famous story goes that Jim Morrison bumped into fellow UCLA student
while the pair of them were walking across Venice Beach in August, 1965.
Jim sat Ray down in the sand and, eyes shut tight, crooned the first
verse from one of the songs / poems he'd been working on called 'Moonlight
Drive'. According to legend, Morrison recited the lines (Let's swim to
the moon, uh huh / Let's climb through the tide/Penetrate the evening
that the city sleeps to hide.) When he finished, Manzarek paused for
a second before saying, "Those are the greatest song lyrics I've
ever heard. Let's start a rock 'n' roll band and make a million dollars." Jim
wasn't so shy that he couldn't retort, "Exactly. That's what I had
in mind all along."
After residencies at several nightclubs scattered along Sunset Strip, The Doors began to develop a loyal cult following at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go but were fired for inciting their followers with the psychedelic raga rock and Oedipal complexities of their soon becoming epic song 'The End'. Still, It was at the Whiskey that Arthur Lee, leader of the influential Los Angeles band Love, saw the struggling young band. He recommended them to a girlfriend who passed on the message to Elektra's urbane taste maker and label boss Jac Holzman. It was a bittersweet moment for Lee because The Doors eventually usurped Love on the local circuit before conquering the American airwaves and becoming the biggest American band of the late sixties.
Recorded in 1966 but not released until 1967 The Doors self-titled
debut disc displayed their singular style. The opening cut, 'Break
on Through', was a virtual challenge to the counter culture to leave
their old belief system behind and cleanse their own collective doors
'Break on Through' caused a radio sensation in California but it was Krieger's composition 'Light My Fire' that opened up The Doors for public consumption. Written almost as a pastiche of Morrison's inflammatory, lustful libido, 'Light My Fire' was a number one hit after being trimmed back for radio from seven to three minutes. Given the singer's overtly handsome presence, that success turned The Doors from an underground phenomenon into a teen friendly act - a useful enough launch pad but also something of an albatross later on.
Morrison's desire to be taken more seriously was evident in Strange Days (1967) which twisted the sound of the debut into more experimental territory on the ritualistic 'When the Music's Over', while being of a piece with its predecessor. Even so there was no easy way to categorize this remarkable group. Tracks such as 'People Are Strange', 'Love Me Two Times', Willie Dixon's 'Backdoor Man', and a radical reworking of Brecht and Weill's 'Alabama Song', showed them to be adept within a bluesy and baroque vaudeville context. Psychedelia may have been all the rage in those summers of love but The Doors only used acid rock as an occasional vantage point, it was never their raison d'etre. Rock as an art was their ambition and it was (and still is) clear that they hit their mark.
In 1968, The Doors began to cause a stir outside of the USA with the lush album Waiting for The Sun, which contained their first UK hit, the lurching, lascivious 'Hello, I Love You'. Though more mellow than its predecessors, this third album provided Morrison with another platform when The Doors made their first visit to Europe, playing the London Roadhouse with Jefferson Airplane amongst other venues. Using the war in Vietnam as a subtext, Morrison caught the mood of that riotous year with 'The Unknown Soldier' and the gangster flavoured 'Five to One', a chillingly commercial precursor to the bloodbaths that would follow once the hippies started to spawn all manner of deviant misfits.
The Soft Parade, though unfairly derided (usually by bores who can't appreciate the subversive joys of experimentation), spawned yet another bona fide further smash in 'Touch Me' and ushered The Doors' one and only flirtation with cool Cali horns. Significantly, the disc was deliberately studio bound rather than geared to the stage and the ensuing months showed why. Morrison's increasingly idiosyncratic performances were starting to overshadow the group thrust. In July 1969 he was arrested for alleged exposure at Dinner Key, Miami and was scrutinized thereafter not as a rock star but as a potential troublemaker. The pressure of delivering as an entertainer and a populist shaman can be heard on Absolutely Live. Remarkably, when it seemed that The Doors were imploding, they came up with two albums that matched anything achieved in the first flush of youth. The grizzled, louche rhythm and blues of Morrison Hotel (the live Roadhouse Blues is included here) showed that Morrison was back to his potent best.
L. A. Woman, The Doors' final album, is perhaps the most coherent example of both their collective brilliance and of Morrison's timeless vocal qualities. Incredibly he was only 26 when they started recording this intimate, evocative set at their workshop in Hollywood. The title song and the rain swept majesty of 'Riders on the Storm' seemed prophetic, as if this was their goodbye album. If that remains one of popular music's mysteries, so be it. Mystery is a word that defines The Doors and their music. As Morrison once said of his band, "From a historical vantage point, it will probably look like the troubadour period of France. I'm sure it will seem incredibly romantic. I think we're going to look very good to future people."
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