Opening The Doors

The Doors brought many innovations to rock. They were the first group to introduce the theater song and its derivatives into the realm of popular music. The album was also the first successful synthesis of the spirit of rock and the feeling of jazz. Touches like the cymbal ride intro into Break On Through and the Latin feel to the verses of Take It As It Comes are more jazz than rock. While I Looked At You was basic pop, the inclusion of pure blues such as Willie Dixon and Howling Wolf's Back Door Man foretold the white blues revival that was to dominate the rock scene for well over a year.

No one can deny the diversity of the musical styles on the first album. There're blues (Back Door Man), an epic (The End), a European feel (Alabama Song), hard rock (Break On Through), a classical influenced arrangement (Light My Fire), and a couple of pure ballads (End Of The Night and The Crystal Ship). This musical diversity was always a part of the band, but the first album stands as the group's finest reconciliation of their schizoid musical impulses. 'If Back Door Man established Morrison's erotic credentials, Soul Kitchen enhanced them; if the garish California neon of Twentieth Century Fox captured 1967, then The Alabama Song related it to the 1930s. Just as The Crystal Ship described a voyage to unexplored realms, The End completed the trip, and while Light My Fire may have been the first truly gutsy love song, Break On Through was the most deceptive of them all.

There's an equal depth and diversity to the lyrics. The Doors were the first rock band to do a Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht composition. Alabama Song is from the German Opera The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny where every pleasure is for sale, and everything is permitted but poverty. (What does that remind you of?) It is a sort of sarcastic tribute to the decadent era after World War I when Germany exploded with a depraved insanity that paved the way for the rise of Nazism. Ironically, it was the same type of whiskey and women braggadocio that paved the way for the decline of Jim Morrison.

Twentieth Century Fox is a riveting portrait of the suburban wonderchild placing more value on sophistic"tion and control than getting in touch with her real emotions. The message of Soul Kitchen is "learn to forget,' a phrase on the order of "the answers are blowing in the wind." and one that conjures up similar thoughts and emotions. The song is a harsh commentary on the importance of learning to forget in order to survive emotionally intact in this grubby world.

But Light My Fire is really the essence of the first album. One critic called it "a calculated explosion of raw, yet focused power." The music of the song did just what the words talked about: built up heat and light until a fire is started. The "C'mon, c'mon, c'mon" sequence at the end was described by Paul Williams, the founding editor of Crawdaddy, as "the most powerfully controlled release of accumulated instrumental kineticism known on record." Williams said the song built "to a truly visual orgasm in sound."

While Light My Fire is unquestionably a hypnotic piece of music, there are those who feel it pales lyrically before every other tune on the record. Robby's gifts may have been more melody than words, but there is an implied depth in many of the lyrical phrases that combine with the majestic arrangement and passionate vocal to make a hedonistic, blissful celebration of a Dionysian attitude sound almost intellectual and Apollonian.

The tour de force on the first album is the long, improvised composition, The End, a staggering drama that broadened the thematic scope of rock. The End tells of the impending end of a love affair quite possibly by murder. A cathartic experience, the psychosexual epic ends with patricide and Oedipal love. The song is a theatrical achievement in music; there was nothing in rock to compare to what was done here with one chord in terms of rhythmic and melodic variation backing a complex story line. The End builds to a realization of mood rather than being a sequence of events. Morrison's masterpiece was almost pure poetry - an eleven minute Freudian jam in the key of E which remains perhaps the single most astounding track that The Doors ever recorded. One critic said the lyrics sounded "as if Edgar Allan Poe had blown back as a hippie."

[Excerpted from Break On Through by James Riordan and Jerry Prochnicky]
copyright 2003 Riordan/Prochnicky/

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The Genesis of Jim Morrison's Poetry