The Doors CDs Remastered

Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson

Classic rock icons don’t fade away – they just get remastered. For the second time in recent history, six of The Doors’ best-selling albums have been remodeled by Rhino Records. The remixed albums were supervised by the surviving Doors and Bruce Botnick, their long-time engineer. The new versions add background vocals and spoken snippets by Jim Morrison and discarded piano asides and guitar parts from Ray Manzarek and Robbie Krieger. Most notably, drummer John Densmore’s percussive talents are more up front in the mix, and listeners will be surprised how good the silent, surly stickman was.

The Doors
Waiting For the Sun 4.5 out of 5 stars

The album took some heat for being less edgy than the band’s previous two efforts – (in the case of the melodramatic and downright bizarre “Strange Days” that’s a good thing), but many of the tunes on “Waiting For the Sun” remain part of The Doors FM radio legacy. Ironically, the title track wouldn’t appear on an album until “Morrison Hotel,” and Morrison’s epic mini rock opera “Celebration of the Lizard,” which was supposed take up the entire second side of the album, was scratched because the group couldn’t wrestle it into shape.

“Hello, I Love You” was written about Morrison’s fascination with a black girl at the beach (“Do you hope to make her see you move? Do you hope to pluck this dusky jewel?” No lie, he calls her dusky.) With Morrison is in full drool mode, Krieger making his guitar solo sound like a boomerang and Manzarek patting lightly at his keys like a man dancing in the hot sand, “Hello, I Love You” wraps up all your pleasant memories of summer in 2:40.

Krieger, Manzarek and Densmore combine to make “Love Street” sound like a scenic stroll in the sunshine, while Morrison’s lyrics show he preferred to walk on the wild side: “She has robes and she has monkeys, lazy diamond studded flunkies. She has wisdom and knows what to do. She has me and she has you.”

There are two pairs of songs on “Waiting For the Sun” that function as mirror images of one another. The soft, cozy “Summer’s Almost Gone” plays into the disappointment that the best time of the year is about to end (and it’s the third of four songs that feed into the waiting for the sun theme. Get it?). Krieger’s low, moaning solo stands out, as does Manzarek’s placid keyboard work. Winter has seldom sounded as inviting as it does in “Wintertime Love,” a ballad with hints of a Russian waltz. Whenever Morrison chose to drop his poet/anarchist façade he could be a charmer, as “Wintertime Love’ and “Yes, The River Knows” prove. The two other songs that bookend one another, “Spanish Caravan” and “My Wild Love” expose the Doors’ music to more exotic textures.

“Spanish Caravan” opens with Krieger displaying a strong grasp of Flamenco guitar, while Manzarek’s keyboards swirl like an exuberant gypsy dancing around a camp fire. “My Wild Love” is a strangely intriguing piece; a chanting Morrison leads a moaning back drop of singers that resemble a cross between flagellating monks and a galley crew powering their ship. The music is sparse – Morrison and the monks are accompanied by what sounds like a whip and a speaker full of angry rattlesnakes shaking their tales. “My Wild Love” is a distant cousin to a spaghetti western soundtrack, not unlike “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” but there’s no light here, only menace, and it’s stunning.

Even if The Doors have nothing to say, they can often find an intriguing way to hold your interest. A case in point is “We Could Be So Good Together.” There’s an energetic solo from Krieger and intuitive drumming from Densmore, which serve to hide the fact that the title is actually the sum total of what Morrison has to say.

Given the era the album was recorded (Vietnam was edging into full overkill), “The Unknown Soldier” is one of Morrison’s pessimistic visions of the world that was stunningly on point then and is just as poignant today. Densmore plays the role of drummer boy, laying down a patriotic marching beat as the rest of the group acts out a mock execution. Whoever was hanging around the studio was “drafted” to be part of the mock firing squad. Morrison plays the role of martyr to the hilt.

“Not To Touch The Earth” is one of the few salvageable pieces from Morrison’s misguided magnum opus, “Celebration of the Lizard.” Manzarek’s organ sizzles like a dozen eggs in a frying pan – Jim Morrison, this is your brain on booze. The band employs a nifty trick when Morrison intones “Run with me,” as Densmore turns the beat into a foot race and Krieger’s guitar imitates a man fleeing for his life.

The overtly romantic “Yes, the River Knows” is Morrison the crooner; the Lizard King as a romantic. Morrison’s voice is remarkably strong, steady, and unforgettable. Densmore’s shuffling beat, Krieger’s innocent solo and guest bassist Doug Lubahan’s thick runs frame Morrison’s lonesome plea: “Please believe me, the river told me, very softly, want you to hold me.” Not surprisingly, the exposed heartache and sentiment in the song didn’t come from Morrison, who was loathed to be perceived as weak; “Yes, the River Knows,” flowed from the prolific pen of Robbie Krieger.

