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The Doors 1st Album (1967)


Their debut album was shocking and immediately put them in the superstar league.

Rightly so: and not only because the general aura of this debut was quite different from anything anyone was doing at the moment, but also because it was incredibly catchy, melodic and displayed signs of genius in most of the tracks. Darkness and dreariness that was given a catchy pop edge – something that Jefferson Airplane, the world’s most depressing band at that period, could only have dreamt of and never managed to achieve in the end.

There’s a certain shy feel about it, too, as if the band wasn’t yet ready to overflow us with self-penned material. So they do a couple of covers – surprisingly, they manage to totally fit into the standard paradigm. The Broadway musical ditty ‘Alabama Song’ is by now a rightful Morrison classic, as Jim delivers the ‘show me the way to the next little girl’ lyrics with enough conviction to guarantee us that ‘tomorrow we must die’.

As for Willie Dixon’s ‘Back Door Man’, now there’s a tune that drives me nuts, at times it managed to edge out ‘Light My Fire’ and ‘End Of The Night’ as my favourites on here. There’s something Zeppelin-ish about the way the dudes treat this blues cover, sharply accentuating the main heavy riff and ‘whetting’ all the edges of the song so that it slices through your mind as nothing else can. Jim’s lionish roar on this track is easily his best vocal delivery on the entire album, and Krieger tops it off with a wall-rattling guitar solo. While the Doors were never a generic blues band, this track showcases, from the very beginning of their career, Jim’s ability to assimilate old blues to his own dark, dreadful, terrifying style.

Thus the main problem with the album is definitely not the presence of covers, but rather the presence of some rather nasty filler: the short little ditties ‘I Looked At You’ and ‘Take It As It Comes’ are nothing but your average pop songs set in the same ‘negative’ environment. ‘I Looked At You’, in particular, irritates me every time I put it on with its pedestrian lyrics – ‘I looked at you/You looked at me/I smiled at you/You smiled at me/And we’re on our way’. Together with ‘Take It As It Comes’, the song feels pretty much out of place on the record; add to this that ‘The End’ has never been my favourite ‘epic’ Doors song, and you can understand why I so often turn it down right after ‘Back Door Man’ which is the first song on side two.

By no means are these two tunes ‘bad’, but they are certainly not up to the standard of the first-rate songs which are mostly grouped on the first side of the record. The album opener ‘Break On Through (To The Other Side)’ is the first fast ‘dark’ rocker ever recorded, and it announces the Doors’ arrival on the scene with a crash boom bang: a low, grumbly, but amazingly catchy guitar riff, ominous, mathematically precise organ solos and above all – the lyrics: ‘you know the day destroys the night/Night divides the day/Tried to run tried to hide/Break on through to the other side’.

The seven-minute anthem ‘Light My Fire’ raises all kinds of emotions, especially with Ray’s organ and Robbie’s guitar solos which are so well constructed and so flawlessly played that you never regret their lengthiness even for a second. A crying shame that they were edited out of the single version – but that’s how it goes, and the band couldn’t really do anything about it. Thus begins the lengthy war of the Conceptual Album Creators with the Hit Single Producers.

It’s the ballads, though, that best display Jim’s talents: the gentle and beautiful ‘Crystal Ship’ which deals with matters far wider and far more dangerous than a simple love story, and especially the haunting mystical ‘End Of The Night’ where Ray sounds like a professional Dark Magician and manages to create an atmosphere so dreary and majestic at the same time that it really makes one shiver.
The two lesser tracks are ‘Soul Kitchen’, which nevertheless boasts a really memorable melody, with a strange naggin’ organ riff that borders on the genial, and ’20th Century Fox’ which, strange enough, some people dislike, but I really don’t see anything that nasty about it. It’s just a little poppy, but just a little, and it has a great solo; what else do you need? ‘But she’s – no – drag – just – watch – the – way – she walks’, chants Jim, and the line sends me laughin’ down the alleyway.

Last comes the least. Actually, the lengthiest. ‘The End’ is often hailed as the Doors’ most successful ten-minute-long (actually, eleven) ‘gothic’ epic, the one that sets a pattern for all the following stream-of-conscience, rambling poetical deliveries by Jim set to a somewhat rudimentary, but strangely effective musical backings. But me, I’m not convinced. I like the poetry, and most of the images that Jim conjures along the way, all the ‘weird scenes inside the gold mine’, ‘the blue bus is calling us’, ‘ride the snake to the lake’, and, most important, the famous Oedipus complex description where the line ‘Mother I want to fuck you’ is effectively buried in the mix under an undecipherable mess of roar and hum – all these things are quite flashy and effective.

The problem is, the musical accompaniment is WAY too monotonous and, frankly speaking, boring to let you enjoy the number from beginning to, well, the end; more or less, the thing consists of just two or three guitar lines being endlessly repeated over and over, and even the ‘transitions’ in the sections (both this and ‘When The Music’s Over’ off the next album are built according to one scheme: intro – fast transitional passage – main psycho part – fast transitional passage – outro) don’t seem all that great. While the song still stands out as one of the Doors’ main trademarks, I simply don’t think it has enough musical potential in it to live up to all the hype.

In the light of this, I wouldn’t give the album a better rating than an eight: while the album’s absolutely groundbreaking nature is doubtless, and the Doors wouldn’t really make much conceptual innovations over the next four years, the record still betrays signs of relative inexperience in the studio. It’s been often called one of the most impressive debuts in rock history, and maybe it was: the album’s sales skyrocketed in no time, and the Doors became superstars almost overnight (although the singles buying public wasn’t so sure: ‘Break On Through’, the first single from the album, flopped).

In retrospect, though, the album’s flaws become all the more evident: there ain’t much of ’em, but the inclusion of ‘I Looked At You’ and the monotonousness of ‘The End’ are among the most offensive. Their next record, however, would shut out all doubts about whether they would be able to better themselves, and it still remains an absolute masterpiece of the ‘dark psychedelia’ genre. At least, that’s how I regard it.

May 31, 2013 Posted by | The Doors 1st Album | | Leave a comment