The Doors – The Doors

thedoorsthedoorsalbumcover

Part I: The Background

The Doors’ self-titled debut album officially marked the beginning of one of the greatest years in the history of popular music. The majority of the album consisted of songs culled from their then-current live set. While a number of albums released the previous year laid the groundwork for psychedelic experimentation, The Doors were really one of the first major groups to take psychedelia and turn it into a full-fledged musical genre. While the album did employ the use of overdubbing, the instrumentation is contained primarily to the four-piece band themselves—unlike some of the wildly experimental works of the time, the songs on this album could be performed live. Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to have been much lead-up to the album, with its biggest single “Light My Fire” not having been released until months after the album was already out. What The Doors brought to the table was not only their fresh new sound, but also a healthy dose of attitude and charisma, thanks largely to lead vocalist and frontman, Jim Morrison.

 

Part II: The Music

Break On Through (To The Other Side): Their debut single opens the album. The song’s appeal comes from the dynamic contrast between the swinging, bossa nova–style verses that gradually crescendo into a boisterous, raucous roar—Morrison shouts out the chorus, breaking free from his restraints and tapping into something primal. The real key to The Doors’ sound, however, was Ray Manzarek’s organ, and I find his solo here a little underwhelming—only towards the end of the track does he really let loose, but as his organ is buried low in the mix at this point, he doesn’t exactly break on through. RATING: 8/10

Soul Kitchen: Morrison employs the same technique here, reserving his vocal outbursts for the chorus to create dynamic contrast but also emphasizing his lyrics—Morrison, after all, was a great poet. We get a sequence of confused images as Morrison navigates through a hazy, late-night landscape (but of course, you can read into the lyrics much deeper than their surface-level interpretations): “The cars crawl past all stuffed with eyes / Street lights shed their hollow glow.” A lot of The Doors’ output is best appreciated as poetry set to music; the band settles into a steady groove here, allowing Morrison’s vocals to take the spotlight. RATING: 6/10

The Crystal Ship: Manzarek’s organ takes on a funereal quality in this eerie song. The creepy verses give way to an ethereal instrumental interlude—one of the most breathtaking moments on the album. The song carries a heavy emotional weight, with Morrison’s lyrics reflecting on a lost love, though what the titular crystal ship signifies is anyone’s guess—perhaps it hints at a life of indulgence (“a thousand girls / a thousand thrills”) which may seem appealing at first (we are attracted to the shimmer of the crystal) but is, ultimately hollow (a crystal, at the end of the day, is transparent). Or perhaps the singer would rather escape his reality (“I’d rather fly”) than deal with the emotional turmoil of everyday existence, which the subject of the song seems to favour (“You’d rather cry”). I’ve always felt that psychedelic music is at its best when it’s simultaneously sinister and beautiful, and this song definitely pulls off that juxtaposition. RATING: 9/10

Twentieth Century Fox: This one’s a little less abstract—it’s a caustic portrait of the shallowness of the eponymous twentieth century fox, the modern gal. Her obsession with superficiality leads to a sort of bliss, as she is oblivious to the harsh realities of the world around her: “No tears, no fears / No ruined years, no clocks.” But Morrison twists the image around here—rather than portraying the character as sheltered within a little bubble, she remains liberated while keeping the world itself “locked up inside a plastic box.” Musically, the song treads the same ground as the song preceding it, that is until the “No tears, no fears” section, in which Manzarek amps up the psychedelia with an arpeggiated organ lick. Kreiger’s guitar solo, which follows, returns the track to its more traditional rock and roll roots. RATING: 7/10

Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar): One of the two cover songs on the album (the song dates back to the 1920s) also happens to be arguably its best—this is The Doors at their trippiest. Alabama Song has all the trappings of a cabaret-style romp while Manzarek adds a carnivalesque psychedelic texture to the song with the pitter patter of his marxophone (look it up—it’s a really neat sounding instrument). Really, the song sounds exactly like the kind of thing you’d expect to hear while riding a carousel, and it’s just as fun. The Doors successfully make the song their own, and it’d blend in perfectly with the rest of the album if it weren’t such a standout track. RATING: 10/10

