Terry Rompers

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1551

The Doors' popularity is currently at its highest level since Jim Morrison's demise in July, 1971….

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Unfortunately, the fascination with Morrison's self-destruction seems to have overtaken any real passion about the group's music…. It is the music, however, that made the Doors fascinating, not Morrison's leather clothes or petulant eroticism. The Doors were a pioneering West Coast outfit who succeeded in a variety of musical areas, including jazz, blues, pop and protest. An examination of their recorded legacy reveals a lot of promise, some stellar achievements, and a few outright failures. There has never been another group like the Doors; even their vocals/keyboards/guitar/drums line-up is virtually unmatched in rock….

The Doors' songs are rudimentary in light of what was to come later….

The cool character described in "Twentieth Century Fox" is an archetype in Morrison's mythology: a female suave enough to keep company with the women in songs by Dylan or Jagger, both of whom affected Morrison….

"Light My Fire" is the one Doors song everybody knows…. Despite the lyrics (they didn't seem so awful then) this is a magnificent piece of work, proving that rock could be catchy, ultra-popular and still allow for musical improvisation, ensemble interplay and technical ability….

In the final analysis, the first four songs on the [second] side set up the finest piece on the LP, the song which earned the Doors both artistic kudos and moral condemnation; Morrison's self-analytic "The End" [is] an eleven-and-a-half-minute tapestry of death…. [Morrison] makes the song profound. Half singing, half reciting, he works through the first section with care and delicacy, switching to soul-baring drama with the lines: "'Father?' 'Yes, son.' 'I want to kill you … Mother?' 'Yes, son.' 'I want to [bleargh!]'" By the end of the song the catharsis is complete….

Strange Days lacks the subtle cheerfulness of The Doors; perhaps the first-album buzz was spent.

"You're Lost Little Girl" continues in the same restrained vein. The loneliness of the minor-mode verses is, if anything, intensified by the major-mode chorus. "Love Me Two Times," another sexual strut, was the second 45 (after the title track) taken from the album. ["Love Me Two Times"] breaks the solemnity of the album, and points out a Doors anomaly: only they could play pure pop and still make a deep poetic statement on one side of an LP without skipping a beat or losing their commitment to either genre….

"People Are Strange" is about the detachment accompanying an expedition outside one's own world—something the Doors must have experienced in their first few months of national stardom. (This song is about as self-referential as the album gets.) The song is excellent…. "My Eyes Have Seen You," which follows, is nothing special, even a bit substandard, with a primitive quality the rest of Strange Days generally escapes.

Back in the groove, "I Can't See Your Face in My Mind" is another languorous, dreamy number in the "Strange Days" vein, setting the stage for another masterwork, "When the Music's Over."… [The] cut winds its way through a convoluted set of observations, instructions and invocations, leading up to a highly charged release…. Some of "When the Music's Over" seems political in a way that made us-versus-them sense back in 1968. That doesn't matter so much now, and its emotions remain clear even if the intentions don't….

"Hello, I Love You" [on Waiting for the Sun] was the most blatant sell-out single of the year. For a band with almost impeccable underground credentials … this was such a crass Top 40 (AM!) single that a lot of fans tossed in the towel and went off in search of more committed antiestablishment groups. With its simple lyrics and Kinksclone melody ("All Day and All of the Night"), it bore little resemblance to the serious side of the Doors' music, although dating back to Morrison's earliest compositions. A dozen years later it hardly seems so odd, even if the lyrics are as meaningless/simple as any bubblegum tune of the period….

Among worthwhile songs, "Love Street" (the flip of "Hello, I Love You") is a jaunty tune with a newly gained technical sheen. The subject is another vamp from the Twentieth century fox collection, although this one is described in more complimentary terms….

"The Unknown Soldier" ventures into the domain of '60s politics; its arrangement sounds not unlike Country Joe and the Fish, and the subject matter could certainly have been chosen by Joe McDonald. The center section, a little execution drama, was effective onstage but didn't translate to vinyl too well. This rudimentary song marks a significant lowering of the mystical guard that usually masked Morrison's feelings….

