So we’ve all known to either love or hate The Doors over the years. I’ve loved them since I was 8 listening to them in my sister’s room sitting on the floor doing my homework, probably colouring at best! But STILL, became a big Doors fan to a HUGE Doors fan by the time I was thirteen and got my first Doors bootlegs from a guy named Tom who was the principal at an adult day school my other sister attended. In high school they were my sword and shield in to teenage angst battle against; the machine, the institution, my parents, the world, I had a song for all of them! As my musical tastes progressed I drifted away form the Doors for a bit, I believe it’s called growing up but I never forgot or lost them, just overdosed on listening to them and countless hours hiding in my basement pouring over bootleg albums regardless of how bad they have sounded, it was The Doors! But as my audio palette grew in to Progressive Rock I started to wonder where would The Doors have gone had Jim not died in July of 1971.
More than likely deeper in to the blues where Jim’s alcoholism was driving him towards on top of his already love for the genre but lets look at some of their more profound songs that actually have many elements of prog rock. After re-listening to them after a short hiatus on the shelf I was blown away by the fact that I deem them to be Prog-Theatre in spots with more heavier tones of psychedelia due to the period in which they came out in. But here we will just focus on the songs they did that were Prog orientated. Let’s begin that dark trip down the California way where the Doors came from with one of the earliest Prog type songs they did, The End.
From their first album in 1967, The End is a theatrical magnum opus of a friend gone by, a goodbye song as Jim once described it as. Like many bands before and after them The Doors began their footings in small clubs and rehearsal spaces honing their craft as if a kid in science class staying late to make his volcano work for presentation.
There is an early recording from March of 1967 at the Matrix Club in San Francisco owned by I believe Jorma Kaukonen of the Jefferson Airplane where the Doors did a tenure there and some of those recordings still exists today in bootleg box sets and bootleg compilations galore. Worth seeking out if you are a Doors fan of their early period. But the song itself remains a mainstay of the Doors live repertoire till pretty much the end of Jim.
The song rolls in like a ominous cloud from some deep dark forest where some monster sleeps and has awaken. The cymbals trills and keyboard flickers with a disdain that leaves you unnerved in your seat. The guitar now enters with a flare for what reminds me of a procession of Ancient Gods but from some darker past in history. It segues in to it’s initial path of musicality and the snaps of a tambourine don’t even make you think of Jim having Davey Jones syndrome. Jim’s vocals softened but alert and obtrusive as he delivers a command performance. Around the two minute mark the drum rolls warns us a shift in the song’s timbre and the journey thus begins deeper in to a world of dark obsession and a “wilderness of pain”. The flow of the music is carried by Ray’s melodic keyboards and Fender Rhodes piano while the guitar and drums accentuate the mood, very much a Prog element where the Doors didn’t realize it because Prog was still an unknown style in 1967 in California. Many people hail the Doors as being theatrical in their music because of Jim’s on stage persona and how the music swirled around him but what people did not know is that they were being introduced to Progressive Rock before bands like Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Gentle Giant hit the stage there.
The song shifts and careens through a myriad of sounds, tempos and upswings and downbeats from the others while Jim continues on his journey through the Roman Wilderness and Oedipal section when around the 8:50 minute mark the song jumps tempo and changes to a whirling dervish style dance as Jim curses his way through the smoke of the others burning up the sounds with a build up of frenzied chords, draws and maniacal drumming to come to a crashing crescendo in to an oblivion of fall down dead only to return to the beginnings of the song’s format as Jim sings out its last strained goodbyes and the band diminishes down to a crawl and then a final bow as it finishes off in to a haze of well smoked hashish.
The End definitely fits the Prog recipe for filling the bill with its changes in timbre, tempo, shifting its ups and down and having all the instruments that need be for having it to be a classic Prog song. A pronounced vocal track and nothing choral or orchestration to accompany it, I believe it was the first major Prog released by a band that early on. Clocking in at 11:46 it was probably the longest song out anywhere in North America at the time. Be my guest to search it out if there is one before but does it matter? Not really, what matters here is that Doors gave us Prog before we had Prog.
When The Music’s Over, from October’s 1967 Strange Days album gives us another eleven minute composition of Prog-ability. The short tight keyboard intro bares all that is raw and defined as the static air that surrounds the time in which it was written. Was the music really over by then? To some yes because we had lost our faith in the Beatles by this time over John Lennon’s Jesus comment and the riots that had begun around the United States over the Vietnam war and how the unrest of the world has fallen to its knees and bared its soul in this song. Tempo changes throughout and swaying like a child on swing set this song gives even more Prog elements than The End did an album earlier.
