Posts Tagged ‘The Doors’

Bruce Springsteen says he learned more from a 3-minute record, baby, than he ever learned in school. I’m grateful to have graduated from a much better school system than the one Bruce was stuck in. I learned more in 3 minutes in any class at Somerset High, Somerset, Massachusetts (Go Raiders!) than I ever learned from Deep Purple, Three Dog Night, or Tommy James & The Shondells. But Springsteen was right to emphasize 3 minutes, and not just because “a 4-minute record, baby” doesn’t scan as well and anyway is too reminiscent of a 4-minute mile.

Three-minute records (which I take to mean 3:01 to 3:59) are still the bread and butter of popular music, even though the format they were created for, the 45rpm, no longer exists. This length gives you enough time to sink into a song but not enough time to drown. (In general. There are 2-minute songs that drag and 4-minute songs that fly. Anything by Coldplay is automatically too long.)

I’m guessing that most of the music I listen to (and you, too) is in the 3-minute range, with the next group following at 4:01 to 4:59, followed by 5 minutes, 6 minutes, etc. The number of recorded pop songs longer than 10 minutes thins out quickly, and for every triumph past that mark (The Door’s “The End,” David Bowie’s “Station to Station,” Love and Rockets’ “Body and Soul”) you trip over something like Mountains’ live version of their own “Nantucket Sleighride,” which weighs in at a hard-to-overlook 17:34.

I can only assume that back in 1972 the band performed their masterwork behind a screen of chicken wire to protect them from volleys of beer bottles. “Nantucket Sleighride” is a symphony as imagined by a quartet of metal-munching hippie delinquents. “Nantucket Sleighride” goes on so long that is has themes, movements, fugues, moods, tempos, lyrics, tides, a guitar imitating a triangle, a tugboat yearning for its mate, and what I think are wet blankets fired from a circus cannon.

The boys in Mountain, who did their best to out-bloat Wagner, produced a song that will never be included in any list of the 1 million songs you should listen to before the universe explodes. However, I took a lot of drugs to this album, Sludge Hammer*, and thanks to the miracle of nostalgia and disjointed synapses I still find “Nantucket Sleighride” to be audacious and irresistible.

What happens to pop music after 17 minutes and 34 seconds? That way lies “Tubular Bells,” Quicksilver Messenger Service, prog rock, Yes, Rick Wakeman of Yes, Phish, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, probably Yes again, motels, money, murder, madness, and today’s special guests, The Allman Brothers Band.**

The Allmans’ Eat a Peach (1972) is generally thought to be the band’s high point, though not by this critic. Give me the economy of Brothers and Sisters (1973) any day. I don’t care that Eat a Peach has all those live tracks because that’s where the problem is: “Mountain Jam,” which is not only 33 minutes and 41 agonizing seconds long, it was inspired by Donovan. Apparently, it’s impossible to keep Donovan out of a music blog these days.

I was bludgeoned by “Mountain Jam” at an Allman Brothers concert in 1975 and I didn’t even get a lousy T-shirt. The Allmans in those days packed enough amplification to sterilize everyone not wearing lead dirndls. I didn’t wear my dirndl that night and now you know why I’ve never had kids. Somewhere around the halfway point of “Mountain Jam,” my mind floated away and I could no longer hear the music. All I could do was stare at the band. If I had gone to a Bangles concert in 1985 and they had played a 33-minute version of “Walk Like an Egyptian,” I’m sure I would’ve lost containment then, too. But at least I would’ve been staring at The Bangles. The Allmans, even when they were flush with youth, were not stareable.

“Mountain Jam” makes the Allmans’ 22-minute “Whipping Post” from their At Fillmore East live set sound like a model of musical frugality. When I was 16 I thought the crescendo of “Whipping Post” was rock’s answer to the 1812 Overture. Now I just hear it as everyone barking at everyone else.

Is it possible to produce a 15-minutes-or-more recording that won’t put people to sleep or send them to their Kindles to read another chapter of Fifty Shades of Grey? Probably not, but one interesting attempt that I know of is The Byrds’ 16-minute go at their iconic “Eight Miles High,” from the album Untitled/Unissued (1970). It’s focused, it’s well-played, it crosses the line into jazz, and if I’d gone to that concert instead of to the Allmans’ I’d have 16 kids today. Oh, wait.

Reader challenge: I can’t think of any particularly lengthy songs (say 12-15 minutes or longer) after about 1990. If you can, please enlighten me. I have a hypothesis that song lengths have decreased since the hippie era, at least at the long end, but I need data. Phish, Widespread Panic, and Blues Traveler are disqualified. Come on, people, let’s move like we have a purpose!

