If the first two Doors albums are drugs, they’d be of the decidedly psychedelic variety; the next couple are a dangerous cocktail of amphetamines and Quaaludes. Morrison Hotel is beer: authentic, unfiltered, as American as it gets. L.A. Woman manages to be all of the above.
Ten days, ten thousand dollars. That is the time and money required to craft one of rock music’s significant debut albums. If the Doors had simply disbanded after their eponymous first effort, they would unquestionably hold a sacrosanct space in the ‘60s canon. Recorded around the same time as Sgt. Pepper (not after, which is noteworthy), The Doors helped establish the possibility that a rock and roll album could -- and should -- be a complete, fully-formed statement. If, inevitably, this raising of the artistic bar inexorably led to unwelcome excesses, such as the progressive rock “concept album” in the early-to-mid ‘70s, it also elevated the music from the short, fluff-filled releases of the early-to-mid ‘60s.
How did it happen?
First and foremost, so much ink gets spilled rehashing and aggrandizing the living legend of the Lizard King that it is, unfortunately, easy to overlook the certainty that the Doors were a first-rate band capable of creating incredible music. And they did: the often exceptional compositions were not conjured up from the bong water -- all three of the musicians (Ray Manzarek played keyboards, Robbie Krieger played guitar and John Densmore played drums) were trained players with experience, reaching across classical, jazz, folk and blues. (A more extensive analysis of Jim Morrison’s ceaselessly controversial status as a poet was recently undertaken and can be found here).
A propitious way to create a near perfect album is to begin with an indelible opening salvo, and “Break on Through”, the first song and first single, still sounds fresh and essential 40 years later. This song delivers in every way: a signature sound (nothing else, then or now, sounds anything like this) and an urgency that balances aggression and acumen, in under three minutes. In terms of influence, it should suffice to say that the testimonials from bands in subsequent generations are numerous, and from a historical perspective, this dark but dynamic concision anticipates punk rock every bit as much as, say, the Velvet Underground.
Admittedly, “Light My Fire” -- the second single and the one that actually broke them through, topping the charts in the infamous Summer of Love -- reverberates, today, with more of that free-love vibe (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but the incredible trifecta that kicks off the proceedings remains remarkably, even improbably edgy and unique. Again, no other band made music that sounded like this and it is, to a large degree, attributable to Ray Manzarek, who, in addition to piano and organ, handled the role of bassist, utilizing his Fender Rhodes piano bass (on later albums the band would indulge themselves with the services of a session bassist, but on most of the early albums Manzarek did double duty). His versatility is on full display throughout these first three songs, and nowhere is his handiwork better represented than on the third track, “The Crystal Ship”: his restrained, often ethereal organ sound is always the water that the rest of the band could cook with, while his discerning, almost elegant, turn at the piano provides cerebral counterpoint.
A few more remarks about Manzarek: up to this point (and, to a large extent, outside of the mellotron mini-revolution pioneered by King Crimson and the Moody Blues in the late ‘60s, and the keyboards so essential to most progressive rock acts like Yes, Jethro Tull and Genesis in the early ‘70s) organ music was -- and remains -- generally relegated to the sideline on the rare occasions it appears at all. Certain groups might employ the use of an organ for one of their mellow or somber songs, but bringing an organ to the forefront was an original, and risky undertaking. Aside from the piano/organ interplay, Manzarek consistently creates different sounds with his instrument. At times he opts for funky and cool (“Soul Kitchen” or “I Looked at You”), other times carnivalesque (the group’s spirited cover of Brecht and Weill’s “Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)”, or “Take It As It Comes”), and occasionally jazzy. Although any mention of this causes supercilious purists to puke, there is no getting around the reality that those extended and groundbreaking solos in “Light My Fire” were modeled, in part, on the standard improvised chord changes of bebop.