Densmore’s drumming is all over the map yet always in the right place at the right time keeping consistencies at bay and knowing when to strike and when to stay in the harbour waiting to roll back out to sea. Rays keyboard work here is impeccable and keeps the flow but also to allows room for the others to contribute, his bass lines are immaculately tight. Krieger’s guitar work here is narrative as he gives a stunning performance of how few notes carry forwards stronger than a full on wanking solo of ridiculous proportions yet when he does solo it’s given the lavishness of a true Prog solo on guitar with swirling double tracking and reverberation that allows it to haunt and berate your ears in a way that you don’t realize till several minutes later and you want to start the song over but can’t help but listen onward. Jim’s vocals here are reinforced by singing along with the song note per note at times and then trailing away to tell us stories of the world more over about what’s going on and to turn out the lights. A rugged approach to singing but also a dictation of what the music has become, your special friend. The song drops down to a clambering pace where, “We want the world and we want it………. NOW!” hits us like a bomb in our ears and the song erupts in to an explosion of might giving us yet another element of Prog, the tempo and timbre changes yet again and to enter the last phase of the song in a inclement stout of stomping notes to lead us in to a high finishing climax tightly wound and stopping on a dime.
This song absolutely foots the bill of Prog and delivers it in every sense of the word. Live renditions often included tangents of poetry or off in to other parts of songs only to return to its natural state. Offerings vocally, or musically were no stranger to the Doors live shows.
A Celebration of The Lizard, never fully released on any studio album but as final studio track on 2003’s Doors Legacy album, a bonus track on Waiting For the Sun remaster and prior to that on 1970’s Absolutely Live Double Lp. This song has bits and pieces of it laying all over the Doors history with Jim from the segment, Not to Touch The Earth on Waiting For The Sun to a full version on the later Absolutely Live album but seemed to go unnoticed and under the radar for the most part. only a handful of Doors concerts ever received the full treatment of the song A theatrical seven part poetic Prog monster right under our noses! The tempo, timbre, shift in directions to and fro, the lyrical content emanating all the Prog storytelling criteria,blistering short solo tracks and drumming that sets mood, style, pandemonium and crushing blows to accent Jim’s voice. The song clocking in at just over 17 minutes in the studio version and often to the 20 minute mark live definitely gibes us a solid basis for being a Prog song for sure. Now sure other bands did songs that hit that 20 minute timeline like the Grateful Dead but they were nowhere near being Prog as more a jam band that tripped out to the groove of a riff they took to lengthy exaggerations.
The song intended to be a one side composition on the album but it never made the cut and recording it deemed to be a giant hassle for the band and it was abandoned. Instead only going with Not To Touch The Earth as a single representation on the album from it. Had that made the full side of the album they would have beat out UK artists like Roy Harper and Pink Floyd for the idea! This song clearly is the definitive Prog composition by the Doors in my opinion as it contains practically every classical element of Prog aside from orchestration. Having classical instruments is not always the case in Prog, that’s left to the more madrigal type bands; Gentle Giant, Genesis, Camel etc. Some other bands like King Crimson and Pink Floyd used sections of this like selected horns and violin and of course Pink Floyd’s epic masterpiece from 1970, Atom Heart Mother with a full choir and orchestra on record as well as quite a few live performances during 1971.
But The Doors here complete the song with lyrics that take you to far away lands, insanity, distant realms, people from far off places, leaving the city for places unknown, etc. The music changes distinctly from one section to the next with a segue of smoothness that shows that it was planned and not some improvised bit they just dropped in that came out of left field, although that would be very progressive of them too! The song itself uses a variety of tones throughout that carries forward its Prog recipe to the fullest by incorporating these elements in to a song that becomes a lengthy composition of discerning inventiveness. Perhaps this song became too overwhelming for the band to perform it live more than they did because their audiences weren’t really interested in the band obtaining new levels of musical expansion and creativity and only wanted to hear “the hits”, namely their pseudo-prog-pop wonder hit Light My Fire which helped them gain their popularity but was also their Achilles heel once they had achieved their mainstream success. A complete killjoy for many bands of any genre and period of time, there’s always that one song that gets you through the door but destroys every fiber of your being when you have to play it afterwards. That’s a write up for another day.
