The Doors’ The Best of The Doors

cover art for The Best of The Doors“The computer sent exact duplicates of John Densmore’s drums and Robby Krieger’s guitar pouring out of the PA; and with a synthesizer patch that was a perfect clone of Ray Manzarek’s dispassionate organ, Devi allowed herself the joy of escaping once again into the land she had discovered when she was nine … But the memories were suddenly a little too real. Devi’s hands moved of their own, recreating the musice she had heard, but her thoughts took a disturbing turn…Instinctively, she was altering notes in the organ solo – prolonging dissonances, swelling volume, and heating up overtones more than the ’60s had ever heard. The song was “Light My Fire,” but the keyboardist was Devi Anderson of Gossamer Axe…The air in the basement was strangely warm. Devi looked at the far wall…In an area about the size of a man, the carpet that covered the sheetrock had been burnt black.” – Gael Baudino, Gossamer Axe

Spike’s still helping me clean up the music archives here at Green Man. He’s been delighted to discover that there’s a lot of albums that are true to the blues roots of rock ‘n’ roll, such as the Rolling Stones, whose album Forty Licks – another two-disc best-of set – gets a glowing review by David Kidney. What Spike discovered even surprised me: hundreds of recordings by The Doors that had been collected by the staff down the years. Spike was very impressed by one tape in particular – “The Lost Paris Tapes,” which contains a session of poetry that Jim recorded in 1969! I on the other hand think that it was merde, not worth the acetate it’s was recorded on. (A certain redhead who favours leather and who visits the Green Man Pub adores his poetry, so there’s no accounting for taste!)

If you’ve not been exposed to the The Doors, do not decide what to buy based on what’s at Amazon as you’ll find some ninety or so recordings, all of which overlap to varying degrees. What you really want is someone with musical taste and access to the master tapes to put together a tasty selection of the very best of The Doors.

Now just in case that you spent the entire last forty years in a chemically induced purple haze – and neither of us will say another word about electric kool aid acid trips or any other similar things – so you’ve heard not a single bit of this group, let’s give you an overview. A biased overview of course! I first heard the Doors a few months before I encountered the Nazgul, another great group that ended its run in tragedy. The Doors were to a great extent Jim Morrison. As the lead vocalist and lyricist, Jim Morrison is arguably one of the most legendary figures in all of rock & roll history. The strange, disturbing words of Morrison’s lyrics complemented by the Doors’ swirling, ecstatic, psychedelic rock with blues tinges are, like early Jefferson Airplane and Stones, so uniquely theirs that they can’t be replicated by anyone else. Proof of that can be seen in the current incarnation of The Doors which, barring the return of Jim from beyond the Border, is no more the Doors that the Dead in their present form are the Grateful Dead. Replacing mad genius lead vocalist simply can’t be done.

Jim Morrison may be dead, but The Doors have assured him continuing mythic status. What killed Jim was what made him a musical genius. His lifestyle excesses matched his music precisely. Raving obscure, dark lyrics on stage? Yes! Fucking as many girls as possible. Oh, yes. Ingesting enough interesting chemicals to make even Garcia take notice? Sadly yes. A mad genius who was doomed to die young? Quite so.

But The Doors were not just Jim Morrison. Without the other musicians, it would never have been such wonderfully weird music. Jim’s film-school classmate Ray Manzarek, who was a classically trained keyboardist and (not surprisingly) member of a local blues band, decided to form a band. Jim would become the lyricist for this soon-to-be group. Very soon, Robbie Krieger and John Densmore would be recruited from the Psychedelic Rangers, and the Doors were born with the name being Morrison’s idea, lifted from The Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxley’s book on mescaline (which had an introductory quote by another mad genius – William Blake.)

Morrison’s voice combined with the blues tinge of Manzarek’s keyboard playing would create a sound so memorable that every song they did was instantly recognizable as if the music was somehow compatible with the some inner vibe of the listener. (You had to be there. And chemicals certainly helped. Well, certain chemicals did. The wrong ones never did anyone much good …) From their very first album in 1967 The Doors, to the very last one done with Jim a mere four years later, L.A. Woman, each album contained amazingly cool songs and truly awful shite. The very first album has the very spooky “Break on Through” and the macabre “When the Music’s Over,” not to mention “Light My Fire” – but also also the truly wretched “The Crystal Ship” and a few other songs I can’t bear to mention here. Likewise Spike notes that L.A. Woman, in addition to the bluesy title song, has “Riders on the Storm,” but is otherwise, as he puts it, ^%$#@ forgettable.

So let’s accept that no Doors album is a good introduction to the group, so what we need is a collection of their very best cuts. Now that proved to be a rather exceedingly difficult task than I thought it’d be. There’s a passage in William Gibson’s Mona Lisa Overdrive that fits here: ‘Here it seemed the very fabric of things, as if the city were a single growth of stone and brick, uncounted strata of message and meaning, age upon age, generated over the centuries to the dictates of some now-all-but-unreadable DNA of commerce and empire.’

In general, The Best of The Doors – the WEA recording released in 2000, not one of the other ‘best of’ releases! – has everything on it that you need to fully appreciate The Doors. What you get here are these tracks: ‘Light My Fire’, ‘Hello, I Love You’, ‘People Are Strange’, ‘Love Me Two Times’, ‘Touch Me’, ‘Strange Days’, ‘Spanish Caravan’, ‘Moonlight Drive’, ‘We Could Be So Good Together’, ‘The Unknown Soldier’, ‘Queen of the Highway’, ‘Shaman’s Blues’, ‘The Wasp (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)’, ‘L.A. Woman’, ‘Whiskey, Mystics and Men’, ‘Summer’s Almost Gone’, ‘You’re Lost Little Girl’, ‘When the Music’s Over’, ‘No Me Mileste Mosquito’, ‘Riders on the Storm’, ‘Break on Through (To the Other Side)’, ‘Roadhouse Blues’, ‘Soul Kitchen’, ‘Love Her Madly’, ‘Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)’, ‘Peace Frog’, ‘Waiting for the Sun’, ‘Who Scared You’, ‘The Crystal Ship’, ‘Wishful Sinful’, ‘Love Street’, ‘Wintertime Love’, ‘The Spy’, ‘Back Door Man’, ‘My Eyes Have Seen You’, ‘Five to One’, and ‘The End’. There’s a lot of really good stuff here and not, and Spike agrees, much shite. Both of us would’ve included ‘Horse Latitudes’, but that’s the only noticeable absence.

(Spike wants you to know that Billy Idol did a more than mere passing cover of ‘L.A. Woman’ back in the 90s. ^%$# good video too if you can find it. If not, you can come here and see it as we have a copy. It’s on Billy Idol: The Charmed Life Videos.) [Update: It’s a lot easier to find such things these days. It’s here.)

I could rave as I’ve been known to do for hours about this CD, but why bother? Go get it, play it loud, and savour a truly amazing blues influenced band that still rocks. You’ll have have a frelling good time, or, well, don’t blame me as you obviously are lacking in your musical tastes!

Now excuse the two of us as, how did Spike put it? @e still need to deal with those ^%$# singer-songwriter and New Age CDs that are accumulating far too rapidly. Skeet, anyone?

(Warner/Elektra, 2000)

Jack Merry

I'm a fiddler who plays in various bands including Chasing Fireflies, the Estate contradance band; I'm also the Estate Agent for everything music related including the tours our myriad musicians do elsewhere. My drink, or so my wife Brigid says, is anything liquid, but I like a good dark beer and a spritely cider most of all. Scotch-Irish by ancestry, my favoured music is Irish, Scottish and Nordic trad.

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