On the surface, 1967 was a year of riot and protest, the emergence of discotheques in America, and a social movement regarded by many as “The summer of love.” When you take a turn away from the major records of the year and into the back alley of 1967’s music scene, you’ll find a haunting and rhythmic album that I still find myself stuck on today. Meet The Doors by the Doors.
Whether it be the invitation to “slip into unconsciousness” or “take the highway to the end of the night” as written in their songs “The Crystal Ship” and “End of the Night,” the Doors make their music in that sweet spot between sleep and reality. In many cases, they offer us gradual guitar fades, slow percussion, and a commanding vocal presence at the wheel of the car. This is what I would call a slow, late-night drive with the Doors which we take on certain songs off the album including “The End.” On the record, it’s always either a steady drive or spinning out and doing donuts on songs such as “Light My Fire” and “Break on Through (To the Other Side).” What I love most about the band is the way which they combine the frightening, high-stakes pressure of spinning out with the tenderness and precision of a slow drive down a lonely road.
“Light My Fire” was written by guitarist Robby Krieger in 1966, and hit contemporary culture like a match on a candle when it was released as the album’s second single. The band performed on the Ed Sullivan Show and in reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. Most people understand “Light My Fire” by its shortened 3-minute radio edit that was demanded by the label (Elektra Records) and the public. What they miss out on from the full version of the single are slow-moving and intense vocals from Morrison, the sharp and lingering guitar and organ solos, and the suspense which rises as the song goes on. When the Morrison sings “light my fire,” he doesn’t expect it to happen instantly. They want you to spend time with the record and take it as a slow-burning and powerful flame.
I started this review on a beach in Isla Vista. Perhaps the same beach that Jim Morrison wrote his song “The Crystal Ship.” Off the coast of Santa Barbara, there sits an old oil rig that lights up against the black ocean at night. It is local legend that when Morrison passed through town in the late 1960s, he was inspired by the oil rig which he dubbed “The Crystal Ship.” I find myself looking at it now and then and considering how it has been made immortal through music. The same can be said of Morrison himself.
If the setting in the story that is The Doors is a lonely, midnight road, then the hero of our tale is none other than the man on microphone, Jim Morrison. His vocals are what happen when you put thought into chaos rather than just letting it happen. Raw, weathered, and blunt. He understands the time to be soft and the time to be loud. He gives purpose and principle to the wild grunt and growl.
The Doors is an album that combines the light and dark of living into a single color. Although there’s a lot of ambiguity to the album, it’s clear that the Doors think a lot about the relationship of body and soul. There is also talk of how memory interacts with the current moment we live in. When we open the Doors, we are faced with questions that follow us long after the music is over.
In 2017, the album turned 50 years old. Krieger, the writer behind “Light My Fire” got to celebrate the records anniversary at “Day of the Doors” in Los Angeles where he threw the first pitch at a Los Angeles Dodgers game. Even though there’s some five decades between then and now, society is still stuck on the magic of that first album and those that followed.
When the Doors came to surface in 1967, all that was really demanded by the public was a radio edit of their single “Light My Fire” or other shorter songs like “Break on Through (to the Other Side)”. The harder hitting album cuts such as “End of the Night” and “Soul Kitchen” were in many ways pushed to the backburner by audiences. Listening to the Doors in a modern day and age, I can’t help but recognize the truth and insight which the album offers on reality both then and now. Whether it be a stranger on the bus, or an oil rig on the ocean, I look at them differently now because of The Doors.