By now Morrison and Densmore were barely on speaking terms. Morrison found Densmore to be humorless and square. Densmore thought Morrison was reckless, irresponsible and a drunken idiot. Both men were right and neither was giving a scintilla. But they could occasionally channel their disgust for one another into a classic, and the closer “Five to One” is one of those moments. Densmore hammers out a lethal beat and bassist Lubahan feeds off it as Morrison assumes a predatory stance: “Five to one baby, one in five, no one here gets out alive.” Another comment on Vietnam? Or was Morrison commenting on the group itself?

“Waiting For the Sun” may have cracked the group’s tough punk poet façade, but it established them as legitimate songwriters commenting on something other than the bulge in their Levi’s. While Krieger, Densmore and Manzarek flourished, Morrison thumbed his nose at respectability calling “Waiting For The Sun” and its follow-up “The Soft Parade” sell outs. If this was selling out, then The Doors should have surrendered sooner.

Waiting for the Bonuses

“Waiting For the Sun” features three attempts at “Not To Touch the Earth” and a seventeen minute rendering of “The Celebration of the Lizard.” Notice I said rendering, which, if I’m not mistaken is what you do with freshly killed meat. And you’ll feel like road kill if you can sit through Morrison’s peyote sucking bad trip. Morrison was one of those rare hit or miss geniuses, and this is as big a whiff as a blind man swinging at a knuckleball.

The Soft Parade 4 out of 5 stars

By the time the Doors entered the studio for “The Soft Parade,” Morrison and Krieger, whose songs had carried the first three albums, were bereft of ideas. Morrison was too busy living the life of a debauched poet. Now drunk most of the time, he rebelled against his rock god tag by getting fleshy and growing a beard that made him look like a rock and roll version of Grizzly Adams. It was up to producer Paul Rothchild to push the band, and he was behind the idea to flesh out The Doors’ sound by adding horns and strings. The band protested from the first note to the last, and upon its release “The Soft Parade” was criticized by Doors purists as Las Vegas lounge music and for being well, soft. The Doors previous albums had been honed by gigs in the smoke filled bars of L.A.; “Soft Parade”’s songs were written in the studio, untested by the criticism of a live audience. But in hindsight Rothchild was right. The road-weary band needed something to invigorate its sound, even if it came from outside musicians.

“Tell All the People” lets you know the experiment is in full swing. The horns burst as Morrison proclaims: “Tell all the people that you see, follow me, follow me down.” Morrison articulates Krieger’s lyrics like a confident cult figure (which he was), urging his flock to follow him down to the river for a baptismal – (although at this point in his career, Morrison was more likely to ask fans to follow him down to a bar).

There are two schools of thought as to how Robbie Krieger came up with “Touch Me.” Engineer Bruce Botnick suggests in the liner notes that the original version, entitled “I’m Gonna Love You” was inspired by a game of poker (“C’mon, C’mon, hit me baby”). Morrison biographer Stephen Davis claims the song was created after Krieger and his girlfriend got into an argument and she challenged him to hit her. (He did.) “Touch Me” is one of the Door’s most instantly recognizable staples of radio with its galloping introduction, burly horn section and dancing strings. The way Morrison’s deep, rich voice locks into the arrangement you’d never know he fought the idea of having horns on the album. Given a few bars to fill, the late Curtis Amy blasts his most memorable solo. “Touch Me” is, as the last line says, “Stronger than dirt.”

“Shaman’s Blues” is a platform for Morrison’s threatening holy man baritone and Krieger’s equally creepy guitar. Krieger wraps his guitar around Morrison’s deep vocal as if strangling the words out of the singer – who’s enjoying his macabre dance of death with Krieger. “Do It” is a rambling Morrison/Krieger mantra (“Please, please listen to the children”) rescued by Manzarek and Densmore‘s inventive playing -- check out Densmore and Krieger’s wocka-wocka guitar/percussion bit at the end of the verses. Morrison’s “Easy Ride” is the album’s only tune that’s out of step with the rest of the parade. Its country carnival atmosphere and breezy approach stamp it as filler. “Runnin’ Blue,” which surfaces later, uses a similar hoedown approach but doesn’t take itself as seriously. Manzerek’s big-top organ playing makes “Easy Ride” a great candidate for when the clown car pulls up at the circus; but not for the likes of the Lizard King.

