A 2017 review of a 1967 album, we look at The Doors debut record.
Act/Artist: The Doors
Release: The Doors (album)
Release date: 4th January 1967
It’s very easy to criticise The Doors and dismiss their career. It’s also a lot of fun. Fans of the band react to any slight on the group as a personal attack on them. “Jim has the soul of a poet“, “The Doors were at the front of a cultural movement that defined the era“, “They were the most dangerous band on the planet” and “Millions of people all around the world still love them today” are very common defences of the group…and it’s rare that a Doors fan will base their defence of the group on songs or music. I know one Doors fan who makes an argument for their music but for the rest, it’s more about the era, the spirit, the sense of the occasion and the madness that surrounded the band. Which speaks volumes.
So, now we’ve got the initial salvo out of the way, yes, The Doors are a band defined by awful poetry and the singer getting his lad out on stage but what about the songs? What about the songs indeed? On January 4th 2017, The Doors debut album hits 50 years old and it’s time to give the songs a fair crack of the whip away from the hullabaloo and razzmatazz sideshow that encompasses The Doors at all times.
The record kicks off with Break On Through (To The Other Side). It’s one of the band’s best-known songs. It doesn’t do much in its 2:26 but its punchy and it’s a statement song, exactly what you want for a debut record – set your stall out as quickly and as effectively as you can. In that regard, we’re off and running.
Soul Kitchen, well it’s a watered down take on Louie Louie and it would be alright if we didn’t already have Louie Louie and the multitude of covers of the song. You can’t really criticise The Doors for having this sort of song on a debut record, a band should be searching for their own sound and cribbing off their influences at this early stage. It’s a filler song though and that’s a bit worrying given that it’s a second song on the album.
The Crystal Ship is a bit creepy, Jim seeking out another kiss from a girl who is about to become unconscious. This would be the opening argument by the prosecution in court but of course, it was the 60s, it was different times, not like nowadays. Back then you could get away with a drab and dull piano backing with dodgy lyrics and have people say it touches them in a way that no other artist could…oh wait, that still happens doesn’t it?
Twentieth Century Fox, at its best moments, could be the sort of novelty song Reeves and Mortimer would come up with (or perhaps took for their inspiration) but at other points, it’s another song that just exists without having any impetus or desire to breathe and live. It’s also Jim being a bit creepy again.
Alabama Song (Whisky Bar) is unbelievably naff – it’s keyboard stabs jarring with every step. It brings to mind Randy Scouse Git by The Monkees, but they had charm and something half decent to say…It’s a cover and no doubt one of those songs that had some personal attachment relating to their early days. After all, The Whiskey A Go Go was one on their early haunts (alongside London Fog) and no doubt the track would have been belted out lustily and loudly in these venues.
This song, with its oompah organ sound makes The Doors seem vaudeville, naff and largely outdated, even for the start of 1967. If you like the band, you’ll say the track is a brave move, showcasing their wide influences and offering a lighter side to the darker edge that was so commonly discussed in the music press. If you don’t like the band, it’s a rotten song and well worth skipping.
Is Light My Fire alright? Yeah, it’s a decent song, Manzarek’s keyboard intro is a classic riff of its time and the single version cut out of the noodling solos that take away from the song. On the album it takes far too long and you’re pretty much done with it before the two-minute mark kicks in. If you’ve not kicked something in anger or frustration around the fifth-minute mark then you’re a better person than me. And I’m saying that as someone who thinks most of the best bits of The Doors relate to the keyboards.
You also have to say that Arthur Brown, in his crazy world, took heavily from the song a year later and managed to come out with a far more interesting and likable piece.
Back Door Man is one of the more interesting songs on the record, but it’s a cover. You can probably guess this as it’s one of the songs with swagger and a desire to actually get somewhere. The song, while adding a touch of life to the record, highlights the weaknesses. There’s little impetus or drive to The Doors songs, they rarely build or peak, they don’t drag you from here to there, they just limp and meander. Back Door Man has a strut to it that the band would have been better incorporating into some of their own material.
Jim would also have loved the lyrics because they’re about getting up to no good and they’re dripping with innuendo and entendre. You can see why Led Zeppelin were all over the original and songs of that ilk, the sexual nature of the track was as blatant and as in-your-face as Robert Plant’s trousers. In this regard, you have to say that The Doors did it first but Led Zep never lost sleep about not being first…not when they often did it best. Subtlety can be over-rated and you often find that being overly obvious and giving a wink when you sing is far more effective than wrapping your prose in vague witterings and cribbed intellectual passages.
The thing is, it’s not as if The Doors are the only band that had rubbish lyrics, in fact, most bands have a lot of naff, cringe-worthy or predictable lyrics. In many ways, the words aren’t that important, it should be the spirit the song evokes in you, but with this act; it’s become important because their fans want you to believe the lyrics are important.
I Looked At You is a mid-60s pop song, the sort of thing that American acts were churning out with gusto after Beatlemania kicked in. It’s fine for what it is, albeit it’s the sort of song that 1967 was allegedly providing the great leap forward from.
And just when you think you’ve had a couple of songs with a bit of spirit, End Of The Night drags you right down to that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when there’s been too much bourbon and not enough dancing. Take It As It Comes does lift the spirits slightly, but it’s another filler track, almost lifting bits from other songs on the record, giving it an immediate feel but also renders the track a song you forget immediately once it has finished.
The End. Far too long, too filled with a sense of its own importance. There are bits of the instrumental interludes where it gets interesting, almost akin to the Velvet Underground. It’s The Doors at their most out there, at their most “1967” or what has been recognised as 1967 in looking back. Robby Krieger’s guitar is at its most potent on the song but the dragged out coda and that spoken word section makes the full track too much to tolerate. You can see why it has been used by film and TV makers, in a few lines it immediately places viewers into a different era or creates a tone of finality, but when you call a song The End and bellow that out regularly, it’s going to do that regardless of the tune, tone or over-riding message.
I think if you were around at the time, seeing The Doors live and reading the breaking stories of their shenanigans, no doubt as parents, teachers and the establishment were up in arms at the latest bad boys of music, it would have been exciting; I just don’t think anything about The Doors has aged well. The main keyboard sound is overplayed in their music and for all of the main key-points that people point to about the late 60s, there are so many other acts who do it all a whole lot better. And that, for me, is the biggest issue about The Doors, viewing them from so far away….why bother with them when there were so many better acts making better music and more tangible statements.
But hey, over 20 million in sales, so it can’t be bad eh and it’s clear that many people will vehemently disagree with this review. Which is their right and if you like The Doors, go out there and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the record. As for the rest of us, let’s just be thankful that 1967 was about to get a lot more interesting and better as it progressed.
Keep in touch with our 1967|2017 series by checking out our Golden Anniversary page.