other one-offs of standard American fair. The idea is to that the food is both economical and very filling. People in colder climates (from any culture) may also find soul food comforting in the heart of winter, since you’re going to burn all those calories shoveling snow anyway.
According to the Greil Marcus book The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years, “Soul Kitchen” was The Doors’ own “Gloria,” comparing the steady climb toward a looming chorus. It also quotes Paul Williams’ May 1967 article in Crawdaddy! opining that it was more comparable to “Blowin’ in the Wind,” in that both songs have a message, but the message of “Soul Kitchen” is of course “learn to forget.”
Meanwhile, John Densmore’s book Riders on the Storm: My Life with Jim Morrison and the Doors declares that the title restaurant Olivia’s was a “small soul food restaurant at the corner of Ocean Park and Main.” The author describes a meal there with Morrison, commenting that the restaurant “belonged in Biloxi, Mississippi” and resembled “an Amtrak dining car that got stranded on the beach” and was packed with UCLA film students. Another famous diner was Linda Ronstadt.
The Crystal Ship is clearly a ethereal based track revolving around suggestive imagery and content on a lyrical basis. This song came from poetry written in Jim Morrison’s notebooks. He wrote it after splitting up with his girlfriend, Mary Werbelow, in the summer of 1965. While the “Crystal Ship” is sometimes thought to represent drugs, Ken Rafferty from The Annotated Lyrics makes this case:
This song has nothing to do with drugs and everything about Jim Morrison’s heavy relationship with his first love, Mary Werbelow. As a poet, he did nothing more than use transparent images for his relation to the past. He (Jim Morrison) hasn’t let go of her as evidenced in the first line, “Before you slip into unconsciousness, I’d like to have another kiss.” That means the protagonist had already left her in the physical realm, but has not left her subconsciously. The thought of her still burdens him and he just wants another kiss to somehow make it feel better.
“Another flashing chance at bliss, another kiss.” Again, he cannot seem to let go of their love, their relationship, and how much she meant to him.
“The days are bright and filled with pain.” He’s moved on and is now doing very well as a singer/songwriter in a rock band in L.A., but he still has feelings for her and this song is his testament to her that he still has feelings for her.
“The time you ran was too insane.” Jim was one to mock even his girlfriends- he would tease others, but mostly, he was testing them. This line very well could be a reference to a time he felt bad about verbally teasing her- knowing that it upset her.
“The streets are fields that never die, deliver me from reasons why, you’d rather cry, I’d rather fly.” A simple line that confirms the end of the relationship and that the protagonist is willing to move on. The streets are fields are his memories, and because they are vague memories now, they also present a reason why he can forget.
And that last stanza confirms his growing popularity as a lead singer for a rock band with an ever-growing popularity. The beauty of it though is how he is saying to her that no matter how big he becomes, he will still think of her, and even call her, when he gets the chance.
Twentieth Century Fox is perhaps the most humourous tongue cheek song on the entire album. It is definitely something much lighter on the audio pallet in the midst of an album dealing with so much dark yet brooding material. This song is about a fashionable, but unfeeling woman. The title is a play on words – it’s the name of a popular movie studio, but Jim Morrison’s lyrics refer to a girl – “fox” was a popular term for a pretty girl at the time. The movie studio is used to represent the woman in the song, who is glamorous, but artificial.
The studio, 20th Century Fox, is one of the Big Six studios. Fox Film Corporation was founded in 1915, while Twentieth Century Pictures was founded in 1933. They merged in 1935 and became “The Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation.”
Producer Paul Rothchild had the band walk on wooden planks during the chorus to get the pounding effect.
In 2002, original Doors Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek joined former Police drummer Stewart Copeland and former Cult singer Ian Astbury to form a new group which they called “21st Century Doors,” the name being a takeoff on this song. They were going to start touring in 2002, but had to postpone until 2003 when Copeland broke his arm while biking. Krieger and Manzarek replaced him with drummer Ty Dennis, and Copeland filed a lawsuit claiming they broke an oral agreement to keep him as their drummer. The band was also sued by original drummer John Densmore, and by Jim Morrison’s parents, who felt they were misappropriating the Doors name. Krieger and Manzarek eventually changed the name to “Riders On The Storm.”
Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar) is another song off the album with more of a pop sensibility. This is a cover of a German opera song written in 1929 by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht. It was used in a controversial 1930 German operetta called The Rise And Fall Of The City Of Mahogany.
