The Doors were officially formed on Venice Beach, California in July of 1965 when two old film school friends, Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek, randomly bumped into each other. Morrison confided that he had been writing songs in addition to his poetry. Manzarek, then leader of a band called Rick and the Ravens, cajoled the shy Morrison to sing one of the songs, later recorded as “Moonlight Drive,” which made enough of an impression on Manzarek that he asked Morrison to join his band there on the spot. One month later a drummer Manzarek knew from meditation class, named John Densmore, joined as well. By that fall, the other two members of Rick and the Ravens quit and were replaced by guitarist Robbie Krieger. Within two short months of that fateful meeting on the beach the lineup that would take the band to the heights of the music world was cemented. They changed their name to The Doors, a reference to Aldous Huxley’s book, The Doors of Perception, and immediately began writing songs together.
Within eight months the group was hired as the house band for the Whiskey A Go-Go club, the most sought-after music venue in Los Angeles at the time. On August 18th, 1966 the band was signed to Elektra Records after its President Jac Holzman witnessed one of their epic shows at the Whiskey. Three days after signing on the dotted line the band was fired from the famed club after Morrison told an “obscene” version of the myth of Oedipus onstage during the song, “The End”. Three days later the band was in the studio recording their self-titled debut album, which would be released in January of 1967.
The first single, “Break on Through” achieved some success but saw limited airplay. The second single, “Light My Fire”, a three minute edit of the seven minute album recording, had no such problems and became the first Elektra release to hit Number One the Billboard Hot 100. The album as a whole was stuck at Number Two on the Billboard 200 because it could not unseat the recording holding the top spot, a little album known as Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Eight months after The Doors debut album, their second record, “Strange Days,” hit the stores. It was September of 1967 and by any standards it was a huge success. It reached number three on the charts, releasing two top 30 singles in “People are Strange” and “Love Me Two Times.” But The Doors weren’t judged by just “any standards”. Their first record was still charting and still selling. The standards set by this new band were on a completely different scale.
Extensive touring and album support followed, including the now-infamous New Haven concert in December where Morrison became the first rock artist to ever be arrested onstage during a show. The charges were later dropped but the conflicts between Morrison and the police were far from over.
With what seems like no break whatsoever, the band released their third album, Waiting for the Sun, in July of 1968. It became their first number one album and featured their second number one single in “Hello I Love You.” Given the blistering pace of releases they’d been on up to this point, it comes as no surprise that a full year passed before the release of their fourth album, The Soft Parade. While a year may seem quite short in the modern context, where fans often wait years between album releases, for The Doors this was an unspeakably long interval. Lest one think they were vacationing or home counting money they did manage to release one small single right in the middle of that period. It was called “Touch Me” and went straight up to number three.
The album that song came from, The Soft Parade, was released in July of 1969 and peaked at number six on the charts. Considered a failure by most critics, the album was a departure in sound and style, featuring orchestral arrangements and jazz influences previously not associated with their signature sound.
For those keeping count, at that point, The Doors have been in existence for just over three years. In that time they’ve released four albums: a number one, a number two, a number three, and a number six. They’ve released a dozen singles and sold millions and millions of records. But they weren’t done yet.
Despite more run-ins with the police leading to major legal trouble for both Morrison and the band, they toured extensively but somehow still managed to find time for their next record, Morrison Hotel. The album Morrison Hotel dropped in February of 1970. Peaking at number four, Morrison Hotel was considered a comeback record for the band, an odd designation for a group with such massive success on its resume but if The Soft Parade was a departure then Morrison Hotel was the return. The band got back to their roots and fans welcomed them home with open arms.
Five months after the release of Morrison Hotel, Elektra Records released Absolutely Live the band’s first concert recording. Charting at number eight it was certified gold and went on to sell nearly a million copies. Another break in recording that featured plenty of on and offstage antics filled the time before the release of their sixth studio recording.