Let’s face it, one reason it is so easy, even imperative, to poke fun at the Doors is because Manzarek himself, who has been anything but tongue-tied in interviews over the years, seems entirely too eager to elucidate the ways in which the band consciously emulated John Coltrane while composing their most important song. It might have behooved him a bit to understand that the considerable majority of even the most proficient jazz musicians are wary of drawing any sort of overt comparisons to Coltrane (mostly because the first thing it does is amplify the rather extreme divergence between the very good and the Great). And yet. Robby Krieger, through lessons and discipline, had developed a facility on the flamenco guitar before moving on to amplified blues, then rock; John Densmore received classical training and played in jazz bands for years; Manzarek too had classical training. Nevertheless, there is no shortage of musicians (in rock and even in jazz) who have all the technique and ambition in the world, but cannot craft truly original, irrevocable melodies. Only the most obstreperous haters will deny that, as a tune, “Light My Fire” is irresistible ... at least the first million times.
Certainly, the first album contains some less essential moments, such as “Twentieth Century Fox”, “I Looked At You” and “Take It As It Comes”, but two covers (the aforementioned “Alabama Song”, and an improbably convincing rendition of the pretty much uncoverable Howlin’ Wolf’s “Back Door Man”) work in wonderful ways. Listen, again to “Back Door Man” and compare it to the paint-by-numbers pastiches of classic blues songs the Rolling Stones and the Beatles were attempting only a few years earlier. “End of the Night” is undeniably of its time, but still provides pleasure, particularly in its economy and the way it anticipates the expansive final track which, if not the Doors’ best song, is definitely among their most cherished and controversial. “The End” is the Doors’ “Stairway To Heaven”, the song that is the Dead Sea Scrolls for adolescent seekers: it entices and disorients not unlike the narcotic, agitating effect that Edgar Allan Poe’s stories initially have on young readers. Morrison’s stream of consciousness Götterdämmerung will incite debates until the sacred cows come home, but there can be no quarrel with the music. Manzarek and Krieger do some of their finest -- if understated -- work here, but it is Densmore’s passive-aggressive percussion that represents, certainly at the time of its recording, an apotheosis of sorts. It is scarcely conceivable how many psychedelic adventures this song has provided a soundtrack for, which is entirely appropriate considering that, according to legend, Morrison laid down his vocals (in two takes) while reeling from a particularly intense acid trip. Whatever else it may signify, “The End” is an ideal, inevitable coda, and one of the best closing songs on one of the very best rock albums.
Only the authority and influence of the first album keeps its follow-up somewhat in its shadow. More than a few fans, however, might insist that Strange Days is actually superior. Overall, the sophomore effort (also released in 1967) sounds more tied to its time, but as an artifact of that era, it holds its own all these years later. Not unlike the first album, Strange Days features an extended closing statement, the more straightforward but also more calculated (and less arresting) anthem “When The Music’s Over”. To its credit, the band did not ardently attempt to duplicate the formula that worked so well the first time around (not that this would have been possible anyway), and were willing, even eager, to take some risks. The results are mixed, but mostly very good and occasionally exceptional. For starters, the somewhat overproduced title track (with its dated echo effects on the vocal) might not catch LSD in a bottle like “Break On Through”, but it more than adequately conveys, lyrically and musically, a foreboding menace that anticipates the not-so-loving summer of ’68:
Strange eyes fill strange rooms
Voices will signal their tired end
The hostess is grinning
Her guests sleep from sinning
Hear me talk of sin and you know this is it.
