Discog Fever - Rating and Reviewing Every Doors Album

by Jeff Fiedler

Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums.

The Doors (1967, Elektra)

A +

Certainly a contender for the title of the greatest debut album of the late ‘60s, the importance of this disc to the musical landscape of subsequent decades is enormous. Jim Morrison put a whole new spin on the concept of the frontman, serving as a more brooding, ponderous alternative to the likes of Mick Jagger, while organist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger, and drummer John Densmore concocted a moody, foreboding brand of rock that both spoke to the disenchanted youth of the time yet wasn’t so overly psychedelic or counter-cultural as to keep the group from garnering significant airplay on Top 40 stations, the band proving to be one of the more successful singles acts of the Woodstock era in addition to being a solid albums act. The band’s influence is far-reaching, and the world of ‘80s alternative-rock in particular is especially indebted to the band, Joy Division being just one perfect example of a band that could not have existed without The Doors paving the way. The band’s trademark brand of menacing pop arrives fully-formed, and even this disc’s opening cut – the bossa-nova-tinged “Break on Through (to the Other Side)” – would become an instant classic, as would the downright frightening album-closing epic “The End” (later used to incredible effect in the film Apocalypse Now), while the psych-twist sounds of “Soul Kitchen” and the strut-worthy beats of “Twentieth Century Fox” are nearly just as innovative and ballads like “The Crystal Ship” and “End of the Night” alternately dreamy and ominous. The band even turns in surprisingly effective covers of the Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill’s “Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)” and Willie Dixon’s blues classic “Back Door Man.” In fact, the only real throwaway is “I Looked at You.” But the song the album is most famous for is its first-side closer, the raga-rock of the organ-drenched Number One hit “Light My Fire,” as great a showcase for the instrumental interplay of Manzarek, Krieger, and Densmore as anything they would ever make.

Strange Days (1967, Elektra)

A –

The problem for any band that puts out as masterful a debut as The Doors is that it’s an almost impossible act to follow, and the Doors fall short here of recapturing that same magic on this sophomore outing, largely due to a noticeable uptick in the amount of padding. But though the disc may pale next to its predecessor on a song-by-song basis, the best songs here are still very good indeed. “When the Music’s Over” is another memorable eleven-minute epic (if not nearly as downbeat or terrifying as “The End”); “Moonlight Drive” and “You’re Lost Little Girl” capture Morrison at his most poetic and wistful, respectively; the driving, synth-laden title cut finds the group in an uncharacteristically socio-politically reflective mood; and the band delves into more concise, radio-friendly pop on the bluesy “Love Me Two Times” and the brilliant “People Are Strange,” both Top 40 hits. The disc has its filler but not enough to prevent the disc from being a minor classic.  

Waiting for the Sun (1968, Elektra)

B

Containing far too more filler for its own good (namely, “Wintertime Love,” “My Wild Love,” and “We Can Be So Good Together,” the last of which is quite literally an outtake from Strange Days), the band’s third album simply feels too rushed. [The band was so short on material, in fact, that the original plan was to fill the record’s entire second side with Morrison’s poem “The Celebration of the Lizard”; ultimately, they just one short excerpt (“Not to Touch the Earth” instead.] The band seems a bit lost for direction, but they do come up with several minor gems here, including the biting psych-blues of “Five to One,” the flamenco-tinged “Spanish Caravan,” the sunny stroll of “Love Street,” the dramatic “The Unknown Soldier,” and most famously of all, the psychedelic slow-twist of the Number One hit “Hello, I Love You.” 

The Soft Parade (1969, Elektra)

B –

This album is regularly derided as being the worst of the Jim Morrison-era albums, and it probably is, but, listened to with an open mind, it’s really not all that inferior to Waiting for the Sun, and a lot of the critical reactions to this disc are based less on the strength of the material than the fact that this is the most pop-oriented album the band ever made during the Morrison years, one that finds them experimenting with employing a brass section and strings. There are Doors fans who despise “Touch Me” with a passion, but, while the song may be more akin to, say, Gary Puckett & the Union Gap than vintage Doors, it’s still nonetheless a superb piece of songwriting (there’s a reason why this song is one of only three Doors tunes to reach the Top Ten – and the Top Three, at that!), and the delightful extended instrumental jam at the end (incorporating an unforgettable sax solo from Curtis Amy) is the closest the band has ever come to flirting with jazz territory. Nothing else may be nearly as catchy as “Touch Me,” unfortunately, but there are still a handful of moderately memorable cuts here, namely “Wishful Sinful,” “Tell All the People,” the hard-rocking “Wild Child,” and the epic album-closing title cut.

Morrison Hotel (1970, Elektra)

A

Arguably second only to their self-titled debut as the best album they ever made, this disc doesn’t actually feature any sizable radio hits – nothing here reached the Top 40 – but little matter: song-for-song, this is the most consistently solid album they’ve made in three years. The rollicking blues of “You Make Me Real,” the surprisingly funky “Peace Frog” (who knew these guys could do R&B?), the forceful swing of “Ship of Fools,” the groovy “Queen of the Highway,” and “Roadhouse Blues” (featuring John Sebastian from the Lovin’ Spoonful on harmonica) all rank among the most exciting and energetic tunes the band has ever crafted, and the band sounds full of life again after the weary, tired-sounding Waiting for the Sun and the mildly-confused The Soft Parade. More casual fans of the band may not recognize most – if any – of these tunes upon first listen, but don’t let that scare you away from this disc: this is the sound of a band back in peak form.  

