The Doors formed in Los Angeles in 1965 and swiftly became the central attraction of the music world, owing to a string of acclaimed records which blurred the line between psychedelic rock and blues. The band’s lead vocalist Jim Morrison became one of the most iconic frontmen of all time thanks to his poetic lyricism, charisma and controversial onstage antics. Ultimately, he became a martyr of rock‘n’roll excess, struggles with alcohol and substance abuse lead him to his untimely death at a mere 27 years of age.
Although the media often focused on Morrison, The Doors were assuredly a collective effort, with each individual member bringing a distinct style through their instrumentation and song-writing. Ray Manzarek’s unmistakable organs have become inseparable from The Doors’ sound, whilst Robbie Krieger created lysergic guitar soundscapes and the percussion of John Densmore brought a flair of jazz and the exotic; ‘Break On Through (To The Other Side)’ for example, features the distinctive opening bossa nova drum groove rhythms.
As this year marks the 50th anniversary of the release of their début album (which has recently been re-issued as part of a deluxe edition set), it’s only right The Doors discography is explored in full.
The Doors (1967)
The Doors self-titled début is perhaps their most celebrated work. The group became on par in popularity as their overseas contemporaries The Beatles and The Rolling Stones thanks to a string of hit singles and future set-staples such as ‘Break On Through’, ‘The End’ and ‘Light My Fire’.
There’s a heavy dose of blues in ‘Soul Kitchen’, ‘Twentieth Century Fox’ and the Willie Dixon cover ‘Back Door Man’ in addition to the psychedelic steeped numbers ‘End of the Night’ and ‘The Crystal Ship’. These two tracks would later become emblematic of the emergence of a heavier strain of psychedelia known as ‘acid rock’.
‘The Doors’ cemented itself as one of the greatest albums of 1967, a tough accomplishment considering ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’, Love’s ‘Forever Changes’ and Captain Beefheart’s début were also released that year.
Strange Days (1967)
It’s difficult to believe that ‘Strange Days’ was released a mere eight months after the massively successful ‘The Doors’, considering the sheer quality of both records. Issued in the September of 1967, ‘Strange Days’ is perhaps The Doors most psychedelic and experimental effort, featuring new-found studio tweaks and an increased array of instruments such as Moog synthesizers and a harpsichord. ‘Strange Days’ is a consistent and short sophomore album, featuring numerous highlights including the theatrical yet undeniably enticing ‘People Are Strange’, the off-beat blues track ‘Moonlight Drive’ and the carnal classic ‘Love Me Two Times’.
Effectively, the album art of ‘Strange Days’ is representative of the musical content presented. Its lack of success commercially was accredited to featuring no hit generating lead single and its experimental approach, which makes sense considering the albums centre-piece is ‘Horse Latitudes’, a track where curious soundscapes meet spoken word poetry, eventually descending into an all-out clattering cacophony.
Waiting for the Sun (1968)
‘Waiting for the Sun’ is a much mellower affair than the previous two efforts, featuring warm, sedate tracks such as the flamenco stylings of ‘Spanish Caravan’ and the smash hit ‘Love Street’. As the title suggests, the album is perfect to soundtrack a warm summers day, especially realised in the dreamy ‘Yes, the River Knows’ and the classic opener ‘Hello, I Love You’. This however, is contradicted by the militant political themes of ‘Five to One’ which explores the inauthentic mainstream cultures hijacking of the imploding hippie movement and ‘The Unknown Soldier’ deals with the disparity between an individual soldier’s experience of the Vietnam war and the American media’s commentary on the conflict. The Doors climbed to the top of the US album chart with ‘Waiting for the Sun’, surprisingly it is the only time they managed to achieve this accomplishment.
The Soft Parade (1969)
‘The Soft Parade’ saw The Doors greeted with a lukewarm response from fans and critics alike for the first time in their career. By incorporating brass and string instruments into their compositions, the group satisfied their cravings to approach song-writing with an increased influence from jazz and pop. However, the record feels like a huge step down from the band’s previous work; Morrison’s substance abuse issues seem to have impaired any clear vision at a unified project, not to mention the controversies surrounding his on-stage antics overshadowing the band’s music.
Of course, the excellent ‘Touch Me’ was a huge hit and remains one of the groups most cherished tracks, yet as an album, there is little to shout about. Although it’s overflowing with ideas, the execution of the song-writing, the inconsistencies and a lack of a cohesiveness impair the album from reaching the dizzying heights of quality heard in their prior records.