Radio staples “People Are Strange” and “Love Me Two Times” are shadowy nuggets of tight, intelligent song craft: even after you’ve heard them each a thousand times (and who hasn’t?), they always deliver the goods. A trio of obscure gems make this album essential for the casual fan who thinks a greatest hits collection will suffice: “You’re Lost Little Girl” is a lithe ballad with propulsive choruses (it’s always a delight to hear Densmore elevate the energy at exactly the right moment with his cymbal rides and rim shots); “I Can’t See Your Face In My Mind” is one of the experiments that comes off spectacularly (the eastern vibe seems neither forced nor affected, no matter how much incense was probably obscuring the air during recording); “Unhappy Girl” has Manzarek mixing things up by overdubbing organ on top of a backing track playing backward. Oddly, it works. Perhaps the shining moment is the sublime “Moonlight Drive”, allegedly the song Morrison first sang to Manzarek on a beach in Venice before the band officially formed. It sounds like a ‘50s love song spun through a psychedelic wheel, with dirty bottleneck grounding it in the here and now (that being 1967 or 2007). And so, a little bit slighter, but quite solid, Strange Days remains an album everyone should own.
Love (or even tolerance) of the group’s next two albums is what separates the cautious Doors fans from the true believers: each is extremely brief with several throwaways and a handful of the band’s better moments. Waiting For the Sun is the one that almost never got made, discourtesy of Morrison’s now chronic capriciousness; the antics that bolstered his myth, but more often than not derailed the delicate act of making good music. The obvious example of this dynamic is epitomized by the song that is not on the album. An ambitious composition, “The Celebration of the Lizard”, based on a poem by Morrison, was intended to fill up an entire side of the album. For myriad reasons (Morrison’s histrionics in the studio, the inability to record songs when the singer didn’t bother making it to the studio, general lethargy and uninspired musical ideas), the band never came close to a worthwhile take, and fans would have to wait a couple of years to hear a version on Absolutely Live!. A section of the song survived, and based on the quality of “Not To Touch The Earth”, it might have been the group's masterpiece.
Although it was a huge hit single, “Hello I Love You” is as close to bubblegum schlock as the Doors ever came (not to mention the rather blatant larceny of the Kinks’ “All Day and All the Night”), yet Morrison, even on a lightweight tune, could craft a dazzling line: “Sidewalk crouches at her feet / Like a dog that begs for something sweet”. “Love Street” is an enchanting love song that still injects the dark undercurrent the singer could seldom resist:
She has robes and she has monkeys
Lazy diamond studded flunkies
She has wisdom and knows what to do
She has me and she has you.
More lyrical virtuosity appears on the short but astounding “Summer’s Almost Gone” -- also one of Morrison’s better vocal performances:
Morning found us calmly unaware
Noon burned gold into our hair
At night we swam the laughing sea
When summer’s gone, where will we be?
A couple of fan favorites, “The Unknown Soldier” (which has not aged especially well) and “Five To One” (which has) conclude the first and second sides. In the end, not at all bad for a record that came dangerously close to imploding at the launch pad.
By 1969 Morrison, if not phoning it in, was otherwise preoccupied by more urgent matters of wine, women and sloth. As the rest of the band struggled to assemble the odds, ends, snippets and unfinished blueprints that would eventually become The Soft Parade, the front man applied himself to the full-time activity of mutating from Adonis to Falstaff, having (mostly) eschewed acid for alcohol. Krieger, who had quietly contributed several songs to the last two albums, stepped up and wrote lyrics for half the tunes this time out. (People tend to forget, if they ever actually knew, that even on the earlier albums, many of the singles came from Krieger’s pen: he co-wrote “Light My Fire”, not to mention “Love Me Two Times”. For iThe Soft Parade, he supplied “Touch Me”, making him the de-facto hit maker of the group). Still, despite Krieger’s admirable enthusiasm -- or survival instinct -- the band missed Morrison’s inimitable edge:
Come on take me by the hand
Gonna bury all our trouble in the sand.
(from “Tell All The People” -- Krieger)
The mask that you wore
My fingers will explore
The costume of control
Excitement soon unfolds.
(from “Easy Ride” -- Morrison)
Wishful sinful, our love is beautiful to see
I know where I would like to be ...
(from “Wishful Sinful” -- Krieger)
The lights are getting brighter
The radio is moaning
Calling to the dogs
There are still a few animals
Left out in the yard
But it’s getting harder
To the underfed.
