Sunday, December 01, 2013
Music Sunday: The "The Doors" Edition
I've been looking for a reason to do a Music Sunday post featuring The Doors for a long time. I could have done it on the anniversary of Jim Morrison's death, but that didn't seem quite right. I could have done it earlier this year, when Ray Manzarek died in May of this year, but that didn't seem quite the right time to do it either.
This, I think, is a good day to do it. Today is John Densmore's birthday. He was the drummer for The Doors. I like birthdays to hang these posts on much more than I like anniversaries of deaths or band break-up for that purpose. It makes it easier to dwell on the good music that an artist or a band made.
I've been a Doors fan, well, ever since I first heard the band's music. That would have been in 1967, probably when the band's second single, "Light My Fire" came out. At any rate, that's the first song of theirs that I remember hearing; their first single, "Break on Through (To the Other Side)" never made it past number 126 on the US charts, which means that at the time it was probably too obscure for me to have heard, since I pretty much only heard Top 40 radio in those days. That would also mean that I was ten years old at the time and in the fifth grade, probably rather younger than The Doors' target demographic. But, I was a little ahead of the curve in matters regarding music.
The thing was, The Doors' music was just so...different. No one, no band, before or since has sounded anything like the sounds they created in the six years between the band's formation and Morrison's death in 1971. And few bands created music that sounds as contemporary today as it did when it was first heard in the late '60s and early '70s. Usually, Morrison gets most or all of the credit for that, but in truth, the sound was created by the entire band and they should all get credit for that.
One of the most remarkable things about the longevity of The Doors' music is the fact that they really had only two number one hits in the United States - "Light My Fire", in 1967, and "Hello, I Love You", in 1968. Their only other Top Ten single was "Touch Me", also in 1968. "Love Her Madly", in 1971, reached number 11 in the US, "People Are Strange" got to number 12 in 1967, and "Riders on the Storm" reached as high as number 14 in 1971. Other than that, the band never charted higher than number 25, with "Love Me Two Times" in 1967. The band's 1970 album, "Morrison Hotel", which is my favorite, and which I have had a working copy of since it was first released, only produced one single, "Roadhouse Blues", which peaked at number 50 on the US charts.
Yet, love them or hate them (and some people do) The Doors are still, all these years later, pretty much universally known, over 40 years after Morrison died, ending the band for all practical purposes, although there were releases, usually of material recorded before Morrison's death, after that.
These are some of my favorites, starting with "Light My Fire", which originally appeared on the band's self-titled first album:
And then there is "The Unknown Soldier", the first single from "Waiting for the Sun", released in 1968. I will warn you that this promotional film for the song, made at the time of it's release, has graphic scenes, including authentic footage from the Vietnam War:
This performance of "Touch Me" comes from The Doors' infamous appearance on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour:
This is "The Spy", from 1970's "Morrison Hotel". When you listen to the lyrics, it becomes apparent that the song could probably be about a stalker, which is kind of creepy. But the sound of the song - of the instruments and of Morrison's voice - makes it into something that goes beyond that possibility and into a masterpiece of paranoia. It makes for a brilliant song, in my opinion, something gothic and sinuous and sinister:
Okay. One more. "Riders on the Storm", from the album "L.A. Woman". It is said to be the last song the band recorded together. Again, it has a gothic, sinister aspect to it, but it also has one of the best lyrics ever in rock music..."There's a killer on the road/his brain is squirmin' like a toad", which is exactly how I would imagine a killer's brain to act:
Since it is John Densmore's birthday, I thought I'd include this clip from an interview earlier this year on the CBS early morning show on the occasion of the release of his second book about his experience in The Doors, "The Doors Unhinged" (the first was "Riders on the Storm", in 1990). He talks about conflicts in the band, both when they were together and afterward: