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Monday, 24 September 2012

The Doors - The Doors (1967)

When I first heard that Princess Diana had died on that fateful day in 1997, I was sound asleep at my friend’s house. He woke me up and told me that Princess Diana had been killed in a car crash – I didn’t know her, and so didn’t care. Over the days and weeks that followed, I watched with bemusement as the entire country seemed to go into emotional meltdown. News broadcasts were filled with images of weeping strangers, seas of floral tributes, and hyperbolic expressions of her saintliness. I was fifteen, and I didn’t care.

What bothered me at the time was that in the weeks following her death it was as if everybody had lost their minds: TV shows were cancelled; cinemas and shops closed their doors; and even our local chippy closed for a couple of days. Over the summer prior to this, I had got into the Doors, specifically a Best Of that I had bought from a Woolworths while on holiday in Torquay, and I was really looking forward to seeing Oliver Stone’s biopic of Jim Morrison, The Doors, being shown on TV. Because of Diana’s death, a programme about her landmine campaign was shown instead – I was pissed off. I ranted about this for weeks to anyone who would listen. I could not believe that Channel 4 would have the gall to pull the one film I wanted to see so badly. My annoyance was remedied by a friend who lent me the Jim Morrison biography, No One Here Gets Out Alive by Jerry Hopkins, and brought a collection of Doors’ TV performances to watch around my house. A couple of other friends put together their money and bought me the film on video as a Christmas present - this was back when videos cost around £15, and £15 was a lot of money. I’ll admit that I felt a little embarrassed by this: had my ranting really been that bad, had I taken my misdirected anger perhaps a little far? Looking back, the answer is obvious – I was a miserable teenager.

The self-titled debut album by the Doors opens with the awesome ‘Break on Through’, a song that sounds as if they are bursting into a room. The chorus is massive, and Jim Morrison’s baritone vocals break though rock riffs and syncopated beats. ‘Soul Kitchen’ is a great stomper of a track, with Morrison’s layered harmonies barking over catchy organ riffs. ‘The Crystal Ship’ seems to glow and shimmer as it gently flows through echoic vocals and spacious guitars. This is a stunning piece of music that somehow captures the magic that made the Doors so special. ‘Twentieth Century Fox’ is very similar in structure and feel to ‘Soul Kitchen’ but doesn’t quite seem to capture the swagger of the former. ‘Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)’ is very carnivalesque with its oom-pah horns and fairground organs. This is a song which works best sung late at night, walking home drunk with friends from a night out. Of course, the lines about being shown to the next little girl always sound a bit Chris Langham and are best glossed over. ‘Light My Fire’ is a song that has been put through the mangle dozens of times, and might be the victim of some of the worst cover versions of any song, ever – Will Young and Massive Attack’s butcherings immediately spring to mind. Listening today, the song is quite cheesy, but the middle instrumental section with noodling guitars and improvised Hammond organs is its saving grace. The song is a classic. ‘Back Door Man’ is the Doors at their pub-rock worst: there’s something about the bluesy rhythms and tacky vocals that really grate on me. ‘End of the Night’ sounds is warped and dreamy, sounding like the slowing of sound that can occur when drifting into sleep – it captures that feeling perfectly. ‘Take it as it Comes’ is urgent and energetic with its inhumanly-fast Arabesque organ riffs and Morrison’s vocals at their most expressive, from the almost whispered tones of the verse, to belting vocals of the chorus. Album-closer ‘The End’ is the way to end an album. Raga scales, intense guitar-work, and chaotic rhythm patterns become the backdrop to a shamanic mantra that walks us through the Freudian nightmare of Morrison’s oedipal imagery. It’s trippy, surreal and disconcerting, but it is also one of the finest songs ever recorded. If you only listen to one Doors song, make it this one.

This is a fascinating album which shows the many dimensions of the Doors’ musical (and chemical) influences. Some of the Doors’ bluesier tracks now sound incredibly dated, and the Hammond organ can at times sound kitschy, but their influence and impact is undeniable. This is a very good album which I’m selfishly going to be keeping to myself.

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Anonymous said...

don't care for your music picks but it's really well-written, sympathetic perspective

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