(from “The Soft Parade” -- Morrison)
And yet, uneven as this one is, like the previous album there are some beauties. “Wild Child” is as close to perfection as the Doors got between their first and last album, featuring Krieger’s effortlessly smooth slide guitar, and some of Densmore’s most cocksure, kickass drumming. Arguably, the elastic essence of what often set the Doors slightly apart from the pack is represented by what is probably the most unfamiliar track, “Do It”. To say it is lyrically thin is beneficent, but the authority of Morrison’s vocals -- mostly repeating “Please, please listen to me, children” -- is exhilarating (and special kudos must be offered to long-suffering perfectionist Paul Rothchild: he had produced all the albums thus far, and uses the studio brilliantly here to capture a clean sound, particularly on Densmore’s drums, and always augmenting Morrison’s range, bringing out all the warmth he could wring out of his vocal takes. Another way of putting it is to say he made Morrison sound like he could actually sing, something not in abundant display on the live albums).
The title track, a cut and paste job of previously uncompleted shreds and fragments, manages to be messy, embarrassing and brilliant, sometimes all at once. Take it or leave it, no other band would ever conclude a song with the words, “When all fails we can whip the horse’s eyes / And make them sleep, and cry”. In between accelerated turns in his coffin, Dostoyevsky had to grin at least a little bit. To be certain, this is a trillion light years from “Soul Kitchen” or “People Are Strange”, but the horns and strings and somewhat indulgent envelope-pushing prove that the Doors were anything but a self imitating machine. Like any other group that endures through successive generations, their songs have an authentic, instantly identifiable sound; even when -- as is often the case -- the actual songs sound nothing alike. Untalented opportunists have sold their souls for much less, and in fact are doing so right now on prime time TV.
Morrison Hotel was, rightly, lauded as a stunning return to form, although that appraisal is only halfway accurate. It was a return to the days when the Doors put out unreservedly great records, but Morrison Hotel is nothing at all like its predecessors. A stripped down, blues-flavored affair, the entire band is on fire, with Krieger continuing to make a case for being perhaps the most under appreciated guitarist in a major rock group. From the moment this sucker hit the streets, one needed only a cursory glance at the revealing band photo spread out across the inside foldout cover (for those who can recall that album covers were minor works of art in their own right; for those who can recall albums): in a bar, sporting casual threads, surrounded by cigarette smoking, unpretentious patrons, this is a group that had lived a little but was still alive.
If the first two Doors albums are drugs, they’d be of the decidedly psychedelic variety; the next couple are a dangerous cocktail of amphetamines and Quaaludes -- highs and lows surging in an uneasy rush. Morrison Hotel is beer: authentic, unfiltered, as American as it gets. Plain and simple, some of the band’s most indispensable material appears on this one, and the tone is set with ballsy assurance on the familiar opener, “Roadhouse Blues”. It is the next song, however, that showcases what this new and improved model sounded like. “Waiting for the Sun” is ominous, yet inviting; there are traces of the psychedelic fog, mostly thanks to Manzarek, but it’s Krieger and Densmore (along with raw and refreshingly live-sounding vocals from Morrison) that propel this song into a new decade. Significantly, the band finally had the wherewithal to complete a track intended to appear on the earlier album that bore its name.
Even the ostensibly expendable numbers are bristling with a rediscovered energy. For instance, Manzarek is all over the ivories on “You Make Me Real” and, again, Morrison sounds like he not only showed up, but he actually cares. When, toward the end of the song, he recalls “Roadhouse Blues” with the reprised shout of “Let it roll baby roll”, there is no mistaking the purpose, and this most undemonstrative of bands seems to actually be enjoying themselves. Perhaps this is too much of a good thing, as the lame closer “Maggie M’Gill” represents one of the band’s weakest moments, and “Land Ho!” is so-so. It's the kind of track that, if initially left off the album and “rediscovered” for a subsequent box set, would be a delight. On the other hand, the effortless synergy of a band clicking on all cylinders is in full effect on “Queen of the Highway”. If the brief, bittersweet “Indian Summer” uncannily conjures up the sound and feel from the first album, this is understandable since it was actually recorded in 1966 (an outtake from that album, this early -- and amazing -- love song’s subtle nod to “The End” is more obvious, and poignant considering it came first).
