Meet the Beatles? Bah! Show me The Doors if you’re looking for the best rock & roll debut.
Kronomyth 1.0: The man who comes back from The Doors will never be the same.
Nineteen sixty-seven was a breakthrough year for psychedelic rock and roll: Surrealistic Pillow, Sgt. Pepper’s, Disraeli Gears, Mr. Fantasy, The Velvet Underground & Nico. And it all started with The Doors. Released in January, The Doors’ debut album sounded like nothing that came before it: nightmares and poetry and disembodied sounds cooked into a boiling stew of blues and rock and roll. The band never bettered it, instead refining their unique sound over several albums before Jim Morrison imploded.
The group took their name from Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, which chronicled the author’s early adventures with mescaline. Indeed, there is a strong hallucinogenic component to the music of The Doors. What is The End if not a psychedelic trip rendered in sound? It would be tempting to pin The Doors’ achievement on Morrison alone. No one, not even Elvis Presley, commanded attention the way that Morrison does. He is the lightning rod for nearly every electric moment on this album. But the brain-searing organ of Ray Manzarek, spectral guitar stylings of Robbie Krieger and, to a lesser extent, deferential drumming of John Densmore are crucial elements in the incantation. Without them, the spell eventually fizzles.
The album gets off to a powerful start with Break on Through (to the Other Side), a calculated introduction into their frightening musical world that begins with the portentous opening line, “You know the day destroys the night / Night divides the day.” All taboos are broken right there as we’re loosed into a chaos where day and night, id and ego, are at war with themselves. What follows are half a dozen songs, any one of which could be called a classic. Soul Kitchen feels like black magic, The Crystal Ship is a waking dream, Twentieth Century Fox casts Morrison in the role of sensual shaman, Alabama Song is perfectly macabre. The first side ends with Light My Fire, a brilliant effort from the entire band that stands as one of rock & roll’s greatest songs. (Rolling Stone ranked it at number 35.) All in all, an absolutely perfect side of plastic.
Side two opens with a mind-shattering cover of Willie Dixon’s Back Door Man. You would have to look forward to Led Zeppelin to hear a Dixon song played with such intensity. The album loses some of its dark energy toward the end, only to send listeners spiraling into the black hole of Jim Morrison’s Oedipal nightmare with “The End.” One of the most powerful rock songs ever recorded, it makes The Velvet Underground’s “The Black Angels Death Song” sound like child’s play. (In many ways, VU was a synthesis of Bob Dylan and The Doors, at least in the beginning.)
Amazingly, The Doors struck an immediate chord with listeners and nearly topped the US charts. Not everyone has been enamored of their work since. Critic Lester Bangs famously called Morrison “Bozo Dionysus” in the 1980s, apparently because Morrison wasn’t the right kind of alcoholic. But their music had an immediate and heavy impact on the next wave of musicians, from VU to The Stooges to Patti Smith, much as Led Zeppelin influenced a whole generation of heavy metal bands. Until I hear otherwise, The Doors is the best rock & roll debut I’ve ever heard.
Original elpee version
A1. Break on Through (to the Other Side) (2:25)
A2. Soul Kitchen (3:30)
A3. The Crystal Ship (2:30)
A4. Twentieth Century Fox (2:30)
A5. Alabama Song (Whisky Bar) (Kurt Weill/Bertol Brecht) (3:15)
A6. Light My Fire (6:50)
B1. Back Door Man (Willie Dixon/Chester Burnett) (3:30)
B2. I Looked at You (2:18)
B3. End of the Night (2:49)
B4. Take It As It Comes (2:13)
B5. The End (11:35)
Words & music to all songs by The Doors unless noted.
John Densmore (drums), Robby Krieger (guitar, bass on B1), Ray Manzarek (organ, piano, bass), Jim Morrison (vocals) with Larry Knechtel (bass on A3/A6). Produced by Paul A. Rothchild; production supervised by Jac Holzman; engineered by Bruce Botnick.
Front cover photo by Guy Webster. Back cover photo by Joel Brodsky. Art direction & design by William S. Harvey.
Released on mono and stereo elpee on January 4, 1967 in the US (Elektra, EKL/S-74007). Reached #1 on the US charts (RIAA-certified 4x platinum record).
- Re-issued on elpee in the 1970s in the US (Elektra, EKS-74007) [red label].
- Re-released on remastered elpee in 1980 in the US (Mobile Fidelity, MFSL-1-051).
- Re-issued on elpee in the 1980s in Germany (Elektra, 42012).
- Re-packaged with Strange Days as 2 Originals of The Doors on 2LP in Germany (Elektra, ELK-62013).
- Re-released on remastered compact disc on May 24, 1988 worldwide (Elektra, CEK-74007).