Though they were an immensely popular band in their time, perhaps the greatest significance of the Doors can be most appreciated in the larger context of rock and roll history, for this was the first group to bring the dark side of the rock mind-set to a mass following. Emerging from the seamy Los Angeles club scene in 1967 as a cult/underground favorite of the more sophisticated rock cognoscenti, the Doors shocked their own early followers, the numerous record companies and producers that had passed them up, and then the entire nation by bringing their unique, violent, harrowing sound to the candyland world of Top 40 AM radio and overwhelming national popularity. “The Doors seeped in through the underground early in 1967,” writes Lillian Roxon in The Rock Encyclopedia, “a time when no one could possibly have predicted that a group that sang about the evil and the reptilian and the bloody was about to become not just the number one group in America, but the number one teenybopper group in America, which just shows what secret dreams of mayhem and vengeance and violent sexuality all
Members included James Douglas (Jim) Morrison, born Dec. 8, 1943, in Melbourne, Fla., died July 3, 1971, in Paris, France;Education: attended UCLA, c. 1965. Robert Krieger, born Jan. 8, 1946, in Los Angeles, Calif. Raymond Manzarek, born Feb. 12, 1943, in Chicago, III.; Education: attended UCLA, c. 1965. John Densmore, born Dec. 1, 1945, in Los Angeles, Calif.
The Doors formed group, 1965; began appearing on the Sunset Strip, Los Angeles, Calif., 1965-66; signed by Elektra Records, 1966; released first album The Doors, 1967 (hit single “Light My Fire” became a Number 1 hit); released several subsequent gold and platinum albums and singles, 1967-71; Morrison died of heart attack, 1971; the group disbanded, 1973.
those dear little suburban nymphets were harboring in the infant hearts beating under all those preteen bras.”
The heart and soul of the Doors was the enigmatic, charismatic poet/lyricist and vocalist Jim Morrison, the legendary “Lizard King,” whose flame burned high and bright for a few years in the late 1960s before being snuffed out by a heart attack, probably brought on by Morrison’s excessive use of drugs and alcohol, in Paris in 1971. Morrison has since become a cult hero, held with the same reverance by generations of rock fans as such other rock martyrs as Buddy Holly, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and John Lennon.
Morrison’s father, a career naval officer from a family with a long history of military service, moved his family from place to place around the country, and it was this man that young James Douglas Morrison took to represent the authority that he would rebel against for the rest of his life. As a teenager he began taking an interest in poetry and philosophy, along with film and rock music, as potential paths toward the renewal and self-recreation he sought upon his break from the authoritarian world.
Morrison’s travels took him first to UCLA in 1964, where he initially entered the Theater Arts Department, but where he also began to read the poetry of William Blake and the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche. At this time he also met Ray Manzarek, a classically trained musician from Chicago who had lately begun experimenting with the blues in a group called Rich and the Ravens. Morrison told Manzarek that he had been writing some song lyrics and began to sing a few bars from “Moon-light Drive,” which would later become a Doors classic. “I said That’s it,’” said Manzarek in The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock, and Soul. “I’d never heard lyrics to a rock song like that before. We talked together for awhile before we decided to get a group together and make a million dollars.”
Manzarek, a keyboardist (principally organ) and Morrison, a smokey-voiced baritone vocalist, then discovered drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger playing in a band called the Psychedelic Rangers and the band was complete. The name of the group was decided by Morrison, who was enamored with a quote from Blake that appeared on the flyleaf to Aldous Huxley’s book The Doors of Perception (a discussion of experimentations with the drug mescaline): “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”
The Doors struggled for a time in 1965-66, playing mostly as a warm-up act to more popular groups in clubs along the Sunset Strip. It was at one of these clubs, the Whiskey A Go Go, that Jac Holzman, president of Elektra records, first saw the Doors perform as an opening act for the group Love. Holzman signed the band in late 1966, and by 1967 their first album, The Doors, was released along with the single “Break on Through,” which did not have much success. The second single, however, entitled “Light My Fire,” lit millions of fires across the country, eventually rising to Number 1 on the charts in the summer of 1967. At seven minutes, “Light My Fire” was nearly twice as long as the typical pop song, and most of the body of the tune was filled with a long, hypnotic, penetrating organ solo by Manzarek. Organ solos in a rock song? No one had ever heard of such a thing. This was not the Monkees, or even the Beatles. This was something new, and clearly the Doors had touched a nerve in the growing angst among American teenagers in the turbulent atmosphere of the late 1960s.