L.A. Woman (1971, Elektra)

A –

The last disc the group would ever record with Jim Morrison before his untimely passing, there is some padding here, but the band sounds just as good here as they did on Hard Rock Café, and it’s a bit fitting that this disc would be Morrison’s last, as it finds the band going back and revisiting the sounds of all its best musical experiments. The ominous electric-piano-driven ballad “Riders on the Storm” could nearly be an outtake from their self-titled debut but adds a slight hint of jazz to the proceedings that makes the cut groove ever so gently while still maintaining an utterly chilling ambience, while the barrelhouse-piano-laden “Love Her Madly” is akin to a rawer version of the pop territory explored on The Soft Parade and is one of the more uncharacteristically happy – even danceable, in fact! – singles the band has ever assembled. Both songs stopped just shy of the Top Ten but are far stronger and catchier than their respective peak positions of #14 and #11 indicate. The disc also contains several of the band’s most criminally underrated album cuts, namely “The Changeling” and the epic, near-eight-minute title cut. The band also goes full-circle back to its debut by including another traditional blues cover, this time of John Lee Hooker’s “Crawling King Snake,” a song the band had actually been playing since its early days and were only now getting around to putting down on tape in the studio.

Other Voices (1971, Elektra)

C +

Shockingly enough, the three surviving members of the Doors opted to continue on as a trio after Jim Morrison’s passing, which is akin to, say, the Rolling Stones making an album without Mick Jagger or Led Zeppelin making an album without Robert Plant. Perhaps not unexpectedly, the album – featuring Manzarek and Krieger splitting lead vocal duties – bombed, but it’s actually surprisingly half-decent. Wisely, the group makes no effort to try to replicate the sound or mood of the Jim Morrison years, so the disc is really a Doors album in name only, but that’s perhaps for the best – instead, the band dispenses with the theatrics and ominous tones of albums past in favor of a more straightforward brand of blues-tinged pop/rock, albeit one that flirts ever-so-slightly with jazz. (In that sense, the disc is comparable at times to the Grateful Dead’s mid-‘70s period.) Krieger’s songs tend to veer towards novelty (particularly on “I’m Horny, I’m Stoned” and “Variety Is the Spice of Life”), but Manzarek’s songs – including the driving “In the Eye of the Sun,” the jazzy epic “Ships w/ Sails,” the swinging blues of “Tightrope Ride,” and the vaguely Latin-tinged “Hang on to Your Life” – are consistently solid and make this disc an unexpectedly pleasant listen. It might not match the brilliance of, say, Morrison Hotel or The Doors, but it’s a valiant and honorable attempt to keep the band going and is a much more worthwhile purchase than the much-more-well-known An American Prayer.     

Full Circle (1972, Elektra)

C

The second and last album the post-Morrison trio lineup of the band would make before calling it a day, it’s easy to see why the band didn’t last past this disc – the band members are simply pulling in different directions, and the contrast in styles from cut to cut can be utterly jarring, making this the least unified disc in the band’s catalog. But the band – when they can agree on a direction, that is – still sound great, and this album is nearly as much fun a listen as Other Voices, if slightly spottier, the disc highlighted by the jubilant, gospel-tinged rocker “Get Up and Dance”, the funky “Verdilac,” the largely-instrumental, Latin-tinged “The Mosquito” (arguably the most bizarre song the Doors ever made, but great fun all the same) and the fusion stylings of “The Piano Bird.” Both this disc and Other Voices would be all but written off by the three surviving members in later years and neither disc has ever been officially released on CD in the U.S. to date, though they have been made available as digital downloads.

An American Prayer (1978, Elektra)

C –

Generally considered to be the ninth official studio album from the band, this wildly interesting but ultimately misguided affair finds the three surviving members going back and building musical beds around the sound of Jim Morrison reading original poetry, so there’s very little actual singing to be found on this album per se, except for on “Newborn Awakening” (the cut here most resembling vintage Doors material) and a live recording of “Roadhouse Blues.” There are occasional appealing moments, like the unexpectedly funky grooves of “Ghost Song” and “An American Prayer,” the Santana-like “Latino Chrome,” and the jazzy “Curses, Invocations,” but even at its best moments, there’s just something about this package that feels downright crass and unnecessary. It makes an intriguing one-time listen, but only Jim Morrison fanatics are likely to listen to this disc more than once.

Compilations:

The Doors have been anthologized ad nauseum in the years since Morrison’s passing, but most of the compilations suffer from brevity or poor track selection. If you want just a single-disc package, your best bet is Rhino’s 2001 package The Very Best of the Doors. If you want to spring for a double-disc, your best options are either Elektra’s iconic 1985 package The Best of the Doors (the one you typically see in CD jukeboxes that also sports the now-famous shirtless photo of Morrison on the front cover) or Rhino/Elektra’s 2007 package The Very Best of the Doors, which, at a generous thirty-four cuts, features fifteen more tracks than the aforementioned 1985 best-of.

Live Albums:

Perversely, the lone live album issued by the Doors during Jim Morrison’s lifetime – the 1970 double-disc Absolutely Live – includes absolutely none of the band’s Top 40 hits – not even “Light My Fire”! Most of the live albums issued by Elektra over the next two decades would suffer from brevity – 1983’s Alive, She Cried is slightly satisfying, but 1987’s Live at the Hollywood Bowl lasts all of twenty-two minutes. Your best bet is arguably to go with Rhino’s 2008 archival package Live at the Matrix 1967, which contains a much more generous helping of music and also features the band in their early, hungry prime before Jim Morrison’s theatrics started to plague their live shows in a negative way and turn the band into a sad shell of its former self.