What does it sound like?:
The first two Doors albums, released in 1967, established the band as forerunners in a counterculture offering an alternative to mainstream pop music. Their dark, brooding sound, fronted by a leather clad romantic poet, defined sex and drugs and rock and roll. The trouble was, by 1968 and Waiting For The Sun, they’d exhausted Jim Morrison’s legendary songbook. All that was left was the runt of the litter, Hello, I Love You, a single that flew off the shelves, dragging the album with it in its wake. As a result, Waiting For The Sun is The Doors best selling album and their only number one in the USA.
Hello, I Love You is a classic single. Even with an ear only half-cocked to the radio, it grips the listener almost immediately with John Densmore’s opening military trill. It tells its boy-meets-girl story neatly in less than two and a quarter minutes. Its catchiness, filched from The Kinks, lingers long after it’s over. However, it is also classic Doors. Its structure is strange and unsettling. The instruments sound upside down, falling through a worm-hole at the halfway point. Robby Krieger plays guitar but it sounds nothing like one. Jim Morrison’s passion is disturbingly histrionic in the second act. Even in 1968, it was highly unusual to declare undying love at first sight. A song that seems quite straightforward turns out to be complex and intriguing. Hello, I Love You is a bite-sized summation of everything appealing about their first two albums.
In a heartbeat, The Doors are onto track two and the meat of the album. Morrison was erratic and unreliable at the time. Through a substance-addled haze, his writing shifted towards the besotted, doe-eyed lover interpretation of ‘romantic’ as opposed to the innovative, living on the edge incarnation he previously inhabited. Love Street is a soft rock ballad, the first of several simple love songs, a few of which also include small talk about the weather. It’s possible that Love Street is illuminated by a red light but listen hard and it’s difficult to discern any artifice in Summer’s Almost Gone, Wintertime Love or Yes, The River Flows. Nevertheless, there is something disquieting about these Doors ballads, as though a dexterous jazz trio are restraining themselves supporting a lead vocalist who doesn’t understand what the words mean.
There are still plenty of theatrics in enough tracks to retain The Doors’ counterculture credentials. Not To Touch The Earth is a fragment of a seventeen minute epic, Celebration Of The Lizard, whose full lyric is printed on the sleeve. The Unknown Soldier taps into the anti-war sentiment of 1968 complete with sound effects. Hippy idealism is present and correct in a good old singalong, We Could Be So Good Together. In the finale, Five To One, Morrison calls upon the young to wrest power from the older generation in the most aggressive track of the album.
The music is painstakingly constructed around their frontman’s sonorous tones. Ray Manzarek’s organs dominate the rich, thicket of sound, which reveals little treasures on repeated listens. There are few solos but the musicians do get to display their dexterity. There is Flamenco guitar, sea shanty thrumming, cinematic atmospheres, delicate balladeering, disjointed jazz, as well as their characteristic blues, rock and pop.
Producer Paul A. Rothchild drove them to perfection over many takes, often more than a hundred for each track. It’s a surprise, therefore, that this 50th anniversary edition includes early ‘rough’ mixes discovered by original engineer, Bruce Botnick, when he was carrying out remastering duties. They do sound fresh with brighter vocals, wider stereo separation and more space but it’s at the loss of some of the brooding threat in most Doors songs, including the ballads. More interesting are the live tracks from Copenhagen 1968. The quality of the recording isn’t great but it captures The Doors in their element. The Doors live must have been an awesome sight. There is no Celebration Of The Lizard as there was for the 40th anniversary edition and the title track remains parked two albums down the line on Morrison Hotel.
What does it all *mean*?
Paul A. Rothchild’s restricted the effects Krieger could use in order to maintain a characteristic Doors sound still recognisable many years later. That decision has paid dividends.
Goes well with…
This is a 2CD + 1LP set, costing £35+. It looks perfect on a shelf with the 50th anniversary deluxe editions of The Doors and Strange Days. No mono this time as Waiting For The Sun’s mono is a simple fold down of the stereo. The year of peak mono had passed.
Might suit people who like…
The music of 1968. Spending money. The 40th anniversary edition at only five quid is where the CD value is. A vinyl collector may be willing to put their hand in their pocket.