Krieger’s opening guitar riff to “Wild Child” is he the pappy to Morrison Hotel’s “Roadhouse Blues,” gritty, with plenty of rambunctious attitude. Densmore’s drums are more upfront and he layers the song with a heavyweight beat. Krieger’s “Wishful Sinful” is buoyed by brisk strings that match Morrison’s emotions, descending when he drops his voice and rising to meet his rush of emotion.

“Runnin’ Blue” is a tribute to Otis Redding (“Poor Otis dead and gone, left me here to sing his song. Pretty little girl with the red dress on, poor Otis dead and gone.”) Given Morrison’s alleged aversion to black people (which I believe to be bunk since he hated everybody), it’s a pleasant surprise to hear Krieger take on part of the vocal chores, even if he does sing like Don Knotts. “Runnin’ Blue” is a flippant barnyard sing-a-long in the midst of some very heady material.

“…When I was back there in seminary school there was a person who put forth the proposition that you can petition the Lord with prayer…Petition the Lord with prayer…YOU CANNOT PETITION THE LORD WITH PRAYER!” Morrison’s fuming spoken (and shouted) intro to the title tune is verbose, befitting this cavalcade of styles that follow. Morrison was so frustrated with the role of rock star by now (and by the album’s direction) that he frequently arrived so drunk he was unable to complete a session, so producer Rothchild virtually assembled the album -- and this song in particular -- splicing together various takes. (Yes assembled many of their best known classics, such as “Close to the Edge,” “The Gates of Delirium,” and “South Side of the Sky,” by recording sections separately, then piecing them together, but they did so seamlessly.) “Soft Parade” has some highs – Morrison’s dirge-like baroque intro set against Manzarek’s harpsichord, and the last third of the song, powered by Densmore’s tasty tom-tom effects. The song also has some low points, such as Morrison’s disconnected, electrical banana observations (“Catacombs, nursery-bones, winter women throwing stones, carrying babies to the river…Streets and shoes, avenues, Leather riders selling news. The monk bought lunch!”). The new remix offers an additional vocal snippet from Morrison. The title track can be a frustrating trip, but with bits of rock, funk, psychedelia and classical all stirred together, there’s bound to be a section or two of the song you’ll like and wish there was more of.

“Soft Parade” made a drunk out of Jim Morrison and The Doors into a rock version of E.F. Hutton – when they performed, everyone listened.

A Parade of Bonus Tracks

The remastered version of “Soft Parade” picks up six bonus tracks. “Touch Me (dialogue)” is actually about Densmore touching his snare and his worrying whether or not his having moved it will affect the recording. Listening to Densmore speak you begin to understand why he and Morrison didn’t get along – Densmore was not a patient man and he didn’t suffer fools. His exasperation at not being heard by the engineer (that would be young Botnick) is apparent. “Touch Me (Take 3)” has a longer ending, and bassist Doug Lubahan takes a few more liberties than he does in the final version. “Push Push” is a Manzarek led instrumental credited to The Doors, but Morrison and Krieger are no where within ear shot. A cross between “La Bamba” and The Charlie Brown theme, its okay for two minutes, but not for six. “Who Scared You” is another rare Morrison/Krieger composition that sounds like a work in progress. The group hasn’t decided yet how to bridge the gap between Krieger’s radio friendly arrangement and Morrison’s angry diatribes. “Whiskey, Mystics and Men” gets two run throughs. Morrison leads the band through the first while translating the music in his head; the band chimes in with a Hungarian inspired backdrop that’s a cross between Mary Hopkin’s “Those Were the Days” and their own “My Wild Love.” They took a second, harder stab at it before wisely banishing it to the vaults.

L.A. Woman 4 out of 5 stars

For their seventh, and unbeknownst to them, final album with Jim Morrison, The Doors did the unthinkable: they knowingly invited other musicians to be part of their creative process. When producer Paul Rothchild did it for “The Soft Parade” the band nearly hung him in effigy. Now it seemed like a good idea because they’d thought of it. Mark Benno, who’d teamed up with Oakie piano player Leon Russell for two albums, joined on rhythm guitar and Elvis Presley veteran Jerry Scheff was recruited to play bass. They also lost Rothchild, who was tired of baby sitting Morrison and felt the group’s sound had degenerated into “cocktail jazz.” Bruce Botnick would take over as producer. His first decision was for the group to record their new album the same way they recorded their first; in a comfortable, low tech studio with few overdubs. The Doors responded, recording “L.A. Woman” in six days.