The themes of materialism, despair, and illicit pleasures from the operetta this was taken from would be revisited often by The Doors. The song took on a more literal meaning over the years as Jim Morrison’s drug and alcohol problems became public knowledge. The Doors got the idea for this from an album of German songs their keyboard player, Ray Manzarek, had. In 2000, the surviving members of the Doors taped a VH1 Storytellers episode with guest vocalists filling in for Morrison. Ian Astbury sang on this track, and in 2002 joined Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger when they toured as The Doors of the 21st Century. He fronted their group, which changed names after a lawsuit filed by original drummer John Densmore, until 2007, doing about 150 shows.
Light My Fire next to ‘The End’ is probably the most controversial and dubious song on the album. It would chart on Billboard in America at #1 and the United Kingdom at #7. It would also be one of the contemporary rock songs of its time to the present day to have airplay of its original format at 7:14.
Most of the song was written by Doors guitarist Robby Krieger, who wanted to write about one of the elements: fire, air, earth, and water. A fan of the Rolling Stones song “Play With Fire,” he decided to go hot. Krieger came up with the melody and wrote most of the lyrics, which are about leaving inhibitions behind in flames of passion.
At first, the song had a folk flavor, but it ignited when Jim Morrison wrote the second verse (“our love become a funeral pyre…”) and Ray Manzarek came up with the famous organ intro. Drummer John Densmore also contributed, coming up with the rhythm. Like all Doors songs of this era, the band shared composer credits.
This became The Doors’ signature song. Included on their first album, it was a huge hit and launched them to stardom. Before it was released, The Doors were an underground band popular in the Los Angeles area, but “Light My Fire” got the attention of a mass audience.
On the album, which was released in January 1967, the song runs 6:50. The group’s first single, “Break On Through (To The Other Side),” reached just #126 in America. “Light My Fire” was deemed too long for airplay, but radio stations (especially in Los Angeles) got requests for the song from listeners who heard it off the album. Their label, Elektra Records decided to release a shorter version so they had producer Paul Rothchild do an edit. By chopping out the guitar solos, he whittled it down to 2:52.
This version was released as a single in April, and the song took off, giving The Doors their first big hit.
To many fans, the single edit was an abomination, and many DJs played the album version once the song took off. The producers of The Ed Sullivan Show asked the band to change the line “Girl we couldn’t get much higher” for their appearance in 1967. Morrison said he would, but sung it anyway. Afterwards, he told Sullivan that he was nervous and simply forgot to change the line. This didn’t fly, and The Doors were never invited back.
Back Door Man spoke of a issue becoming a epidemic of the day, that being infidelity or adultery. It was easy to see why considering all the ‘Free Love’ propaganda going about in the culture. A Willie Dixon blues song from 1961, this has been covered by John Hammond Jr. and Howlin’ Wolf, among others. The Doors decided to cover this after their guitarist Robby Krieger heard John Hammond Jr.’s version.
A “Back Door Man” is a guy who has relations with a woman while her husband has been out slaving away to provide for her. The usual guilty perpetrator if a wife was caught cheating was a regular tradesman caller (Ice Man, Insurance Salesman etc.). He would then run out the back door as the husband entered the front door. The “Back Door Man” theme has been taken up in several Soul and Blues songs, including “Back Door Santa” by Clarence Carter.
At a show at Winterland in San Francisco, The Doors stopped in the middle of this when their taped performance came on The Jonathan Winters Show. They watched the segment from a TV on stage, picked up their instruments, and finished the song. The Doors played a lot of Blues songs in their early days when they were playing clubs, but this is the only one they recorded until 2 years later, when they did “Crawling King Snake” on LA Woman.
The Doors performed this at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. The Doors didn’t play well, as Morrison was worried about his trial resulting from a Miami concert where he was accused of exposing himself to the crowd. Morrison was convicted of indecent exposure, but died while the case was under appeal. In 2010, the governor of Florida granted Morrison a posthumous pardon after a fan requested a review of the case.
I Looked At You was a very pop kind of track at the time. It was a song that could certainly hang with anything The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Mama’ And Papa’s and even The Monkees had put out at that point. But even in what at first sounds like a sunny pop tune, Jim Morrison managed to weave some disturbing thoughts. While the song catalogs an exchange of lover’s looks, smiles and words like any other love song might do, the driving message here is that the lovers can’t turn back, and “it’s too late”. Maybe it’s simply too late for the lovers not to be deeply in love, but the edginess and weariness in Morrison’s vocals suggest a more sinister subtext. Not exactly “Happy Together”.
End Of The Night is a deeply and heavily psychedelic folk rock track. It also is as deeply disturbing on a lyrical front as the emotion conveys through the instrumental portion of the track. This is definitely a song that takes on another life once the lyrics marry with the instrumental. This is a “confession” of Jim Morrison’s aims in life. To the end of the night was his aim through many ways of speeding up death, a kind of death through hallucinations and visions into other worlds (drugs). He was trying to get somewhere nobody had ever been before, a place of complete peace.
