Ahead of the 50th anniversary of singer Jim Morrison’s death, we rank the LA band’s best tracks, from the summer of love anthem Light My Fire to the apocalyptic The End.
30. Queen of the Highway (1970)
Jim Morrison frequently drew on his romantic dalliances for lyrical inspiration. Take Morrison Hotel’s raucous rocker Queen of the Highway, a song about his soon-to-be-wife, Pamela Courson, that frames their relationship as loving, if somewhat ill-fated: “He was a monster / Black dressed in leather / She was a princess / Queen of the Highway.”
29. My Eyes Have Seen You (1967)
Studio experimentation marked the Doors’ second album, Strange Days, as the band had access to eight-track recording for the first time. However, My Eyes Have Seen You succeeds because of its simplicity: a tango-like tempo driven by spaghetti-western rhythmic coils, a concise Robby Krieger guitar solo and Morrison sketching out the finer points of a seduction.
28. Tightrope Ride (1971)
The surviving members of the Doors – Krieger, Ray Manzarek and John Densmore – released three studio albums in the years after Morrison’s death. Although these efforts were hit or miss sonically, the first post-Morrison LP Other Voices produced the garage-rock barnburner Tightrope Ride, led by Manzarek’s cathartic howl.
27. Love Street (1968)
The Doors frequently incorporated inspirations from classical and jazz, but the baroque-rock gem Love Street was a sonic curveball even for them. Manzarek’s delicate piano and keyboards resemble fine-spun glass or a pristine music-box theme, a fine complement to Krieger’s understated guitar and Morrison’s fanciful lyrics.
The Doors in 1967 … (from left) John Densmore, Robbie Krieger, Ray Manzarek and Jim Morrison. Photograph: AP
26. Waiting for the Sun (1970)
Waiting for the Sun had indeed been hanging around since the Doors’ titular third album, but wasn’t fully formed until the band’s fifth full-length, Morrison Hotel. The wait was worth it, as the buzzy, fuzzed-out musical distortion and ominous vibe suited the darker energy around the Doors as the 1970s dawned.
25. Wild Child (1969)
The Soft Parade era wasn’t exactly the happiest time for the Doors, with the recording sessions marred by discord and Morrison’s high-profile arrest in Miami for indecent exposure. However, the chaos produced the grimy, attitude-dripping Wild Child, a clear link between 60s psych-rock and the burgeoning proto-punk and heavy metal movements.
24. Hardwood Floor (1972)
The Doors kept pushing themselves in new directions on 1972’s Full Circle, their second post-Morrison album. In fact, the sprawling, Latin-tinged jazz novelty The Mosquito, featuring session ace Leland Sklar on bass, became a surprise global hit. Sklar also adds verve on the LP’s highlight, the more straightforward, Stones-esque rocker Hardwood Floor.
23. Tell All the People (1969)
Morrison reportedly didn’t like a Tell All the People lyric referring to guns, which contributed to the Soft Parade’s decision to note separate songwriting credits in the liner notes. The hint of violence contrasts with the song itself, which is a tranquil piece with full-blooming horns and plaintive piano. It’s clear Primal Scream and Spiritualized were taking copious notes.
22. When the Music’s Over (1967)
Strange Days’ closing song qualifies as a sonic odyssey, while demonstrating the logical cohesion underpinning the band’s wandering tendencies. An initial rush of roaring guitars and freckled organ gives way to distinct musical movements, with Manzarek’s nod to Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon Man especially adding oomph.
Morrison with his partner Pamela Courson, 1969. Photograph: Estate of Edmund Teske/Getty Images
21. Summer’s Almost Gone (1968)
Few songs nail the bummer vibe of a summer fling with an uncertain future better than Summer’s Almost Gone. Morrison sounds uncharacteristically subdued as he muses about ephemeral good times, and his bandmates match this bereft mood by contributing swirling keyboards, morose piano and barely perceptible drums and guitar.
20. Love Me Two Times (1967)
Notable for a frenzied harpsichord bridge and lyrics that may (or may not) refer to prolonged sexual pleasure, Love Me Two Times is the Doors’ first great roadhouse blues number. Krieger’s spicy guitar twang and Densmore’s jazzy swing add vigour, while Morrison serves as the ragged-voiced raconteur, connecting the dots with impish glee.
19. I Can’t See Your Face in My Mind (1967)
The Beach Boys weren’t the only California band blown away by Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Doors also heard the Beatles’ psych-pop opus while making their second album, Strange Days. The influence is evident on the space-rocker I Can’t See Your Face In My Mind, a mind-bending slice of lounge lizard jazz.
18. Wintertime Love (1968)
Time has been kind to the Doors’ third album, Waiting for the Sun, thanks to gems such as Wintertime Love. An optimistic counterpart to the same LP’s Summer’s Almost Gone, the stately waltz extols the virtues of finding someone to keep you warm during the coldest months of the year.
17. L’America (1971)
L’America was initially intended for Zabriskie Point, Michael Antonioni’s 1970 cult classic film. After the famed Italian director declined to use the song on the movie’s soundtrack, the Doors repurposed the tune for their sixth album, LA Woman. Krieger’s heavy psychedelic blues riffs and Manzarek’s unsettled keyboards telegraphed the LP’s seedy vibe perfectly.
16. The Changeling (1971)
The Doors’ final album with Morrison, LA Woman boasted a new studio approach (the band co-produced with long-time engineer Bruce Botnick) and session help from greats such as then-Elvis Presley bassist Jerry Scheff. The latter’s presence is felt deeply on The Changeling, a James Brown-reminiscent funk-rock strut heavy on groove and grit.
