Synopsis of Pop Music
“We chased our pleasures here,
Dug our treasures there,
But can you still recall,
The time we cried,
Break on through to the other side,
Break on through to the other side...”
Sex, drugs, rock and roll...and Nietzsche. The Doors had their share of excess, sure, but it was a literate excess. Frontman Jim Morrison, that enigmatic hyphenate, that true poet-hedonist-tragedy, and his degree of incredible genius or incredible overratedness, are still debated today—the point being, of course, that people still debate. The keyboard-based Doors were sonically unique and lyrically both lovely and perilous. Rarely have four young men, together just a handful of years, made this much of an impact—and not just on the music scene either, but on the fabric of rock’s mythology. There’s just something about the Lizard King.
When Jim Morrison sang a song he had written to fellow UCLA student Ray Manzarek, Manzarek invited the arty, ever-partying minstrel to join his r&b band—Rick and the Ravens—which also included his two brothers. After recruiting drummer John Densmore, the band bought some studio time and recorded six of Morrison’s compositions. Manzarek’s brothers didn’t like the results and quit, but Robbie Krieger, whom Densmore had met at a local meditation center, replaced them. Morrison suggested their name, which came from Aldous Huxley writings called The Doors of Perception, and they signed to a six-month stint as the house band at L.A.’s Whiskey. Probably not a whole lot could get a band fired from the Whiskey in those days, but Morrison’s haunting, Oedipal-creepy “The End” did the trick nicely.
Seeing the Doors live was certainly something. In the late 60’s, there was folk-rock in their native Los Angeles and acid rock up north in San Francisco, but these guys went their own way. Manzarek, a classically trained pianist, played an electric organ with one hand and a bass keyboard with the other; Krieger could play any kind of guitar, and what’s more, he could play it well; Densmore was a jazz drummer capable of a downnright operatic directions; and Morrison…well, he could infuriate or seduce, depending on his mood and the cocktail of drugs he had put into his body that day. But positive or negative, whatever response the singer elicited from his audience (and in the early days, some of those audiences consisted of just a few), rest assured, it always resonated in their memories.
Fortunately, the band had already caught the eye of the fledgling Elektra Records label, which signed the band in 1966. Their self-titled debut included an eleven-minute version of “The End,” “Break on Through” and “Light My Fire”—which was trimmed down for the radio and became a #1 hit. Though Morrison seemed game for pop stardom at first, shirts coming off and teen magazines posed for, the celebrity would begin to chafe after a while. More than anything, he wanted to be taken seriously as an artist.
Their sophomore record Strange Days boasted the single “People are Strange” and “Hello I Love You,” which became the band’s first hit in England, though Ray Davies of the Kinks claimed it was plagiarized from his “All Day and All of the Night.” A handful of records followed, and the band was spotlighted in a television documentary for their protest song “The Unknown Soldier,” a very opinionated anti-war promotional film.
Morrison was arrested for harassing a stewardess on a flight from L.A. to Phoenix, and at a notorious Miami concert that same year, he was convicted of indecent exposure, public intoxication, and lewd and lascivious conduct—none of which would have been new territory at that point, as he grew more and more reckless in his life and up on stage. Future concert dates had to be cancelled, and the Doors almost didn’t bounce back from the logistic, legal and inter-band chaos that Morrison’s behavior inspired.
But bounce back they did, in the form of Morrison Hotel, with its r&b bent and solid musicianship. But Morrison, with two published poetry volumes already under the belt of those famous black leather pants, was growing less enamored of the stage and microphone, and more interested in writing. After L.A. Woman was completed in 1971, he moved to Paris to concentrate on poetry–it was rumored that he wanted nothing more to do with music. He was found dead that year in a bathtub: technically from a heart attack, but figuratively from the cumulative drug and alcohol abuse which he had packed his twenty-seven years chock full of. Since his family had disowned him, his body stayed overseas and he was buried in Paris’ Pere Lachaise cemetery, where Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Frederic Chopin and Honore de Balzac had also found permanent rest. To the dismay of officious cemetery officials (which Morrison, in life, might have smiled upon), troops of his fans, both old and new, visit and decorate his grave to this day.
The remaining Doors forged on to release a pair of albums, Other Voices and Full Circle, then officially broke up in 1973. Densmore and Krieger formed the Butts Band, Manzarek stayed busy with different producing and managing ventures (producing four albums for L.A.’s punk darlings X, incidentally). The three would reconvene periodically though, as interest in the old band never relented. They recorded music to back Morrison’s poetry recitations that were taped during the L.A. Woman sessions, and the resulting album, An American Prayer, was so successful that the archive of old recordings and concert footage were further mined.
In 1983, Alive, She Cried was compiled from live tapes that had been lost for years (but found in a warehouse when the surviving Doors campaigned for their search). But it wasn’t just the old band members who kept the legacy alive…the outside world wouldn't let go either. Francis Ford Coppola eerily wove “The End” into his 1979 Apocalypse Now; an insider story of Morrison and the band called No One Here Gets Out Alive, told by former band gofer Danny Sugarman, hit the book stores in 1980; and in 1991, director Oliver Stone added a filmic biography to the long list of the Lizard King's memorials.
The band’s back catalogue sells vibrantly, Morrison’s poetry is still read, and his story still told. After more than three decades, the story and music of the Doors is still one of those rock-and-roll legacies that lives, breathes, kicks and screams...hard.
Artist Release History1967 - The Doors
1967 - Strange Days
1968 - Waiting for the Sun
1969 - The Soft Parade
1970 - Absolutely Live
1970 - Morrison Hotel
1971 - L.A. Woman
1971 - Other Voices
1972 - Full Circle
1978 - American Prayer
1983 - Alive, She Cried
1985 - The Best of The Doors
1990 - Live in Europe
1991 - In Concert (live)
1991 - The Doors Soundtrack
Pop Sub Categoriesrock
Essential Music AlbumsThe Best of The Doors (Elektra)
Band MembersJim Morrison vocals
Ray Manzarek keyboards
Robbie Krieger guitar
John Densmore drums