More than half a century after they hit the rock scene, The Doors continue to mesmerise. By Y R Anand
I first saw this album of The Doors in 1968 at the end of my college years in Mysore. A friend had visited Australia and returned with a few albums. The Doors album cover was stark, minimal and very interesting. The music was love at first sound. The silky-smooth voice of Jim Morrison with compelling lyrics was mesmerizing. And, what a back-up band! The versatile keyboard work of Ray Manzarek, hard-driving guitar by Robby Krieger and terrific drumming by John Densmore, all made the sound a delicious concoction. It was hardly possible to get your mind off the music.
The interest in The Doors continued during the rest of my college years in Kharagpur and I was lucky to find like-minded music lovers in that far off outpost. Thereafter in Mumbai, there were plenty of opportunities to continue enjoying their music.
As the years went by, more and more creative output came outpouring. It was great music to listen to, because of the melodies and the very contemporary lyrics. While Morrison was the main songwriter, The Doors always said the music and words were created by the group. And it remained that way till the end. The other three band members contributed significantly to the songs and that is why they always attributed the lyrics to the band.
The group had its origins with a meeting of Morrison and Manzarek in Los Angeles in 1965. Manzarek was already part of a band called Rick & The Ravens, which had three Manzarek brothers. Later in the year, they were joined by the drummer John Densmore, by which time the group had named themselves The Doors.
The band decided on their name as The Doors, from the “The Doors of Perception” a book by Aldous Huxley. The book itself derived the title from a line in William Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”.
They added a bass player Patty Sullivan. These six members recorded a set of six songs for demo purpose. But, soon after, the two other Manzarek brothers and Sullivan left and Robby Krieger joined the group and a legend was born. These first six songs has been subsequently released in one of their anthology albums.
The Doors made their first appearance in a sleazy Los Angeles club called London Fog and soon moved to the better Whisky-a-Go-Go on the Sunset Strip, where the group say they truly came together.
Elektra Records spotted their talent and started to release their albums. The first album was The Doors, which was released in 1967. This had Light My Fire which was their first smash hit single. It is one of the most recognisable and iconic rock songs of all times. Along with it were equally fantastic Break on Through to the other side, End of the Night, Back Door Man, The End and 7 other songs. Some of them went on to become hit singles.
Morrison was a charismatic figure and had great stage presence. He exaggerated this by his eccentric behaviour. His sometimes unpredictable stage acts added to the group’s mystique. The group became a symbol of the counter-culture prevailing in the late 1960s. But the music itself was so absorbing, with influences of jazz, blues and other genres. You could listen to it and dance to most of it.
The Doors album was followed by Strange Days, Waiting for the Sun, The Soft Parade, Morrison Hotel, Absolutely Live, L.A. Woman, The Other Voices. They accumulated eight consecutive Gold discs, which is phenomenal.
Spanish Caravan, People are Strange, You’re a Lost Little Girl, The Spy, Summer’s Almost Gone and such songs are haunting ballads.
Touch Me, Roadhouse Blues, LA Woman, Love Her Madly are all powerful driving songs, which can make your feet start tapping automatically.
And there is Raiders on the Storm. To me it is one of their really compelling songs. The long keyboard riff by Manzarek is so haunting, that you wish it would never end.
The Doors continuously entertained, provoked and irritated their fans by wild performances, mostly due to the erratic and unpredictable behaviour of Morrison on stage. He got arrested and released a few times due to bizarre behaviour while performing.
Morrison was also an excellent poet, having studied film-making and arts at UCLA before becoming a musician. Several of his poems can be heard on American Prayer, which was released after his death.
The remaining members of his band – Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore – kept up the legend with various reunion gigs and rehashed anthologies. Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mine, Full Circle, An American Prayer and a series of Live recordings, rehashing their earlier appearances, are all available now.
The Doors got inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore came together along with Eddie Vedder substituting for Morrison, played Roadhouse Blues, Break on Through and Light My Fire.
The Doors music continues to attract listeners of generation after generation. It can be heard in many movies and television shows. One of the most dramatic uses was in Apocalypse Now which features The End.
Oliver Stone made a movie by the eponymous name in 1991, with Val Kilmer playing Jim Morrison. It did well at the box office and the soundtrack from the movie was also well received. However, the other band members were none too happy, as Stone concentrated on Morrison’s character, to the detriment of others. Manzarek also felt that it did not show the poetic and human side of Morrison and concentrated too much on his bad-boy image and at times bizarre behavior.
The Doors cover versions and adaptations continue unabated. Two of the earliest adaptations that I know are of Light My Fire: one by Ananda Shankar and the other by Isaac Hayes in his Live at Sahara Tahoe.
One of the finest interpretations of The Doors music is in the album Night Divides the Day – The Music of The Doors by the jazz pianist George Winston. It has 16 excellent jazzy interpretations of many well-loved and some not-so-well-known Doors songs. It is a virtuoso performance by a great solo pianist, and it will make a fine addition to any collection of The Doors music.
As with many artists, Morrison developed alcohol dependency and also experimented with drugs. In 1971 he died unexpectedly in Paris at the age of 27. And the legend began. He was buried in the “Poets’ Corner” of Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris on July 7. The epitaph on his headstone bears a Greek inscription, which is usually interpreted as “True to his own spirit”. This is now a must-visit place for rock music lovers and The Doors fans in particular.
So ended the life of Jim Morrison, the son of an Admiral of the US Navy, with whom he did not have a good relationship. But his music lives on even after 50 plus years.
Ray Manzarek passed away in 2013 in Germany due to cancer. He held the band together for several years with someone else occasionally filling in for Morrison. Robby Krieger and John Densmore are the two band members still alive and playing the music.