It’s been almost 30 years since the Doors wrapped up recording their final album, L.A. Woman. One of the definitive rock bands of the sixties, the L.A.-based Doors exploded onto the charts with their self-titled debut album in 1967, which included “Light My Fire”, the number one single during the Summer of Love. In July 1971, Doors lead singer and songwriter Jim Morrison died, his radical and controversial lifestyle rocketing him into fame and just as quickly extinguishing his life. Although he passed away young, Morrison’s hauntingly poetic lyrics accompanied by the innovative jazz-blues fusion of organist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger, and drummer John Densmore refuses to fade. The Doors’ hard, sensual sound has influenced countless musicians following in their wake. It seems only fitting and about time for a tribute album where those who wish to honor one of the rock’s finest bands and its Dionysian leader can pay their respects while providing a forum for the three remaining Doors to reunite one more time. After five years in the making, the Doors tribute album, Stoned Immaculate — The Music of the Doors finally hit stores in mid November.
Stoned Immaculate is the brainchild of producer Ralph Saul, who sought to make a tribute album unlike any others — something more than a mere collection of covers by artists trying to score a hit off the coattails of former superstars. Stoned Immaculate features younger rock acts, including Stone Temple Pilots and Creed, playing their version of a favorite Doors song as well as older blues artists who were influences upon the Doors’ music, such John Lee Hooker and Bo Diddley. Saul also includes a number of new songs created through sampling the Doors’ classic studio and live recordings and mixing them with fresh music by the reunited Doors and guest artists. Perry Farrell and Exene lend their vocals to “Children of Night” and William Burroughs recites Morrison’s words in “Is Everybody In?” And the Doors, following the tradition of An American Prayer, the spoken-word album featuring new music by Densmore, Manzarek, and Krieger overdubbed onto old tracks of Morrison reading his poetry, bring two “new” songs into the Doors’ canon: “Under Waterfall” and “The Cosmic Movie”.
It’s inevitable for a controversy to spark whenever a band chooses to create new sounds using the recordings of a deceased member. The Beatles came under the gun for “Free As a Bird,” a track from their Anthology which used John Lennon’s vocals alongside new music. Motivations are questioned (is this only a marketing ploy?), integrity put at risk (how dare they make a new song when the deceased has no opportunity to polish his or her contribution?), and quality becomes an issue (this sounds horrible!). With digital technology, it’s no hard task to produce a clean-sounding track from a little decades-spanning alchemy, but on Stoned Immaculate, it’s a tad gratuitous. I’m sure Morrison would have no problem with Burroughs, one of his heroes, joining in on a Doors track or John Lee Hooker rapping with Morrison on “Roadhouse Blues”, but repetitive tracks of Morrison saying one line over and over grows wearisome and it’s fortunate the entire album doesn’t comprise merely these uninspired mechanical remasterings.
The really new material, rearrangements of Doors’ classics by the Doors’ peers and proteges, makes for the finest sounds off Stoned Immaculate. While driving, prior to the album’s release, a song came on the radio reminding me of the Doors yet sounding too modern. I thought to myself, “This might very well be the next great rock band”, and listened intently. It took a few second before I realized this was Ray Manzerek himself stroking the organ, his wild and mesmerizing execution as top-notch as ever, in a new version of “Break on Through” with Stone Temple Pilots. STP’s performance loses none of the darkly chaotic energy of the original and, as the first track on the album, heralds the promise of pleasurable productions, which Stoned Immaculate more than delivers.
Creed follows up with “Riders on the Storm”, another masterful arrangement featuring Robby Krieger. Their cover issues an orgasmic climax lacking in the softer sound of the ’70s version, but which you’re sure would have manifested had the Doors the opportunity to polish it in concert. This is as close as any song can come in improving upon an original and is definitely the best showing on Stoned Immaculate. Days of the New also hold their own in taking on two of the Doors’ most epic pieces: “L.A. Woman” and “The End”. They stay true to their idols’ originals while making the songs uniquely their own, no small accomplishment considering “The End” is the Doors’ defining number.
Hands down, the worst attempt on the album comes from Train, who turn “Light My Fire” into Top 40, poppy mush, extracting the signature organ refrain that made the song the Doors’ first success and overproducing it into forgetfulness. Aside from Train, the rest of the bands are up to the task, the Cult and Aerosmith providing the professionalism, musical aptitude, and powerful vocals the music of the Doors deserves. And for what may be the best treat for a Doors or blues fan, the three remaining Doors join with Bo Diddley on “Love Her Madly”, reminding everyone that, at their core, the Doors are truly one of the great blues bands of all time.
Jim Morrison would certainly get a kick listening to the wide range of sounds the Doors have helped inspire, from blues to jazz, hard rock to punk, heavy metal to hip-hop. One of the most cutting edge band of music history remain so, and their songs, given new and different life by other talent, emerges in Stoned immaculate as eternal and majestic, a memorial to excellent music and intelligent art.