Morrison Hotel (1970)
Upon the first few notes of ‘Roadhouse Blues’ sounding, it becomes immediately apparent that ‘Morrison Hotel’ is a return to the blues rock roots featured in The Doors’ early work and a stark amendment from the maligned efforts at orchestration of ‘The Soft Parade’. Their fifth studio album, ‘Morrison Hotel’ can be viewed as both a return to form and as a record which preempted the powerful blues classic ‘L.A. Woman’. It’s a solid record throughout; both diverse and rocking, this album could be a perfect introductory point for a new listener as it features immediate blues tracks including ‘Peace Frog’, ‘Ship of Fools’ and ‘Maggie M’Gill’, in addition the psychedelic ones like ‘Waiting for the Sun’, ‘Blue Sunday’ and ‘Indian Summer’.
L.A. Woman (1971)
Often seen as The Doors’ last “proper album”, ‘L.A. Woman’ is one of the most beloved albums in rock music history. The group revisit their early influences, and create a heavy take on the blues which fashioned their career. There’s a commanding enthusiasm in Jim Morrison’s vocal performance, sounding hoarse yet powerful throughout the record; it goes without saying that Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters were key influences to his immediately recognisable style.
‘Riders On The Storm’ was to be the last song recorded by Morrison in his life, dying three months after ‘L.A. Woman’ was released. The track recalls tales of serial killers and philosophical contemplations on the human psyche arranged into a mesmerizing, psychedelic epic. The Doors managed to alter their sound and remain relevant by showcasing an enthusiasm that seemed lost after ‘Waiting for the Sun’ (although rekindled slightly on ‘Morrison Hotel’), even on their seventh album.
Other Voices (1971)
The first record since Morrison passed away, the remaining members decided to persist under The Doors name and record ‘Other Voices’. After just one spin of the album, it becomes abundantly clear the group were unable to fill the void left by Morrison in the wake of his death. Perhaps the remaining members needed time to adjust (the record was released only half a year after ‘L.A. Woman’ and a few months after Jim’s death) or to re-think their approach to persevering under the name of The Doors as the album seems rushed and for the most part, derivative. Overall, ‘Other Voices’ isn’t an enjoyable record and it begs the question of their decision to continue as a band.
Full Circle (1972)
Whilst ‘Other Voices’ was derivative, ‘Full Circle’ experiments in a similar vein to artists such as Steely Dan and Frank Zappa. On paper, this sounds interesting, yet ‘Full Circle’ is by far the worst endeavour by “The Doors”. Numerous genres are explored haphazardly and bizarre instrumentation is layered thoughtlessly; ‘The Mosquito’ for example is a mariachi track about insects, ending in an inexplicable progressive rock section, it’s amazing to think this is the last Doors song which charted. ‘Full Circle’ is a cluttered and laughable attempt at a record, it’s as if the remaining members deliberately intended to tarnish the band’s legacy with an awful final send-off. Avoid this at all costs, unless you fancy a cheap laugh or you’re recklessly curious.
An American Prayer (1978)
As an album, ‘An American Prayer’ goes under the guise of a posthumous Jim Morrison project, however it’s more accurate in saying that it’s a sound collage comprised mainly of various The Doors tracks with Morrison’s poetry played over the top. ‘An American Prayer’ is an interesting release, however it is hardly an essential item in the band’s discography. When it strays away from The Doors sound snippets, the remaining members of the band sound like a tacky 70s jazz-rock outfit; it’s worlds apart from the wide-eyed psychedelia and gritty blues that they were originally known for. ‘American Prayer’, like the previous two records before it, is a cynical cash in and Morrison’s poetry would have been more appropriately suited to being released in a book format or as a spoken word album.
The Doors influence on music and popular culture is outstanding. They’ve been crowned the undisputed kings of American psychedelic rock and their music has become inseparable from the hippie counterculture of the mid to late 60s. Dramatisation’s of the group’s career have been created in the form of the Oliver Stone biopic which upon its release, was tarnished by Ray Manzarek’s criticisms of the portrayal of Morrison and the lack of depth it placed on the other members of The Doors. The documentary film ‘When You’re Strange’ sought to correct any falsifications projected in previous biopics and documentaries, with Manzarek and Krieger stating it’s a much truer depiction of the group. In music, the group continue to influence countless acts from psychedelia and beyond. Wooden Shjips add the brooding influence of The Doors to a sonic mix of cosmic krautrock, Ian McCulloch mimics Morrison throughout his work in Echo & the Bunnymen, Thom Yorke testifies “I wanna be Jim Morrison”, on Radiohead’s ‘Anyone Can Play Guitar’, and even Jay-Z sampled them on the rap stomper ‘Takeover’. So, if you’ve only heard the début or there’s only a greatest hits somewhere in you collection, it’s time to get digging and explore The Doors in more depth.