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The Doors

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The Doors

When you think of psychedelic rock and roll of the sixties, you would have to be a fool if The Doors don’t come to mind. In their short 54 month career the iconic rock band shoved right through the boundaries that so many other bands dared not cross and helped millions of people see things differently and experience things they had not before. With more than 75 million albums sold worldwide and another 1 million sold annually The Doors have achieved legendary status.
The band formed when Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek met in UCLA Film School. While walking on the beach one day, Ray persuaded Jim to read one of his poems, “Moonlight Drive”, and a few others. After hearing the talent that Jim possessed, Ray convinced him to start a rock band where his poems would be mixed with rock and roll music. Drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Kreiger joined the band shortly there after. One thing that immediately made the band stand out from the others was the lack of a bass player so Ray played the bass line on a keyboard with his left hand and played chords with his right. Also, a session bassist was added when needed.
The name of the group, The Doors, was thought of by Jim and was taken from Aldous Huxley’s book, The Doors of Perception, and more particularly from William Blake’s quotation that inspired the title: “If the doors of perception were cleansed, man would see things as they truly are – infinite.” The Doors’ music has a mystical, spiritual feeling around it partially due to Jim’s fascination with Native American shamanism while the others were deeply involved in Transcendental Meditation. Ray said of the music: “What the Doors were all about [was] peyote, acid, and infinity; raising your consciousness…opening the doors in your head.” There is also another side to the band’s music, a side of anger towards war and the establishment and also a strong fascination with death, violence, sex, reptiles, and last but not least, love.
The Doors began their career playing in nightclubs on the Sunset Strip. It was during their nightclub days they developed their act and long, partly improvised, pieces full of dramatic crescendos and whispered passages. One of those pieces being the epic, Oedipal story “The End” which eventually got them fired after Jim sang a very controversial line. But by then Elektra Records had already chosen to sign them to their label.
Their first album, The Doors, was released in 1967 and was a tremendous hit. It featured “Break On Through (To The Other Side)” which was about the band’s desire to exceed limitations, and most importantly, “Light My Fire”, which was written by Robby. It became their signature song.
The Doors made it clear quite quickly that they weren’t as obedient as some of the other big bands around that time when they performed “Light My Life” on the Ed Sullivan Show. Before the show, producers asked Jim to sing “girl, we couldn’t get much better” rather than the original “girl, we couldn’t get much higher” due to it’s obvious drug reference. Jim agreed but sang the original line anyway during the live performance. They were never asked to come back.
Their second album, Strange Days, was released later in 1967 and was a commercial success. However, the band’s producer, Paul Rothchild, considered it a commercial failure, “We thought it was the best album. Significantly, it was also the one with the weakest sales. We were confident it was going to be bigger than anything The Beatles had done. But, there was no single. The record died on us.” This album features many treasures such as “Moonlight Drive” (the poem Jim first read to Ray that day on the beach) and “When The Music’s Over”, another epic, 11 minute song-poem similar to “The End”. The song itself is about music being the driving force of life, when the music stops, so does life’s spirit. During live performances of this song Jim usually ended up flopping around on the floor. The album also featured a poem by Jim titled “Horse Latitudes” which is about horses jettisoned from ships caught in the doldrums.
It was after the release of Strange Days that band’s reputation as bad boys was really cemented. Shortly before a performance in New Haven, Connecticut, Jim was backstage with a woman and a police officer, not recognizing the rock star, began trying to shoo the two away. When Jim refused, the policeman took out a can of mace and sprayed Jim directly in the eyes. Once Jim recovered and went on stage he stopped half way through a song to talk about what had just happened back stage before the show. During his story he referred to the police officer as a “little man, in a little blue suit, with a little blue cap”. It was at that time that the rest of the policemen came in and announced to the audience the show was over and that Jim was being arrested for “Breach of Peace” and “Public Obscenity”. He was the first rock star ever to be arrested on stage.
Tensions in the band arose during the recording of their third album, Waiting For The Sun, due to Jim’s increasing dependence on drugs and alcohol. He had begun showing up to recording sessions drunk or under the influence of drugs. It eventually got so bad that the other Doors took turns quitting or threatening to. Even Jim threatened to throw in the towel saying, “I’m having a nervous breakdown and I want out.” But Ray managed to talk him into staying on another six months.
Because they had exhausted their earlier repertoire, they began to branch out by writing new material. “Hello, I Love You” was their second and last US #1 single. Before this album, the Doors had stayed away from politics. But with Waiting For the Sun, “The Unknown Soldier” was released. The song, while being anti-war, was not specifically about the Vietnam War. The song features what sounds to be a firing squad and during many live performances of this song Robby would use his guitar as a gun and Jim would be the “Unknown Soldier” being shot and would fall very dramatically to the floor where he would lay very still, then begin twitching, only to “rise like some reincarnated hippie phoenix in leather pants to celebrate: ‘The war is over! The war is over! It’s all over! The war is over!’”