Special mention must be made of those indispensable songs. “Peace Frog” alone should satisfy either the curious or the unconvinced that Robbie Krieger is a bad man. These are indelible riffs from a man who grew up listening to old school blues and was helping author the codebook of rock and roll, still very much a work in progress at that point. Likewise, for anyone who insists Morrison can’t sing, cue up “Blue Sunday” (which “Peace Frog” segues seamlessly into), and stop resisting. Finally, the definitive track, and the one that pointed the way to the road ahead, is “The Spy”. A straight up, slow blues, Krieger and Densmore hang back like bar band veterans and allow Manzarek to do his thing. For folks who associate Manzarek with the alternately dated and occasionally clumsy-sounding organ, it might be a surprise to hear how authentic and authoritative his piano touch still sounds (and perhaps you’ll even catch yourself wishing he had employed it a bit more often before and after this particular album). Like “Indian Summer”, this one could be quite effective as an instrumental, but it happens to boast one of Morrison’s finest vocal performances. It almost seems, in retrospect, that in 1967, Morrison tapped into potential even he didn’t realize he had, and then spent a few years struggling -- and at times, understandably paralyzed -- to meet the inevitable expectations (at best) or avoid copying his younger self (at worst). Here, he finds a newer voice, the voice his body and brain had grown into, and it’s almost unthinkable that the old soul singing had recently turned 26.
If Morrison Hotel served as an unequivocal acknowledgment that the ‘60s were over (on multiple levels, not least of which the literal one), then L.A. Woman is another stride toward the future. It remains more than a little tantalizing to conjecture what, and how much, ammunition the band had up their collective sleeves, but judging solely on the increasing quality of their final two recordings, it is reasonable to lament some spectacular music that never had the opportunity to get made. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Doors album without some drama. This time, producer Paul Rothchild decided the band was a spent force, or, he had done all he could do to wrangle what he felt were acceptable versions of the assembled works in progress. Based solely on the strength of the eventual results, one wonders what he was thinking. In an inspired move based mostly on necessity, the band rallied around longtime engineer Bruce Botnick and decided to record the album pretty much live in the studio. What happened next could be a combination of luck, skill and the innate advantages of a band operating like a family, but whatever it was, the songs recall what worked so well on Morrison Hotel but also go places the band had not come close to approaching thus far. One obvious difference was the group’s employment of an actual bassist (Jerry Scheff) as well as a rhythm guitarist (Marc Benno); where the band had utilized session bassists on and off, it’s no coincidence that the meatier, bluesier sound is directly attributable to these welcome additions.
Krieger, the one-man hit machine, is back with “Love Her Madly” which, like “Love Me Two Times”, is a perfectly constructed pop confection that never gets stale. Two “fat Jim” songs feature raw vocals that turn to actual hollers and screams at times. To belabor an earlier point, Morrison sounds about a hundred years older than he did only a few years before, but his voice, and lyrics, have evolved with the band meeting him halfway. This singer would bludgeon the earlier material, but the young lion could never have gotten his paws around a song like “The Changeling”: “I had money, I had none / But I never been so broke that I couldn’t leave town”. On “Been Down So Long”, Morrison and Krieger sound raw, even angry, it’s a clever desperation that balances exhaustion and release. A dubious selection makes for the only false note: a lazy and half-assed obliteration of John Lee Hooker’s “Crawling King Snake”, which should have been left at the lake with the other snake. (Quick fantasy: if they had held onto “The Spy”, and put that in the exact same spot as “Crawling King Snake”, and -- if you really want to kick it up a notch -- they swapped “Been Down So Long” for “Peace Frog/Blue Sunday”, L.A. Woman would go from being a great album to the short list of rock masterpieces.)