The Soft Parade gives the impression of a band a little too confident of its popularity and ability. The Doors cruise on automatic, with no real expenditure of creative energy. Morrison's pompous posturing comes right to the surface, especially on "The Soft Parade"….

The Soft Parade's title track alone staves off total futility. Another of Morrison's intricate soul poems, it leads off with the unbearably dopey "You cannot petition the Lord with prayer" speech. From there it goes into a beautiful quasi-oriental section before changing gears abruptly into jivey upbeat California philosophy. Next is a jazzy bit complete with brushes on drums, then a heavily rhythmic section that sounds like badly mixed Booker T. A few more of these changes lurch into view and then Morrison delivers the almost obligatory closing pronouncement: "When all else fails we can whip the horses' eyes and make them sleep and cry." Another amazing piece of convoluted brilliance, and one of the Doors' finest recordings….

"Peace Frog" [on Waiting for the Sun] is a major Doors tune. Its lyrics refer to a number of American political topics ("Blood on the streets in the town of Chicago") while the music's rocking attack seethes with contained energy…. "Peace Frog" segues into "Blue Sunday," a quiet ode that doesn't go anywhere….

[On] Morrison Hotel the rejuvenated Doors proved they were still capable of varied and impressive work….

[On "Break On Through" from Absolutely Live Morrison] extemporizes lyrics like "Dead cat / In a top hat / Sucking on a young man's blood / Wishing he could come." This rank vulgarity—later evidenced on American Prayer's "Lament (for My Cock)"—is Morrison's forte. Forget all that b.s. poetry; the guy was a clever snot-nose, and his ability to spin it was what paraded as charm….

"L.A. Woman" [from the album of the same name] is a perfect California car song: bright, steady and energetic. Its lyrics reflect Morrison's mixed feelings about the "city of light."… [This is] another Doors' classic, one that proved (at this late stage of their career) they could still hack it in extended format; its well-designed 7:49 holds the interest easily. (Does anyone understand the syntax in "If they say I never loved you / You know they are a liar"? Despite careful song structure, the lyrics seem haphazardly arranged.)…

"The Wasp" ranks among the Doors' most inventive work, weaving a dense, malevolent spell. Morrison's double-tracked vocal is upfront, as if he were in the room with you. The words ("Out here we is stoned … immaculate") are hypnotic and convincing. The band pushes steadily throughout, never interfering with Morrison's dominance. All in all, magnificent….

"Riders on the Storm," complete with sound effects, finishes the album and the Doors' recorded works. It's good Doors, if a bit long, but not quite up to its reputation….

[The] song never progresses beyond a few rudimentary verses. Not with a bang, but a rainstorm. L.A. Woman contains low points as well as highlights, but overall it stands (with The Doors and Morrison Hotel) as one of the band's successes….

[An American Prayer] blends all the singer's aspects—songwriter, poet, storyteller, bullshitter, degenerate scatologist—into an album that amounts to an annotated Doors guidebook, loosely presenting different stages of development in a way that exposes little and suggests much….

An American Prayer is a lot more than slapdash songs created from poems and subsequent music. The informed juxtaposition draws arrows and leads to conclusions. The fine line between poetry and life is erased; confusion instilled by tape cutters makes it impossible to gauge what Morrison actually created and what has been spliced into reality. Social mores of the late '70s permitted the release of sexually explicit material that would never have been considered when Morrison was alive. Nothing is too shocking here….

This album shows what Morrison was, not what the Doors were. It's a unique piece of work, and in no way exploits or abuses those unable to defend themselves. The best moments enrich Doors songs with poetry: A bit of "The Wasp" overdubbed with Morrison reciting the lyrics; a doped-out story that leads into "Peace Frog" or "Unknown Soldier." A strong, live "Roadhouse Blues" is another highlight, although it finishes with a horribly dated "rap" to the audience. "Lament for My Cock" shows just how obsessive Morrison was about sex, but avoids mere vulgarity. This is Morrison at his most transparent and alone. This record defies categorization but should hold great significance for anyone who was ever moved by Jim Morrison—man or legend.

Terry Rompers, "Looking through the Doors," in Trouser Press: Collectors' Magazine (copyright © 1980 by Trans-Oceanic Trouser Press, Inc.), Vol. 3, No. 1, September-October, 1980.

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