The title and some of the lyrics were inspired by the 1932 French novel Journey To The End Of The Night by Louis-Ferdinand Celine.
Realms of bliss, realms of light
Some are born to sweet delight
Some are born to sweet delight
Some are born to the endless night
Are taken almost verbatim from the poem Auguries Of Innocence by William Blake, which includes the passage:
Every morn and every night
Some are born to sweet delight
Some are born to sweet delight
Some are born to endless night
Take It As It Comes Just as George Harrison of The Beatles had developed a friendship with his spiritual leader Ravi Shankar, so had Jim Morrison with The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, 1917-2008. “Maharishi”. This song is about accepting what life gives you at your own pace. It was dedicated to the Maharishi, a teacher of transcendental meditation, after Jim Morrison attended one of his lectures. The full name of this particular Maharishi is Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, 1917-2008. “Maharishi” itself is just a title meaning “enlightened, spiritual one.” Yogi had a good sense of humor and as he often laughed in TV interviews, he was nicknamed “the giggling guru.” While his teachings, the practice of transcendental meditation, were usually associated with Hindu or Buddhist religions, Yogi was out to advocate meditation itself as a spiritual practice and alternative medicine, based on his interpretation of the ancient Vedic science.
The Maharishi is famous for leading a meditation camp in 1967 attended by The Beatles, Donovan, and Mia Farrow. John Lennon wrote “Sexy Sadie” about The Maharishi.
– Journey To The Center Of The Progressive Universe #1-
It was the summer of 1979 and my parents had been in the middle of a nasty divorce. I would eventually end up leaving Ohio and go to California with my dad and new step mother. My dad had just changed out the old 8 track player for a new state of the art cassette player. On our way to California he put in the first cassette at it was the very album I have been talking about in this retrospective, The Doors The Doors.
I remember how utterly scary this was to a 7 year old child at the time. The utter darkness to it. The 11:00 + minutes left me in bewilderment. It really scared the hell out of me but left me in total awe and intrigue. Never before had I ever heard a song that long up till that time. This would give me such a total void into long form music that demanded to be filled. It was in fact off this track that I learned of Yes’s Close To The Edge, Jethro Tull’s Thick As A Brick, Genesis’ Suppers Ready and even RUSH’s 2112. Much like Dorothy in the Land Of OZ this started my journey into progressive rock/metal. I went through the wormhole and down that yellow brick road and have never returned since.
The End (Revisited) “The End” is death, although the song also deals with Jim Morrison’s parents – it contains Oedipal themes of loving the mother and killing the father. Morrison was always vague as to the meaning, explaining: “It could be almost anything you want it to be.”
The Doors developed this song during live performances at the Whisky a Go Go, a Los Angeles club where they were the house band in 1966. They had to play two sets a night, so they were forced to extend their songs in order to fill the sets. This gave them a chance to experiment with their songs.
“The End” began as Jim Morrison’s farewell to Mary Werbelow, his girlfriend who followed him from Florida to Los Angeles. It developed into an 11-minute epic.
On August 21, 1966, Jim Morrison didn’t show up for The Doors gig at the Whisky a Go Go. After playing the first set without him, the band retrieved Morrison from his apartment, where he had been tripping on acid. They always played “The End” as the last song, but Morrison decided to play it early in the set, and the band went along. When they got to the part where he could do a spoken improvisation, he started talking about a killer, and said, “Father, I want to kill you. Mother, I want to f–k you!” The crowd went nuts, but the band was fired right after the show. The Doors had recently signed a record deal and they had established a large following, so getting fired from the Whisky was not a crushing blow.
Morrison sang this live as “F–k the mother,” rather than “Screw the mother.” At the time, the band couldn’t cross what their engineer Bruce Botnick called “the f–k barrier,” so they sanitized the lyric on the album. When Botnick remixed the album for a 1999 reissue, however, he put Morrison’s “f–k”s back in, which is how the song was intended.
This was famously used in the movie Apocalypse Now over scenes from the Vietnam War. Director Francis Ford Coppola had it remixed to include the line “F–k the mother.”
Make no mistake The Doors The Doors goes down as one of the strongest debut albums in rock history. It is one of the original fusion albums perfectly mixing rock, blues, psychedelic, jazz and even folk elements. This is also one of the most experimental debut rock albums in history yielding the 7+ minute Light My Fire and the 11+ minute The End, something unheard of for a American band at the time. This self titled debut instantly cemented the band’s legacy as one we still talk about 50 years later. The Doors The Doors is one of those rock albums and debuts that continually transcends time and generations.