By December of 1970 it was clear that Morrison was no longer interested in, or capable of, performing. Drugs, alcohol, and constant legal problems had taken their toll and a December 12th show in Louisiana became the band’s final performance together. LA Woman, the band’s sixth and final studio album dropped the following April. It was a further return to the band’s roots in blues and rock. The album peaked at number nine and produced two Top 20 singles, “Love Her Madly” and “Riders on the Storm.” Three months later, on July 3rd, 1971, Jim Morrison was found dead in his Paris apartment.
No autopsy was performed and the cause of death was listed as heart failure, though most attribute his demise at such a young age to an overdose of heroin. The other members of the band went on to release more music, including an album of Morrison’s poetry he had recorded years before, but LA Woman was the last music album to feature Morrison’s distinctive voice. This incredible explosion began on Venice Beach and ended in a Parisian bathtub. The Doors released six studio albums and one live record, every single one of which hit the Top 10. They released 21 singles of which half reached the Top 50, six reached Top 20, and two hit number one. While determining album sales is notoriously difficult, especially worldwide, it is known that The Doors have managed to sell well over 30 million records in the United States alone. A tremendous feat under any circumstances but when you stop to consider their time together lasted just under six years you realize The Doors truly were one of America’s greatest bands.
Written by Michael Quinn
The Doors Studio Albums discography:
Waiting for the Sun
The Soft Parade
Other Voices (released 1971)
Full Circle (released 1972)
An American Prayer (released 1978)
The Doors Live Albums discography:
Absolutely Live (released 1970)
Alive, She Cried (released 1983)
Live at the Hollywood Bowl (released 1987)
In Concert (released 1991)
Message to Love: The Isle of Wight Festival 1970 (released 1996)
The Doors Singles discography:
From the album – The Doors (1967)
“Break on Through (To the Other Side)”
“Light My Fire”
From the album – Strange Days (1967)
“People Are Strange”
“Love Me Two Times”
From the album – Waiting for the Sun (1968)
“The Unknown Soldier”
“Hello, I Love You”
From the album – The Soft Parade (1969)
“Tell all the People”
From the album – Morrison Hotel (1970)
“You Make Me Real”
From the album – L.A. Woman (1971)
“Love Her Madly”
“Riders on the Storm”
From the album – Other Voices (1971)
“Ships with Sails”
From the album – Full Circle (1972)
“Get Up and Dance”
“The Piano Bird”
From the album – An American Prayer (1979)
“Roadhouse Blues” (live)
From the album – The Doors Greatest Hits (1980)
“People Are Strange”
From the album – Alive, She Cried (1983)
“Gloria” / “Moonlight Drive” (live)
The Doors Box Sets
The Doors Box Set (released 1997)
The Complete Studio Recordings (released 1999)
Love Death Travel Box (released 2006)
Perception (released 2006)
The Doors Vinyl Box Set (released 2008)
A Collection (released 2011)
The Doors Infinite (released 2013)
The Doors Singles Box (released 2013)
The Doors Videos
The Doors’ A Tribute to Jim Morrison (released 1981)
Dance on Fire (released 1985)
The Soft Parade – A Career Retrospective (released 1991)
The Doors (released 1991)
The Best of The Doors (released 1997)
The Doors are Open (released 1998)
The Doors Collection – Collector’s Edition (released 1999)
The Doors Live At The Hollywood Bowl (released 2000)
The Doors – 30 Years Commemorative Edition (released 2001)
No One Here Gets Out Alive (released 2001)
VH1 Storytellers – The Doors: A Celebration (released 2001)
The Doors Soundstage Performances (released 2002)
The Doors of the 21st Century: L.A. Woman Live (released 2003)
The Doors Live In Europe 1968 DTS (released 2004)
The Doors Collector’s Edition – (3 DVD) (released 2005)
The Doors Classic Albums: (released 2008)
When You’re Strange (released 2010)
Mr. Mojo Risin; The Story of L.A. Woman (released 2011)
The Doors Live At The Bowl ‘68 (released 2012)
The Doors R-Evolution (released 2013)
The Doors Special Edition (released 2013)
The Doors Feast of Friends (released 2014)