The Doors were a Los Angeles rock band perhaps best known for the controversial public persona and untimely demise of lead singer Jim Morrison. But the group accomplished a great deal musically in the five short years of activity between their self-titled debut album and the final album from the group’s original lineup, 1971’s L.A. Woman.
Morrison’s crooned, poetic presentation stood in stark contrast to the excitable pop-rock of the day – as did the instrumentation of the group which, while remaining consistently cognizant of the blues, incorporated musical elements of jazz to a much greater degree than most of the band’s contemporaries.
These elements, along with the absence of a bass player in the group’s lineup – organist Ray Manzarek famously provided basslines for the music through a synthesized keyboard which he would play with his left hand while simultaneously performing organ parts with his right, though the band would augment their sound with a live bassist on later releases, specifically L.A. Woman – have endowed the group with a unique and continued significance in influencing musical acts which would emerge in their wake.
While the music of The Doors often gets lost in the shuffle of the debaucherous lifestyle and legacy of Jim Morrison – which has inspired a litany of books, films, and other media depicting his life since his passing, including Oliver Stone’s polarizing 1991 biopic, The Doors, starring Val Kilmer – many of the band’s more popular tunes have been adopted into the popular lexicon of classic rock.
These include tunes such as “Break on Through,” “Light My Fire,” “Hello, I Love You,” “Touch Me,” and “Riders on the Storm,” among others. But The Doors were incredibly prolific during their brief time as an active group, increasing the chances of many highlights failing to register on the radar of casual listeners. To the end of amending such oversights, here are five underrated tracks from The Doors.
# – Hyacinth House – L.A. Woman (1971)
The final album of new Doors material to be released during Jim Morrison’s lifetime, L.A. Woman is far and away the band’s blusiest record, and is believed by many listeners to be an indicator of the musical direction in which the band was heading prior to Morrison’s passing.
The second track on the album’s second side was more of a musical departure of sorts for the band, however. While the Manzarek composed music makes reference to Romantic-era classical – specifically Frédéric Chopin’s “Polonaise in A-flat major, Op. 53” during the organ solo – the track also showcases tinges of country influence not entirely dissimilar from what The Rolling Stones were doing around this same period, with select material from 1971’s Sticky Fingers (“Dead Flowers,” “Wild Horses”) having been inspired by Keith Richards’ time with Gram Parsons.
Morrison’s cryptic lyrics, particularly the repeated refrain of “I need a brand new friend” could be perceived as a cry for help from the troubled singer, who would pass away in Paris at the age of 27 less than three months following the album’s release. In any case, the song stands as a fascinating testament to the potential musical future of the band.
# – Shaman’s Blues – The Soft Parade (1969)
The Soft Parade is arguably the most frequently disregarded Doors album, as it features the least in terms of contributions from Jim Morrison, who was dealing with a number of issues during the album’s production.
Morrison’s limited contributions resulted in the band’s other members taking charge of musical direction in a greater capacity, as evidenced by the brass and string elements heavily present in the production throughout for songs on which Morrison was not a creative participant. The record ultimately featured guitarist Robby Krieger as the sole songwriter for four tracks, the same number as Morrison, with one track, “Do It,” credited as a Krieger/Morrison co-write.
Morrison’s contributions were notably more blues influenced, and this can be heard distinctly in the album’s third track, “Shaman’s Blues.”
The number is quintessential Doors, featuring Morrison’s poetic lyrics encompassing death and love atop full-on carnival organ stabs. Krieger displays some of his most memorable lead guitar phrasing throughout, and drummer John Densmore’s relentless, bebop-infused swing prevents the proceedings from approaching anything resembling rhythmic complacently.
# – Blue Sunday – Morrison Hotel (1970)
The rich, hazy organ which serves to dominate the sonic palette of this Morrison Hotel cut seems to almost carry the listener along, in what lyrically could be described as a loose sequel to some of the more restrained numbers from the 1965 album (more on that later.)
Morrison delivers lovelorn prose as the band cycle through a subtly shifting arrangement which could constitute an extended, progressive presentation, despite the song’s stark, interlude-length runtime.
# – Love Street – Waiting for the Sun (1968)
“Love Street” is an anomaly on a list such as this one, as well as in The Doors’ discography as a whole, as its more conventional musical elements tend to repel fans of the band’s unique, psychedelic and jazz-infused sound, though it can also be lost of listeners who generally avoid the band due to their distinct sonic aesthetic.
Furthermore, despite being released as the B-Side to one of the band’s most popular singles, “Hello, I Love You,” “Love Street” was seldom performed live by the group.
The tune features a swing rhythm, and was based upon a poem written by Morrison about the area in which he lived with his girlfriend, and the people he would encounter throughout his time there.
Keyboardist Ray Manzarek’s notably restrained approach contributes to the tune’s outsider status among the the group’s body of work, emphasizing the more melodic, pop-leaning elements throughout – though the song does implement elements of classical baroque which lend themselves to the group’s usual musical stylings. Krieger’s jazz-inspired guitar is also a key element here, though it can occasionally be difficult to place due to its decidedly low placement within the song’s mix.
# – The Spy – Morrison Hotel (1970)
Compositions such as “The Spy” lend a certain credence to Jim Morrison’s insistence of his own status as a poet first and a singer second – a declaration often met with scoffs and accusations of pretentiousness.
But for all his personal faults and cliche rock star behavior, poetic expression was very much Morrison’s MO – and despite the inevitable objection of music snobs the world over, the guy truly did have a way with words. It’s also worth noting that many of the rock and roll cliches into which Morrison is regularly accused of playing didn’t necessarily exist prior to his arrival on the scene.
A tasteful, lingering guitar line and sprightly piano stabs color John Densmore’s brushed rhythm, atop which Jim Morrison propounds some of his most decidedly un-rock and roll imagery.
# – The Crystal Ship – The Doors (1965)
The Doors’ self-titled debut was stacked to the brim with the best material the fledgling group had to offer at the time, and their history residency at the Sunset Strip’s Whisky a Go Go venue ensured that they had the tunes rehearsed down to the letter.
As such, it isn’t difficult for certain tracks to slip through the cracks, as it were. “The Crystal Ship” could be considered such a track, an atmospheric slow-burn of a ballad for which Morrison’s poetry served as a focal point.
“Oh, tell me where your freedom lies
The streets are fields that never die
Deliver me from reasons why
You’d rather cry, I’d rather fly”
the frontman croons atop understated guitar flourishes and snare rolls, making an early point that this was not your average West Coast 60s pop band. Baroque classical elements from the keys further distinguish the group from their contemporaries, both sonically and in terms of influence.
These tracks comprise only the tip of the iceberg, as The Doors’ catalog is filled with hidden gems and unsung revelations that readers are encouraged to seek out independently. The Doors would continue on following Morrison’s passing, with their Other Voices album – featuring Manzarek and Krieger on vocals – being released the same year. They were, however, unable to capture the magic of their classic material, and following the 1973 expiration of their contract with Elektra Records, The Doors disbanded.
The Doors Most Underrated Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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How few Doors fans know that after Morrison died the band recorded two studio albums as a trio. Granted, they were not really much on the Morrison mystique, with Ray Manzarek doing passable but average vocals, and Robby Krieger submitting one or two. You can get “Full Circle” and “Other Voices” as a duo CD pack, and while again the lyrics and vocals are not what we are used to, the musicianship is there, and actually has some of their most impressive songs musically.