Solid departures like “L’America” and “The Wasp (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)” provide further indications of the different, and desirable, direction the band might have continued to travel toward, and the startling vulnerability (the Lizard King was human, after all) of “Hyacinth House” assumes an added poignancy considering Morrison would not be alive to listen to this album:
Why did you throw the Jack of Hearts away?
It was the only card in the deck that I had left to play
And I’ll say it again, I need a brand new friend
And I’ll say it again, I need a brand new friend, the end.
One of the great one-two punches in the Doors’ catalog concludes side one: “Cars Hiss By My Window” is arguably the band’s best song that no one has heard:
Headlights through my window, shinin’ on the wall
Can’t hear my baby, though I call and call ...
Windows started trembling with a sonic boom
A cold girl will kill you, in a darkened room.
If you gave Lightnin’ Hopkins a lot of acid, he might have sounded something like this: lower than mellow, aged way beyond his years, but still seeing the sweetness and the humor and mostly telling it like it is. As straightforward as this song is, it is deceptively deep and reveals the considerable dividends of Scheff and Benno’s presence. Morrison’s human guitar howl at the end of the song sets up a sublime segue into what might be the band’s ultimate song. The title track is not as long or loquacious as the epics that closed out the first two albums, and while it is every bit as dark, it is also accessible and direct, a love letter and farewell note to the city the singer embodied:
I see your hair is burning
Hills are filled with fire
If they say I never loved you
You know they are a liar ...
Are you a lucky little lady in the City of Light
Or just another lost angel ... City of Night.
Morrison captured L.A. for the ages, and notably, he did not need to status-check at the Chateau Marmont to conjure it up. The city was in his blood: it was the back-alley bars, rat-trap hotels and squalid side streets that he prowled, equal parts inspiration and escape. So much dissipated potential, to be certain, but it’s also reasonable to suggest that his accelerated stretch in the spotlight enabled him to write the songs on L. A. Woman, not unlike Malcolm Lowry’s extended period of self destruction instigated Under the Volcano.
Finally, while the Doors, obviously, did not realize this would be their last album, could any band ask for a more perfect finale than “Riders On the Storm”? If “L.A. Woman” depicts the claustrophobic, corrupted city of angels, “Riders On the Storm” takes on the big questions: Who are we? Why are we here? Where are we going? Perhaps the definitive marriage of music and words, this song could be an intriguing poem and a first-rate instrumental piece, but Morrison’s mellow, mature vocals (the decision to whisper the lyrics over the recorded take is an expert move) and Manzarek’s trickling rain on the keyboards make this, by any criteria, a stunner:
Riders on the storm
Into this house we’re born
Into this world we’re thrown
Like a dog without a bone
An actor out on loan
Riders on the storm.
There will always be plenty of speculation about how much more Morrison could have done, what he might have achieved, what other things he had to say. On the other hand, looking back on the way he left things, what more needed to be said?
Addendum: Behind The Music or, Detritus, Destruction and Resurrection
A few thoughts regarding these remasters, which are advertised as “40th Anniversary Mixes”. Enticement: the entire Doors catalog -- all six studio albums -- have been remastered, again, and given the lavish liner note treatment to commemorate the four decades since the debut album. Warning: these albums have been tampered with (hence, remixed) in ways that may be refreshing or sacrilegious, depending upon one’s perspective. Verdict: it is a bit of both, mostly good. These remixes are, in the words of the man primarily responsible (then and now) for engineering/producing them, “The Doors, as they were originally intended to be heard!”