Their fourth album, The Soft Parade, was released in 1969. With the previous albums, the band had all shared writing credit with the songs but it was during the recording of this album that Jim insisted on individual credit. “Tell All the People” is believed to be the specific reason behind this as Jim did not want to be associated with the song because of the negative imagery in the lyrics. “Tell all the people….get your guns….” was the phrase that made Jim hate the song. Robbie was actually referring to an event where he and John were violently beaten. The beating resulted in Robby receiving a black eye which can be seen on The Smother Brother’s Comedy Hour where they performed “Touch Me”.
Since there is so much instrumentation on this album and Jim didn’t play any instruments, he was left with a lot of spare time during which he drank which made him less productive as far as song writing. Therefore, Robby’s writing has a stronger presence on this album. The album received harsh reviews stating that the band had turned pop due to the heavy instrumentation and that they had lost the bluesy, rock and roll touch.
Shortly before the release of The Soft Parade, the Doors were to perform in a seaplane hangar in Miami, Florida. The hangar, which was designed to fit 7,000 people, was packed with more than 12,000 (the seats had been removed to allow for more ticket sales). With tension already present in the packed crowd, Jim (who had been drinking all day) taunted to crowd with both love and hate. At one point he lifted up his shirt and asked the audience if they wanted to see more which they did. He then asked the audience to get even closer. They started climbing up on the small stage and soon it collapsed. Four days later the Dade County Sheriff’s office issued a warrant for Jim’s arrest claiming Jim deliberately exposed himself while on stage, shouted obscenities to the crowd, simulated oral sex on Robby and was drunk at the time of the performance. While many say he did expose himself and many say he didn’t, there was never any actual evidence to support the accusations.
The Miami incident resulted in most of the Doors’ tour being cancelled. With that, they returned to the studio and began recording their fifth album, Morrison Hotel. With this album, the Doors returned to their roots while also exploring a more bluesy feel. Even though no major hit singles were taken from the album, Morrison Hotel reestablished the Doors as favorites among critics. The cover photo for the album was taken at the actual Morrison Hotel located in Los Angeles. The rear cover features a photo of the Hard Rock Café also in Los Angeles. The founders of the later and unrelated Hard Rock Café used the name after seeing it on the Doors’ album (the original café is no longer open for business). The songs “Peace Frog” and “Blue Sunday” were recorded seamlessly so “Peace Frog” flows right into “Blue Sunday” and are played together on most radio stations.
Their sixth and final album as a whole band was released in 1971. L.A. Woman was regarded, critically, as one of their best. During the recording producer Paul Rothchild, who had become fed up with the always present tension and bored with the “cocktail lounge music” they were playing, told thee group he was dropping out and that they needed to get it together. So with Paul gone, they recorded L.A. Woman.
The most popular song on the album, “Riders On The Storm”, can be seen almost as an autobiographical take on Jim’s life. He considered himself a “Rider on the storm” and the “killer on the road” is a reference to a screenplay he wrote called The Hitchhiker (An American Pastoral), where Jim was going to play the part of a hitchhiker who goes on a murder spree. “Riders On The Storm” and “Love Her Madly” were the two songs released as singles with “Lover Her Madly” reaching #11 and “Riders On The Storm” stalling at #14.
About month before L.A. Woman was released Jim, along with his long time girlfriend Pamela, moved to Paris to focus on his poetry. He had promised he was also going to quit drinking. He lived in Paris for three months until his death on July 3, 1971. He was 27 years old.
The facts surrounding his death are hazy. All that’s known for sure is that Pamela was the only one around when he died and that he died in the bath tub. What happened leading up to that, well, there are many different accounts. Many believe that he faked it and slipped into a new anonymous identity and the other Doors believe that was something he would and could do. Others believe he was murdered by the government. There is also the suicide rumor. The official French death certificate said that he died of heart failure but no autopsy was ever performed. The French doctor who was first called to the scene wouldn’t talk about it and Pamela died three years later taking the truth with her. So it will never be known just how the Lizard King died but it is impossible to forget how he lived.
The Doors are regarded as one of the most legendary bands because like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jim Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and very few other bands, the music resonated with successive generations. In concert the band was exhilarating and unpredictable. They encouraged chaos, expressed outrage, revealed the dark side of the hippie dream and acted out the clash between youth and authority. They didn’t fall in line with the other bands who played it safe, they looked at the barrier and broke right through it…to the other side.

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