Celebration of the Lizard is a crowning moment in The Doors repertoire of Prog songs that gives the sense of direction they could have gone in to at any given time and had the whole Miami trial ended with no jail time and Jim had returned from Paris we possibly could have seen more songs in a Prog-like direction mainly due to the fact that Jim was impressed by some of the Prog bands that also played at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 and the rumours surrounding him seeing King Crimson perform at Hyde Park as well could have helped pave a future for The Doors to be more inclined to venture down that road mixing it with Chicago Blues and California sounds of psychedelia, that said, by 1971 The Doors had long left the psychedelic sound for a more aggressive rock/blues based culture that became their forte and cum laude in their final album with Jim L.A.Woman.
Honourable mentions to the Doors Prog song type list are;
The Soft Parade, from the 1969 album of the same name. A jazzier approach to a lengthy piece that contains the tempo and timbre changes but as much as I like the song it seemed to be more sloppier put together pastiche than a concise tight arrangement that flowed smoothly. Sure it contains the lyrical and musical formula for being Prog but it failed to secure a concrete connection between sections. It starts off with some great string introduction, sounding very harpsichord and mandolin then jumping in to a jazz lounge act shuffle then to a waltz like excuse to bonk the neighbour next door then finally in to a tribal like romp through the jungle where apparently the monk bought lunch, and ate it! That section begins at around 3:12 and had the song started there and ventured off then back to this it would have been a more formidable track to put on the album. The different sections do segue in to each other but I stand by my conviction earlier describing it as a pastiche of this and that.
Riders on the Storm from 1971’s L.A. Woman is fine example of about only a very few Doors songs to have sound effects in the background but fits the bluesier side of Prog. A lot of Prog songs have snippets of the Blues in them as those records were the ones that were brought over to the UK from merchant shipping during the 1950’s and the bands that were emerging got their hands on them and tried to copy that sound and became the British Invasion bands of the early 1960’s but some bands would take those songs and stretch them in to 15 minute epic rides of psychedelia. Here The Doors stretch what could have been a four or five minute song in to a seven minute journey in to the rain and unknown of whence you came from.
Like many a good Prog song this one starts off with the sounds of rain sound effects in the background as Ray’s keyboards begin the journey along with John’s cymbal ride. An eerie piano trill gives us the mood right off the top and the guitar slides its way in with a tremolo effect not common in Prog but for the sake of using an effect we will allow it here. Robbie’s solo is appeasing to the ears as it strolls in to the rainy mist that fogs over the place where you stand outside. Only complimented by Ray’s chilling keyboard solo about halfway through and Robbie adding in his jazzy licks as the undertone to comment on where Ray is at. John’s drumming adds the the vehicle movement here by keeping the pace in as syncopated as possible without missing a beat as he upswings to go pre-chorus then back to a straight forward tempo setting the mood even more. It Progs out as the least Prog song the Doors did in their canon(aside from the shorter songs, commercial offerings and pop catchy tunes) with Jim but I feel it deserves an honourable mention as an almost Prog tune. The tempo is pretty consistent here and doesn’t falter anywhere or go off on to a tangent where the other songs did. But it gives us that essence of Prog where it contains the background effects of the rain and that the instrumentation also carries by with some effects that aren’t just plain. Jim’s vocals here are steady and almost mono toned as he resounds us with with his voice and the words are dark as the song’s deep. Lush tracks here which also are clearly a good indicator of Prog elements, they’re full and not high pitched rather deep bass like and lurid.
L.A. Woman from the same album from 1971. Another one like The Soft Parade where it’s jazzier side comes to the forefront and the mid Mr. Mojo Risin’ section cause the brakes to be put on and changes the tempo but reverts back to the rock-jazz-like beginnings of the song till it fades out. Not so much Prog but pseudo-Prog with the distinct tempo change in the middle but that’s about it for this one. Great song but only quasi-Prog here.
The Doors were an L.A. rock band that definitely gave us music that made us look at the world differently than what was going on and were miles ahead from what other bands in the area were doing at the time. Pioneers in making of music that shook the world and stand the test of time to this day. Were they deeply thought lyrics or just drunken ramblings of a kid from Melbourne, Florida? Either way Jim Morrison and The Doors did give us some Prog prototypes in their short lived career and that cannot be ignored.