We are all, by now, accustomed to the inevitable re-releases, with studio banter and false starts: they are advertised as such, obviously designed with the more passionate fans in mind. On the other hand, some caveat emptor action is applicable in this instance. Any prospective shopper should be fairly warned that the discs have been remastered and remixed, so these won’t sound like the albums you grew up with. (For those who are not aware, the initial pressing of compact discs, from the mid ‘80s, were properly redone in the late ‘90s via straight-up digital remastering that removed hiss and improved audio quality). In his breathless liner notes, Botnick alerts us to his (our?) revelation that the first Doors album has, for the last 40 years, been pressed at the wrong speed (!) Listen: “When the album was mixed at Elektra studios ... either the four-track playback recorder was running slow or the stereo two-track was running fast.” And all these years I thought Iwas the only one who had noticed this! My guess is that the same people who will be flabbergasted by this development are the same folks who swear they can hear discernible warmth emanating from their system’s $600 gold plated connecting cables.
Sound aside -- and the remastering job is, for the most part, an improvement in terms of clarity and instrumental balance -- it’s the “bonus” material that fans will likely love or hate. If, for instance, you think it’s cool to actually hear Morrison sing “She get high” instead of “She get ...” (was I the only person who, for many years, thought he was saying “Seek it”?), and can dig all the “fucks” restored to the, uh, climactic section of “The End”, then these reissues might, in the (actual) words of Mr. Botnick, “possibly change your life!” Interestingly, the first time the “fuck” version of “The End” was unleashed was during the powerful and disturbing opening scene of Apocalypse Now. This is more than a little ironic, because Botnick’s (and the remaining band members, who are not on record as having raised any objections) rationale painfully recalls Francis Ford Coppola’s insistance, upon reissuing his extended, bloated vision (Apocalypse Now Redux), that this was the real film in all its glory. Needless to say, it is entirely appropriate if the artist decides, decades later, that certain mistakes, false starts and excesses initially edited out deserve (demand!) to be resurrected. But that does not mean it improves the material; indeed, as we now see quite often with posthumous novels-in-progress (or worse, ones the author trashed for good reasons), alternate takes of old songs and director’s cut material (the latter two at least added as bonus material so as to not sully the initial versions that audiences are familiar with), there can be too much of a good thing.
Suffice it to say, similar sorts of embellishments exist on all of these reissues. Some are intriguing, some are appalling, and several are so incredibly ill-conceived you literally aren’t sure if you should laugh or sob. Again, assuming you are the type of fan who wants to hear snatches of lyrics or notes that didn’t make the first cut, it’s worth checking out these versions. For the first four albums, the slightly cleaner sound is a plus, especially on Waiting for the Sun and The Soft Parade. Of these two, Waiting for the Sun is probably the best bet, as the clarity is quite noticeable, but the bonus material includes the previously unreleased demo of “The Celebration of the Lizard”. Don’t get too excited: for anyone who has long wondered whether or not this song was meant to be the Doors' magnum opus, the material here does little to make a case for it. The version on Absolutely Live! is half-decent, so between that and the polished section that became “Not to Touch the Earth”, it was not unreasonable to hope this song should have been among the band's best -- a genuinely tantalizing thought. Sadly, based on the take that survives, it’s not merely a work in progress, it’s a mess.
On the other hand, Morrison Hotel has bountiful bonus material -- most of which is various takes of “Roadhouse Blues” under construction; they are interesting the first time around, but unlikely to inspire repeat listens. More importantly, this one is too slick by a half, rendering a raw, dirty classic straitjacketed into pristine submission. Finally, L.A. Woman provides a bit of a conundrum: moderately improved sound, but do you want to have anyone tampering with perfection? (Wait until you hear what they’ve done to “Cars Hiss By My Window”.) Lest anyone think, understandably, that I’m advising against picking up these reissues, remember that I’ve had the benefit of listening to them. In conclusion, I know I would not have taken anyone else’s opinion too seriously until I’d heard them for myself.