Light My Fire: The Doors’ biggest song perfectly captures their essence: it’s psychedelic, but Morrison’s stylized, reverb-drenched vocals also have a crooning quality reminiscent of Elvis. The extended organ solo here hints at the excesses of psychedelia, while the double entendre of the lyrics blend sexuality with drug culture: “You know we couldn’t get much higher / Come on baby light my fire.” As such, “Light My Fire” is one of the defining songs of the 1960s and one of the prototypical psychedelic masterpieces. RATING: 10/10

Back Door Man: This hard-rocking bluesy number marks a bit of a departure from the rest of the album—Manzarek and Morrison rein in their performances here, allowing guitarist Robby Kreiger and drummer John Densmore to dominate the soundstage. It’s a decent cover, chocked full of attitude, but ultimately this wouldn’t be out of place on any early- to mid-60s album. RATING: 6/10

I Looked At You: Speaking of which, swap out Morrison for your favourite 1960s British vocalist and subtract Manzarek’s keyboards and you’d have what could easily be a Merseybeat-era rock song. Okay, the “too late” section does have that unexpected, chromatic sense of dissonance that wouldn’t come into prominence until the mid-60s. At the very least, the song sounds more 1966 than 1967. “I Looked At You” is one of the catchier tunes on the album melodically, however, and probably could have passed for a single. RATING: 7/10

End of the Night: Here’s that sinister aspect of psychedelia rearing its head again—the delay on the organ and the music box–like twinkling create a suspenseful, phantasmagorical atmosphere. Even the guitar solo here seems like a distant dream—a hazy, haunting vision from afar. The song begins to hint at some of the more experimental sounds and textures the band would dabble in on their next album. RATING 8/10

Take It As It Comes: Here’s one last psychedelic romp. “Take It As It Comes” has a swagger that not even the Stones could pull off at this point in time and a keen sense of melody to boot. But the highlight of the song is the organ—the song arguably features Manzarek’s most energetic, engaging performance on the album. The lyrics are once again steeped in double entendre, conflating the philosophical and the metaphysical with the sexual. RATING: 8/10

The End: This nearly 12-minute-long epic that closes out the album takes the listener on a transcendent, psychedelic journey. It begins innocuously enough, with Morrison delivering some introspective lyrics in a smooth, musical tone over a subdued instrumental. The funereal piece—with the organ droning on in the background—repeatedly swells and settles, leaving the listener in suspense. The lyrics become more and more abstract: “Ride the snake / He’s old and his skin is cold.” The song then transitions into a spoken-word section, featuring Morrison’s interpretation of Oedipus in which his vocals rise into an unintelligible growl, which is followed by dissonant guitar plucking before the piece settles back into a steady groove. But the song then quickly descends into chaos, with Morrison repeating the word “fuck” over and over again rhythmically while the music becomes increasingly frantic before the song finally ends back where it began: “This is the end / My only friend, the end.” This dramatic, evolving piece serves as the perfect end to an amazing album. RATING: 10/10

 

Part III: The Album

Aesthetic: Simple though it may be, the album cover is iconic. I love how it captures the sinister, psychedelic mood of the album without having to rely on any sort of lens flare or distortion gimmick. And The Doors didn’t really get more Doors-esque than on their debut album, so the name is fitting here. This isn’t a heavily-produced album, at least not in the excessive over-the-top sort of way as would become the norm for the late 60s. But the production serves the album well. SCORE: 5/5

Artistic Merit: The Doors weren’t compromising in their artistic merit, but despite being one of the progenitors of the psychedelic rock sound, this album isn’t as out there some of their later work—as I’ve already mentioned, a handful of the album’s songs wouldn’t have been out of place a year or two prior to its release. SCORE: 4/5

Flow: The album does have a cohesive sound that remains constant for its duration. There aren’t really any moments where the album seems to drag either—certain songs outshine others, but even at its weakest moments the album remains above average. The sequencing for the most part saves the heavier songs for the end of the album, though there’s always enough variation between the tunes to keep the listener interested. SCORE: 8/10

CLOSING REMARKS: This is one of the all-time great psychedelic albums and is a must-listen for any fan of the genre. Even if some of the songs aren’t all that mind-blowing structurally and melodically, the sound of the band alone is enough to make this one hell of a listen. And the album also boasts a fair number of classics.

FINAL SCORE: 82

 

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