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13

The Doors

 

Proto-Prog

3.68 | 15 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
3 stars More often than not most telephone conversations with one of my bandmate friends back in the 60s would start with the phrase, "Wait till you hear this album I just bought." Discovering new music was what we lived for. The usual chain of events would be that one of us would've heard something fresh on what was at that time the burgeoning, untamed FM radio format where Top 40 was considered gauche and one was apt to find something radical or progressive, prompting the local word-of-mouth grapevine to sizzle with excitement. On this occasion it was my group's keyboard man, Rick Cramer, who informed me that his most recent discovery, "The Doors," were nothing short of phenomenal. I had learned to rely on his judgment and taste (he later turned me on to Jimi Hendrix) so I had no doubts. The passage of time has not only confirmed Rick's initial glowing assessment but has also cemented the band's place as one of the most influential American combos ever.

January, 1967. Four years had passed since Beatlemania exploded like a bomb and the long-haired, guitar-wielding armies of the British Invasion that followed them ashore had successfully routed our unarmed but bronze-tanned Beach Boy brigade, reclaiming the rebellious colonies of the Queen Mother's empire without a single shot being fired (musically speaking, of course). Four years had elapsed without we Yanks offering anything even close to a comparable counterpart. (And, no, The Monkees don't count. Davy was from Manchester.) Oh, we had the undeniably great Bob Dylan, for sure, but he was an enigmatic solo artist creating his own universe and he didn't belong to anybody, really. There were good east coast bands like The Young Rascals but they were solidly entrenched in traditional R&B sounds. The west coast had The Byrds but their obvious folk and C&W roots marginalized their impact. We had no viable answer. One big reason for this situation was a variation on the biblical adage about prophets being shunned on their own stomping grounds. Another was that, following the shady elimination of JFK, my generation had become so disgusted with the social climate in our homeland that we felt it much safer to trust in music, styles and ideas imported from distant realms, the UK in particular. One- or two-hit state-side wonders were fine and dandy as temporary diversions but we weren't willing to embrace an all-American ensemble as being worthy of unconditional adoration just yet. "Made in the USA" didn't carry much clout with us hippies. We still didn't trust anything homegrown. Not even ourselves.

The opening bang from John Densmore's snare on "Light My Fire" signaled more than just the emergence of yet another garage band with a record deal. The Doors were different. They didn't proclaim that there was a new sheriff in town. On the contrary, they announced that law and order had broken down completely and the rebels and scruffy riff-raff had boldly taken over Main Street. The Doors were non-conformist, definitely anti- establishment and exactly what we'd been waiting for. No more Mr. Nice Guy. The handsome, charismatic Jim Morrison wasn't shy in his singing brazenly about freedom from all rules, seeking uninhibited sex and living a bohemian, devil-may-care existence. To that notion we summarily cried out in our quaint vernacular, "Right on! Where do we sign up?" and the California gold rush was on again. The Doors unwittingly opened the flood gates that made it easier for bands like Jefferson Airplane, Buffalo Springfield, Grateful Dead, Sly & the Family Stone and even the strange Mothers of Invention to find more acceptance within the budding flower child movement. The curse had finally been lifted. Don't get me wrong, though. I'm not putting The Doors on the same plateau as the Fab Four or even The Who. No way. I'm just saying that in this egregious L.A.-based quartet we homies found four literate misfits that spoke our language and that aspect alone was a refreshing break-on-through for us.

Problem was, the indulgent, hedonistic mindset that attracted us to them like moths to a hot flame was so damning in nature that it figuratively beheaded the group barely four years after they came onto the scene. Densmore, Manzarek and Krieger were gifted musicians who instinctively knew where to draw the chalk lines but Morrison was the prototype bad boy who couldn't care less about his public image or the moral majority's outrage over his open indulgences in lewd behavior, drink and drugs. The upside of that stance was that we young Brandos thought it "cool." The flip side of that coin was that it systematically eroded the quality of The Doors' music to the point where, of their six studio albums, only their debut and grand finale are exceptional with the four in between containing only glimpses of brilliance. And, tragically, Jim's self-inflicted abuse slowly transformed him from a sly, grinning lizard king Adonis into what critic Lester Bangs called "Bozo Dionysus" and there lies the shame of it all. No matter the spin one applies, their story is very sad.

This LP, "13," is a representation of their first five long-play offerings. I wonder if, as the 70s dawned on western civilization, the suits at Electra could see that the group was sliding down the slippery slope of decline and the label had best try to seize the moment before their waning popularity sank their profitability into red ink oblivion. Top secret corporate news flashes about how things were progressing on album #6 (especially with word coming that their long-time producer, Paul Rothchild, had taken a hike) were not encouraging so it's hard to blame them for issuing a compilation at that juncture. To them the future was uncertain and the end was always near.

From the impressive 1st album they wisely included the full 6:50 rendition of the ground- breaking "Light My Fire," the incredibly intimidating "Back Door Man" and the hauntingly beautiful "Crystal Ship." The above average but slightly uneven "Strange Days" LP is represented well by the poignant and unique "People Are Strange," the dangerous romance of "Moonlight Drive," "You're Lost, Little Girl" with its predatory aura and the carnal plea of "Love Me Two Times." The unfocused "Waiting for the Sun" album earned spots with the banal-but-catchy "Hello, I Love You" and their excellent anti-war anthem, "The Unknown Soldier" with its abstract juxtaposition of obscene brutality and gleeful march music. The disappointing platter that is "Soft Parade" shows up in the form of the big band brashness of "Touch Me" and the hard rock of the superb "Wild Child." Many fans find something to like about "Morrison Hotel" but I'm not one of them so the silly antics of "Land Ho" and the we-can-always-do-a-blues-tune sentiment of the overplayed "Roadhouse Blues" is as suitable as anything else they could've chosen to cull from those dismal Jim's- on-another-bender sessions.

My advice to the progger who desires to own a decent collection of Doors music is to purchase the opening and the closing albums of their career with the irreplaceable icon Mr. Morrison and toss in their sophomore effort to boot because you don't want to miss having the fantastic "When the Music's Over" in your Door jam under any circumstances. Still, if you happen to come across "13" in the used vinyl bins you should probably pick it up because, despite its faults, it accurately reflects the up and down nature of the group's artistic endeavors from '67 to '70. 3.3 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |

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