Within the pantheon of classic rock the Doors have always been a bit of an anomaly. Sure, anyone over 30 who is a fan of music knows the Doors, they get played plenty on classic rock radio and you can readily purchase their t-shirts at Spencer’s Gifts, Hot Topic or your hippie retail outlet of choice. And yet when compared to the Beatles, the Stones, Zeppelin, the Who, etc…well, it’s hard to explain, it’s almost like they get no respect, despite being wildly popular back in the day and maintaining quite a steady following nearly 40 years after Jim Morrison’s death.
Perhaps it’s the Lizard King himself -- his antics, his persona, his legend -- that supersedes the music, the pin up boy for daydreaming girls and causeless rebel boys who listen to the Doors ‘cos that’s how you get the most direct access to the man in the red leather pants. And maybe that reckless, anything goes vibe he gave off detracts from the music his band made, making them more tabloid targets than icons on the scroll of music history. But beneath the booze, the beard and the ego, there was a shy artiste with quite a bit of talent, a commanding voice and a mesmerizing stage presence. And don’t forget that he was backed by one of the greatest bands of the 60s (or any other era) who gave his wild visions a frame and could, initially, keep up with his onstage rants and ramblings as if it were all part of the show…which I suppose it was.
I’ve been a Doors fan for about as long as any other group out there, which means that with time, repeat listens and maturity I’ve shed the skin of newfound infatuation and learned to recognize their strengths and faults. They put out some fantastic music that, unlike most of their peers, transcends the decade that bore them. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t put out some junk, a bit of which is their most popular and well-known material.
So here is my Doors edition of Over-Under. And no, I am not going to defend the Soft Parade as a vastly underrated classic, ‘cos it’s just…I dunno, bleh. Nor will I trash the two post-Morrison albums, ‘cos that’s just not nice (nor is it easy to do ‘cos they’re not half bad). All of these songs can be found on the 1985 dual disc Best of The Doors (or probably any of their dozenish best of collections). And while there are certainly album tracks I don’t care for (did I mention the Soft Parade?), they’re only going to be known to bigger fans (of which I know few), and so therefore not really “overrated;” not to mention a veritable slew of non-singles that everyone should hear (You’re Lost Little Girl, Wintertime Love, Land Ho!), so I figure I’ll throw my thumb up or down at a few songs that actually had a chance to be heard by the masses via radio, TV ads or Jose Feliciano covers.
Light My Fire – The Doors (1967): I guess my main problem with this song is that it’s the obvious choice, their “Free Bird,” the one everyone knows. In a word, it’s overplayed. But in spite of that, Light My Fire really is a great little love-pop ditty. And yet when compared to a lot of what the Doors had to offer, it’s really nothing more than psychedelic radio fodder, despite the impressive and ever interesting guitar and organ solos (not to mention that classic organ riff). As an introduction to the band it’s fine, even your mom will like it (though mine doesn’t), but as far as truly representing what the Doors are all about…eh, not so much.
Break On Through – The Doors (1967): I do like this song and I know many people would say it’s the quintessential Doors song, but I would say, “Why?” I guess it’s just (again) a bit overplayed. And yet it’s more than that. For all of Break on Through’s ballsy bravado and hip shakin’ mamba rhythms, it just seems lacking, like it should rock harder, be more driving, as if the boys are holding back and not giving this song the true thrashing it deserves. So perhaps I shouldn’t blame the song but the performance and production. And yet live versions I’ve heard, where they really do about kick this thing to death, have also left me feeling unsatisfied, like there is something missing, or something more that remains hidden, ‘cos I’m looking for it but I just can’t find it. So maybe it’s my problem.
Roadhouse Blues – Morrison Hotel (1970): If there were an underrated Doors album that I would stand up for (and I believe I have on a past post) it would be Morrison Hotel. But unfortunately Roadhouse Blues is pure filler. I know this is a fan fave and a performance staple, but in my opinion it lacks all the heart and depth that the Doors offered previously, even on the afore-poo-pooed Soft Parade (which I give them full points for attempting, it just falls flat). Not that I don’t enjoy Jim bellowing about booze and broads from time to time, but he typically does it with a bit more panache, at least humor. Roadhouse Blues is just more pointless glorification of living on the edge excess, another empty “sex, drugs and rock n roll” anthem and a true “Lawd, why did they have to go there” precursor of the over indulged L.A. Woman album (man, don’t get me started there). In fact it’s so much like that album (especially the title song) that I often forget it’s actually on Morrison Hotel - a real blemish on an honest gem of a record.
Five to One – Waiting for the Sun (1968): Despite the uneasy rumblings of The End and other apo-cryptic outings, the Doors truly became a menace, that is to say a threat, with Five to One. Rumors abound as to what this ratio entails…whites to blacks, old to young, Viet Cong to US troops in Vietnam, but the man himself said it meant nothing, and was so drunk at the recording session he had to be told when to come in (see “one more” a measure before he starts singing). Still, with a line like “no one here gets out alive,” there’s no denying the danger presented here, and this mantra for disaffected youth could easily spark the powder keg. Morrison’s bark is gritty and ferocious, Krieger’s leads a honed saber and the electric bass so driving that it about punches a hole into your gut. If you wanna start a riot, you need to have this one early on in the mix.
Unknown Soldier – Waiting for the Sun (1968): Morrison’s true anti-war rant, this song has always intrigued me with its abstract yet direct lyrics and eerie, almost space-rock music, especially from Ray Manzarek’s ever-spooky organ noodling. As a kid I found the video compelling and poignant, the chilling act out of a mock execution complete with rim-shot rifles and Morrison screaming as he falls to the ground as terrifying as it was rock n roll chic. It’s a haunting image and part of the true power of music, conjured up as effectively on record as in a live performance. After Jim falls there’s a dramatic pause, just long enough to make you wonder…and then the song comes back to life in a breathless, desperate rush, as if trying to make up for lost time and to frantically get a point across. All politics aside (please), I just love the pure emotion of it and the rallying “war is over” outro is perfect for dancing in the streets with confetti and a half downed bottle of vino.
When the Music’s Over – Strange Days (1967): The End made the Doors infamous, and When the Music’s Over proved they could do it again…that is create a sprawling, hypnotic epic as inwardly touching as it is outwardly sinister. And while the calm, Indian flavored psychedelia is replaced with a jazzy, almost jarring organ riff, insistent bass line, sharp snares and snarling guitars, these brush strokes simply paint a more boldly vibrant picture, a different interpretation of the same painting. Things rise and drop with calculated yet natural precision, blooming from near whispers to high gear roars in a breath’s time. And while JM’s spew in the “poem section” may not resurrect “weird scenes inside the goldmine,” his pro-earth rant is no less dramatic or demanding. And as for full on drama, the boys may have almost outdone themselves, especially at the musical and emotional crescendo where Jim shrieks, “Save us, Jesus, save us!” to a possibly more unnerving effect than “the killer awoke before dawn.” In the end, for me, When the Music’s Over is a call to arms for the people to step up and listen to the band, any band, and set themselves free of obligation, dancing into oblivion. Too bad we all don’t have that luxury, Mr. Mojo Risin.