The Doors on tour in Germany, 1968. Photograph: K & K Ulf Kruger OHG/Redferns
15. The Crystal Ship (1967)
Densmore once clarified that Morrison intended The Crystal Ship not as a metaphorical song about drugs, but a “goodbye love song” for Mary Werbelow, a soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend. Fittingly, the spare and bittersweet arrangement exudes sadness, between an aching, delicate vocal performance and an understated Manzarek classical piano interlude on the bridge.
14. Alabama Song (The Whisky Bar) (1967)
Years before David Bowie dabbled in Brechtian drama, the Doors were putting their own spin on Alabama Song, a Bertolt Brecht-Kurt Weill composition from the 1927 play The Little Mahagonny. Their take resembles the soundtrack to a debauchery-soaked carnival, what with its oompah beats, crooked-stair-step organ and fanciful marxophone.
13. Peace Frog (1970)
The Doors’ later years with Morrison could be tumultuous due to his worsening addictions, although he never lost his penchant for savvy lyrical juxtapositions. For the funky, upbeat-sounding Peace Frog, the vocalist drew on both his backlog of poetry and moments of real-life chaos: a 1967 arrest during a show in Connecticut.
12. The End (1967)
Few bands captured apocalyptic dread better than the Doors. Like a psychedelic mist rolling in from the sea, The End fittingly concludes the band’s 1967 self-titled debut LP, shrouding the album with nearly 12 minutes of droning funereal organ, tangled guitar, and Morrison’s fire-and-brimstone incantations.
11. Strange Days (1967)
The title track of the Doors’ second album is notable for the prominent presence of a then-new instrument, the Moog synthesizer. The shimmering keyboard adds a futuristic and disoriented sheen to the music, mainly by amplifying the bewildered vibe of Morrison’s lyrics and facilitating the addition of subtle vocal effects.
10. Roadhouse Blues (1970)
The first song on Morrison Hotel, Roadhouse Blues is exactly as advertised: a gritty, smouldering rocker that’s rooted in the fiery passion and guitar acrobatics of the blues greats. Guest Lonnie Mack adds vivacious bass flourishes, while the Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian, using a pseudonym, contributes colourful harmonica.
9. Hello, I Love You (1968)
Hello, I Love You’s chord sequences are so similar to the Kinks’ All Day and All of the Night that Ray Davies reportedly receives royalties on the song. This similarity doesn’t necessarily diminish the rakish charms of the Doors’ propulsive hit: Morrison sings as if he’s dizzy with desire as the rest of the band pound out a fuzzed-out racket behind him.
8. LA Woman (1971)
A choogling jazz-folk odyssey driven by buoyant piano, the title track of LA Woman finds the Doors in a loose, rambunctious mood. The tempo downshifts and accelerations buttress Morrison’s last great vocal performance, a self-referential countercultural howl depicting the California city’s wild side and the narcissism of his own mythology.
7. Moonlight Drive (1967)
When college friends Morrison and Manzarek reconnected after graduating from film school, the future Lizard King sang Moonlight Drive at their first meeting, and the Doors were born. Driven by economical Manzarek piano and Krieger’s freewheeling slide guitar, the finished song fittingly exudes a mystical blues-rock vibe.
Morrison in 1968. Photograph: Everett Collection / Rex Feature
6. Soul Kitchen (1967)
While ostensibly about a Venice Beach soul food cafe Morrison haunted late at night, the storming Soul Kitchen can also scan as a song about finding solace in someone else’s arms. The song was later covered by Echo and the Bunnymen, a band led by avowed Doors acolyte Ian McCulloch, and the punk band X.
5. Touch Me (1969)
Krieger wasn’t immediately thrilled with the jaunty horns and strings sweeping through Touch Me. However, he eventually warmed to the added instrumentation – and Morrison rose to the occasion, turning in an over-the-top vocal performance tinged with dashes of both Elvis Presley and a louche jazz singer.
4. People Are Strange (1967)
With its downtrodden mood and disaffected lyrics (“People are strange when you’re a stranger / Faces look ugly when you’re alone”), People Are Strange is an anthem for the disenchanted. Musically, however, it’s surprisingly buoyant, thanks to sharp-cornered arrangements with a theatrical edge.
3. Light My Fire (1967)
Incredibly enough, a 20-year-old Krieger’s first stab at songwriting resulted in one of the Doors’ signature songs, Light My Fire. The musician deliberately strived for complex arrangements, which meshed well with the contributions from his ambitious bandmates, such as Manzarek’s rollicking intro and Morrison’s incisive ruminations about the intersection of love and death.
2. Break on Through (To the Other Side) (1967)
The Doors excelled at constructing sonic pastiches that sounded original. Take their debut single, Break on Through (To the Other Side): band members have admitted that the song nicks aspects of tunes by Paul Butterfield, Ray Charles, Stan Getz, and Them – yet the quivering bass line and thundering dynamics sound fresh and explosive.
1. Riders on the Storm (1971)
In early 1971, Morrison recorded his last bit of music with the Doors: paper-thin overdubbed vocals at the end of Riders on the Storm. It’s a fitting (and mysterious) ending to his tenure with the band, especially considering how the LA Woman album-closer became the quintessential Doors song. Born out of an impromptu jam on the early country and western hit (Ghost) Riders in the Sky: A Cowboy Legend, the gothic-twang epic rolls in like a menacing fog. Manzarek’s burbling Rhodes piano punctures the ominous vibe, as Morrison murmurs alternating lyrical references to a serial killer and his own chaotic love life.
First published at The Guardian, Thursday 24 June 2021. See; https://www.theguardian.com/music/2021/jun/24/the-doors-greatest-songs-ranked
Lead picture: Live Live Music.