Even darker and more elaborate was the final cut of the first album, a work that spoke to the more hardened Doors fans and clearly had no place on Top 40 radio. “The End” is, if not the Doors most memorable song, certainly the most representative of the group’s tight, eerie control of the music, along with Morrison’s core personality, which comes through in this eleven-minute, brooding Oedipal rage as he symbolically kills his father.
For the next two years the Doors were the hottest group in America, somehow managing to draw the raves of sophisticated rock fans and teenyboppers, and by selling gold record after gold record while maintaining a sold-out tour circuit. And despite appearances on such all-American television shows as Ed Sullivan and The Jonathan Winters Show, Morrison conceded nothing in his stage act. He was still the Lizard King, writhing seductively on stage in a half-trance, ad-libbing poetry from the top of his head as the band continued to play. More hit LPs followed, including Strange Days, Waiting for the Sun, Morrison Hotel, and Soft Parade.
But Morrison’s antics soon began to catch up with him. In New Haven before a show, Morrison was maced by police when he was discovered with a female fan in his dressing room; later that night Morrison began telling the audience of the incident and he was pulled off the stage, accused of trying to incite a riot. With his strange, manic intensity, Morrison loved to play with a crowd, to see just how far he could take them, just how close to violent, sexual frenzy he could whip them. The big blow came in Miami in 1969 when, after performing a concert, Morrison was arrested on charges that he had allegedly exposed himself to the audience during the show. The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock, and Soul quotes writer Alexandra Tacht’s impression of the incident: “Morrison finally did it. He culminated his career as a sex symbol of the decade by dropping his pants in front of umpteen screaming teens in Miami. Exit Morrison, who hopped the country and left in his wake 35,000 teens turning on a Decency Rally behind Jackie Gleason and Anita Bryant to show that Miami is really a straight town.”
Morrison’s arrest became prime tabloid fodder, and the band was forced out of the remaining dates on that particular tour. But record sales were still strong. LA Woman and The Doors Greatest Hits were immensely popular in 1970, and “Love Her Madly,” the single from the former, rose to Number 1 on the charts in early 1971. But the constant harrassment by the police began to wear on Morrison, who, in a fit of depression, left the band in 1971 for an extended hiatus in Paris, where he planned to rest and write poetry. The rest of the band remained in California, rehearsing and recording with the hopes that Morrison would return. But on July 3, 1971, Morrison suffered a heart attack in France and died. To this day there are some faithful fans who believe that Morrison’s death was staged, and that the Lizard King still lives. Those dwindling few can be assured, however, that Morrison rests under the big, graffiti-covered stone in the Poet’s Corner of the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
The Doors, Elektra, 1967.
Strange Days, Elektra, 1967.
Waiting for the Sun, Elektra, 1968.
The Soft Parade, Elektra, 1969.
Absolutely Live, Elektra, 1970.
The Doors Greatest Hits, Elektra, 1970.
Morrison Hotel, Elektra, 1970.
LA. Woman, Elektra, 1971.
Other Voices, Elektra, 1971.
Full Circle, Elektra, 1972.
Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mine, Elektra, 1972.
The Best of the Doors, Elektra, 1973.
Bane, Michael, Who’s Who in Rock, Facts on File, 1981.
Hardy, Phil, and Dave Laing, The Encyclopedia of Rock, Schimner, 1988.
Lillian Roxon’s Rock Encyclopedia, compiled by Ed Naha, Grosset and Dunlap, 1978.
Nite, Norm, Rock On, Vol. II, Harper & Row, 1984.
Roxon, Lillian, The Rock Encyclopedia, Workman, 1969.
Stambler, Irwin, The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock, and Soul, St. Martin’s, 1977.
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