“The Changeling” lets you know that Morrison is locked in. He grunts and struts, encouraging the anarchy around him: “I’m a changeling, see me change. I’m the air you breathe, the food you eat.” When Morrison lets out a belly full of “SEE ME CHANGE!” sounding as if he’s being torn from the inside out, you’ll be glad you weren’t there to see whatever horror the bearded one was morphing into. Intimidating, angry and inspired, “The Changeling” catches Morrison with his voice and middle finger raised in defiance.

Krieger continued his streak of compact accessible rock hits with “Love Her Madly.” Morrison is guttural and nearly chokes on the lyric, “Don’t you love her madly, wanna meet her daddy,” but Manzarek shines with a lively organ solo.

The droop-a-long blues of “The Cars Hiss By My Window” is an inspired fit for Morrison’s world-weary methadone delivery and Krieger’s floor board-tapping electric Delta blues. Morrison is in a comfort zone with the song’s grimy atmosphere, scatting through the last verse like an alley cat on the prowl. The subject matter gets seamier with “L.A. Woman.” Morrison’s observations flash by faster than his Mustang used to in the California hills (“Cops in cars, topless bars, never seen a woman so alone”). Densmore is the engine driving the beat in third gear, and Manzarek works all 88 keys, at one point borrowing the melody from Blood, Sweat and Tears’ “Overture.” “L.A. Woman” nearly strips gears in the middle when Morrison slows things down to remind everyone its his party, churning out his personal manta, “Mr. Mojo risin’” in half a dozen dampening ways, until Densmore takes the beat back in his capable hands.

Conversely, “L’America” is a twitchy, preachy bore. Morrison stumble through his ugly American imagery, his flat voice slamming against Densmore’s Bataan death march beat. This America should be deported.

“Crawling King Snake” is the lesser of two blues tunes, but Morrison still has plenty of venom in his vocal and Krieger’s sharp, lightning-fast solos have artistic bite. Manzarek plunks out some hard-core blues on the electric piano and Densmore beats his kit as if he’s trying to exterminate every reptile within a five mile radius.

“Hyacinth House” features one of Morrison’s deepest, most guttural vocals. An unnerving ballad, Manzarek’s contrasting solo is opulent and Krieger pops in out of the Morrison’s somber imagery with quick tuneful bursts. Morrison’s voice is as thick as mulch and twice as rich, capturing the narrator’s feelings of frustration and betrayal. “I need a brand new friend who doesn’t bother me. I need a brand new friend who doesn’t worry me. I need someone, who doesn’t need me.”

“The W.A.S.P. (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)” is an interesting listen, but it’s a thinly veiled novelty song. Morrison was a great singer, but was a scattergun poet, capable of vivid imagery (such as “The Crystal Ship,” or “The Unknown Soldier”) but could be sophomorically inept, (such as “Horse Latitudes” or “Celebration of the Lizard”). It’s the music that makes “The W.A.S.P” listenable, when Morrison raps about the music rising cool and slow, Manzarek revs up his Hammond that approximates a thick fog rising from a swamp. Scheff’s bass thuds alongside Densmore’s knock-wood beat, but ultimately Morrison’s lunk-headed observations take the sting out of “The W.A.S.P.”

“Riders on the Storm,” the last song Morrison ever recorded with the band, and appropriately the last song on the original album, is imbued with the sense of mystery and foreboding the bearded one sought to project. Morrison whispers part of his vocal like a sinister narrator from a horror film, and when he sings his bellowing tones bring to mind a hanging judge pronouncing a death sentence. Schiff’s bass rolls like a hearse in a fog as Dens more provides the horsepower with a steady beat in the background. Nice send off, Jumbo.

Bonus Tracks
“L.A. Woman” sports two bonus tracks. Manzarek gives the listening audience a taste of what was to come on the Morrison-less “Other Voices” album when he takes the lead on “(You Need Meat) Don’t go No Further”: “You need money go to the bank dear, you need honey look to the bee. If you need loving, well I’m your doctor; I might have the prescription for what you need.” With its lazy, loafing arrangement, and with plenty of breathing space for a beat poet, the abandoned “Orange County Suite” needed striking lyrics from Morrison. Instead we get Morrison doing an imitation of Dick Shawn’s hippy-dippy character LSD in “The Producers”: “I used to know someone fair, she had ribbons in her hair. She was such a trip, she was hardly even there.” Suite its not.

The Doors Are Open…The Rest of The Remasters
Rhino has done it again, making The Doors CDs a worthy investment with bonus and unreleased material and liner notes by rock writers Ben Fong-Torres, Paul Williams, David Fricke and others that offer new insights into the band 30 years down the road.

