I may be in the minority…heck, I’m probably the only music critic ever, to say that I’m not a big fan of the Doors. While it’s true that a good song might pop up every once in a while for me, I’ve never been able to understand the unanimous appeal of the frontrunners in the American psychedelic movement of the 60’s. Released in early 1967, “The Doors” was the first taste the world got of the band’s signature sound and has since become far in a way the band’s crowning achievement (it was ranked as the 42nd greatest album of all time by Rolling Stone). Endowed with most of the band’s greatest songs, the album was and still is a critical and financial hit.
The album begins right off the bat with the band’s most popular track in their career, “Break On Through (To The Other Side).” Being only two and a half minutes, one may think that there is not a whole lot of direction the song can go. Nevertheless, the track without a doubt demonstrates the strong energy within Jim Morrison’s vocal delivery. The performance ranges from delicate and melodic during the verses to screaming passionately during the chorus and middle section. Although the organ is certainly the most perceptible instrument on this recording, this is one of the few songs in which the guitar tracks stand out to me as I am listening. This is a true psychedelic rock song.
Another song with a prominent place for the guitar is “Twentieth Century Fox.” While a little bit less of a powerhouse rock song as “Break On Through,” “Twentieth Century Fox” contains a rather bluesy, jazzy quality that I cannot help but appreciate to some degree. The track cruises right along at a moderate tempo with an appealing rhythm, fueled by all members of the band. Although seemingly toned down from his usually vigorous vocal routine, Morrison still gives a worthy presentation. In an even more bluesy turn is “Back Door Man.” Right down to the 12-bar-blues pattern, this song is a fitting tribute to the Howlin’ Wolf original, adding an authentic Chicago blues feel to the band’s distinct sound.
“Light My Fire,” one of the only long songs on the album (clocking in at seven minutes), relies fully on the band members’ ability to free-form jam. While verses are sung both at the beginning and the end of the song, a considerable chunk contains only keyboard, drums and guitar. I’m not opposed to instrumental music in general, but I do have a problem with the repetition of the same keyboard riff over and over for four plus minutes. The only thing breaking the monotony of the middle section is a guitar solo by Robby Krieger. I may have preferred this song had they shortened the middle about a minute and a half or two minutes. As it is now, I can only express a mild appreciation.
“Soul Kitchen” follows in a similar path to “Twentieth Century Fox” in that the rhythm is rather catchy and the tempo is just right. I believe that “Soul Kitchen” is slightly better in representing the psychedelic genre and in showing off the Doors’ hard-rocking side. The choruses include strangely heavy drumming (which actually works) and a good rock guitar riff for accompaniment, along with the chaotic Jim Morrison passion heard before in “Break On Through.” It may not be as memorable as others, but with a few listens it has the tendency to grow on you.
Oddly enough, there are two tracks on the album that release an almost surf-rock vibe to them, and they are “I Looked At You” and “Take It As It Comes.” The first is like a mishmash of the speedy rhythm heard from the Beach Boys and the instrumentation and lyrics of early Beatles material. The song is fairly average and is not particularly elaborate or memorable. On the other hand, “Take It As It Comes” is probably one of my favorite songs from the album. The song moves at an especially quick tempo and is powered by some frantic organ playing and steady drumwork. The band’s performances stand out chiefly on this track and no other songs come as close to its level of intensity.
The two songs that develop the darkest undertones on the album are “End Of The Night” and “Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar).” “End Of The Night” includes some eerie keyboard playing, some dreamily ambient guitar effects and a somber vocal conveyance. Only a stronger, more optimistic sounding chorus at the very end disturbs the dreary atmosphere. I want to give praise to the song, but it ultimately ends too early for it to lead into anything enchanting. “Alabama Song” sounds to me like a very twisted carnival-style tune. The organ is a big component in giving the song this sound. The mood changes after the verses in which a more cheerful rhythm is experimented with. Overall, the song is decent if not a little to short and basic.
“The Crystal Ship” is the Doors’ version of a ballad. Moving at a slower tempo, both the piano and keyboard are utilized heavily while Morrison sings softly with tender lyrics. While the song is regarded as a fan favorite (just looking on Wikipedia, I found numerous cover versions), I really do not see the appeal. To me, it is an unfortunately average song without any elements or hooks to keep me well interested until the end.
However, the real disappointment arrives at the tail end of the album, on the track appropriately titled “The End.” As the longest track on the album (at a staggering eleven and a half minutes), I was hoping for something really special. Judging by the song’s ardent praise, I had every right to anticipate. However, the song drones on languidly all the way until the end with the same repeated instrumental pattern. The lyrics tell an odd story, but the song would have highly benefited from some diversity and originality in the instrumental section. By the time the song ended, I felt both disappointed and surprised at how revered the track was and still is.
Overall, the Doors’ debut album turned out to be a mixed bag for me. For every semi-good song there was, there was an equally substandard one as well. Call me crazy, but I just cannot relate to those who retain a keen fanship for the band. Maybe it’s an of-the-moment thing. Maybe I had to be there in the Sixties to witness the band while they were around. I just don’t know. What I do know is that they have obviously struck a nerve in most music fans the world over. Too bad there just isn’t enough here to, ahem, light my fire. Okay, I’ll shut up now.