The Doors (4 out of 5 stars) was an impressive debut with the anthemic “Light My Fire,” the dreamy “Crystal Ship,” and an animalistic take on “Back Door Man.” “I Looked At You is jaunty and “Twentieth Century Fox” still packs a lascivious punch even in the twenty-first century. “End of the Night” is more dated than the other material, but Manzarek’s hair-raising keyboards and Krieger’s trippy guitar give it an enticing feel that will feed any buried perversions you may have. Without the visuals from “Apocalypse Now” “The End” is simply an ugly look at Morrison’s Oedipus complex – a long, ugly look. The remastered CD includes early versions of “Moonlight Mile” and “Indian Summer.” “The Doors” is a good launching pad for Doors neophytes, but Doors returnees need to keep one thing in mind. According to Botnick, the album and CD versions we’ve been listening to since 1967 ran too slowly (!). That problem has now been “corrected,” so be prepared for the faster pace.

Morrison Hotel (3.5 out of 5 stars) was the group’s return to “basics” after the horn-dominated “Soft Parade.” It picks up 9 bonus tracks, including “Carol,’ and “Money Beats Soul.” “Hotel” includes the shimmering “Waiting For The Sun;” Krieger’s guitar boogieing on the political “Peace Frog” coupled with Morrison’s supple ballad “Blue Sunday;” the dirt-between-your fingers-funk of “Maggie M’Gill;” “You Make Me Real,” a Morrison raver; and the bluesy “Roadhouse Blues,” featuring The Loving Spoonful’s John Sebastian on harp. The album drags a bit behind the bombast of “Land Ho!” the lazy saloon piano plinking on “The Spy,” the sonically beautiful but meaningless “Indian Summer,” and Morrison’s noncommittal performance on “Queen of the Highway,” but the rest of the songs are worth booking a stay at the Morrison Hotel.

Strange Days (2 out of 5 stars) should have called “Dark Days.” The Doors second album is partly mean as a junkyard dog, but mostly just junk. The overworked “When The Music Is Over” is “The End” part two with Morrison off on another the world’s going to hell jag, while “Strange Days” and “Unhappy Girl” never engage. “You’re Lost Little Girl” is disturbing enough to be memorable, and “My Eyes Have Seen You” is Morrison in a stalker mode. The band let Morrison loose for “Horse Latitudes,” and should have been horse whipped. Morrison tries to sound like Moses on the mountain top as he pontificates behind the sound effects of strong winds and bullwhips. Morrison was dynamic, self-destructive, conflicted belligerent drunk and his lyrics sometimes blended in well with the music. But “Horse Latitudes” is a perfect example of what to write if you don’t want to get published. There are some great Doors classics trapped on the album, “Moonlight Drive,” with some of Krieger’s best fills, the unsettling honky tonk ditty “People Are Strange,” and the raw snarl of “Love Me Two Times,” but overall, “Strange Days” is too uneven for its own good.

Unfortunately, the reissue program skips the surprisingly creative and entertaining “Open Voices” album (3 ½ stars) that Krieger, Manzarek and Densmore made as The Doors in following Morrison’s death. Luckily, the abysmal “Absolutely Live,” (1/2 star) was omitted. With the exception of the first tune, (a cover of “Who Do You Love?” with Krieger’s playing the guitar like a live snake -- and he’s out to strangle it) “Absolutely Live” is absolutely D.O.A. The Doors needed a lot more than Densmore to hold down the store. Krieger is a superb soloist, but doesn’t do much to fill the cavern of leftover empty space, and Manzarek’s Farfisa sounds sickly. These guys needed a second guitarist to play rhythm live and Hammond organ instead something that sounds as if it should be in a freak show. Most of all they needed a bassist; Manzarek can barely play his own parts, let alone try to keep up his end of the rhythm. As if to further douse the possibilities of a passable live document, The Doors perform Morrison’s odious “Celebration of the Lizard,” which is about as long and certainly as indulgent as “In A Gadda Da Vida” At least Morrison sounded sober.

Many years ago, a song entitled “Calm Before the Storm” by an artist known as “The Phantom” rekindled rumors that Jim Morrison had faked his own death and was back in the studio. The mysterious artist sounded so much like Morrison he was given a voice test, which, much to the dismay of Morrisonites, he failed. If you’re desperate for a dose of The Lizard King, it might as well be with as many revealing extras and outtakes as a CD can handle. The Doors reissues prove you can indeed petition the Lord with prayer.



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