* OK, the real name was Live (The Road Goes Ever On).

** Special D just raised her hand and asked where Pink Floyd is on this list, but I don’t see the point of her question.

In our last, very exciting episode, I watched The Doors, listened to The Doors, and was floored. I then set out on a quest to find the Best Debut Albums of the 20th Century By Newcomers Who Aren’t Somebody Stupid Like Foreigner. I restricted the contestants to albums named for the band (as in The Doors by The Doors). This squeezed out some worthy discs. Here are my favorites.

The Beatles, Please Please Me (1963)
There are two amazing things about this record. One, The Beatles recorded Please Please Me in, like, a day, even though Paul was dead, John was a walrus, and Yoko had already broken them up. Two, rock ’n’ roll went from holding your hand to sleeping in your soul kitchen in about three years. Shake it up baby now.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced? (1967)
I have two connections with Jimi Hendrix. According to Wikipedia, “Hendrix’s first gig was with an unnamed band in the basement of a synagogue, Seattle’s Temple De Hirsch. After too much wild playing and showing off, he was fired between sets.” In 1981, I played in Seattle’s Jewish softball league for Congregation Beth Shalom. Playing Temple De Hirsch was like playing the New York Yankees. They had the money and the manpower – their congregation was five times the size of ours. One of their rabbis searched their roster until he found half a dozen men who had played minor-league ball and then persuaded them to join the temple’s team. You could not hit anything past that infield. And all of those guys had visited that basement.

My other connection comes from the 1997 marriage of my friends Liz and Mitch. While speaking to the bandleader between sets, he confided in me that he had known Hendrix as a kid and had taught him “everything he knew.” I wanted to ask him why the man who taught Hendrix everything he knew was playing weddings 30 years later, but then the bride and groom handed out bubble blowers and I got distracted. Anyway, I shook the hand of the man who taught Hendrix everything he knew.

If Jimi Hendrix were alive today, he’d be cutting discs with Wynton Marsalis, Danny Elfman, and Yo-Yo Ma, but not, I hope, with Coldplay.

Elvis Costello, My Aim Is True (1977)
This jet-propelled collection of songs gives you absolutely no clue to the musical continents Costello would explore over his career. Even so, he’d still be remembered today even if he had just recorded this disc and his follow-up, This Year’s Model.

The Cure, Three Imaginary Boys (1979)
The normally dour Robert Smith must’ve been on antidepressants when he made this zippy little record. The cover of “Foxey Lady,” once it finally gets going, is hilarious.

Gary Numan, The Pleasure Principle (1979)
When I was 24 I wanted to be an android and I’m sure you did too. Numan isn’t as frightening as he used to be – he’s on The Muppets’ soundtrack. (If you’re curious, The Muppets is Prairie Home Companion with better jokes.)

Echo & The Bunnymen, Crocodiles (1980)
Crocodiles is haunting and dreamlike, which makes it the closest thing on this list to The Doors, emotionally. Echo and all those bunnies don’t rock as hard as The Doors, but they do pretty well with “Read It in Books” and “All That Jazz.” Their lyrics are fun to sing but mean just about nothing. The first few notes of “Rescue” somehow tell the story of my life.

The Dream Syndicate, The Days of Wine and Roses (1982)
In the 1960s, the Philadelphia Phillies had a double-play combination of Bobby Wine and Cookie Rojas. No headline writer of that era could resist the headline “Days of Wine and Rojas.”

The Dream Syndicate was a major influence on what is today called “alternative.” Don’t ask me to tell you what “alternative” means. But I can tell you that this is a terrific rock record, especially the title track. Steve Wynne sounds just like Lou Reed, who initially tried to sound just like Bob Dylan. No one wants to meet the guy Dylan has been imitating.

Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine (1989)
One of the best records of the ’80s, with a title that will always describe my first dog, Emma. Trent Reznor, who recorded almost everything on this album by himself and then formed a band, is not a happy man:

Hey God
Why are you doing this to me?
Am I not living up to what I’m supposed to be?
Why am I seething with this animosity?
Hey God
I think you owe me a great big apology.
(“Terrible Lie”)

If you’re feeling euphoric and you want to tone that down a little, Pretty Hate Machine is the album for you.

Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville (1993)
Ms. Phair can’t sing, and when she tries she’s consistently flat, maybe because her mouth is shaped funny. But she has an interesting voice, and she writes piercing songs in the manner of Chrissie Hynde, though she’s more vulnerable:

And the license said you had to stick around until I was dead
But if you’re tired of looking at my face, I guess I already am
(“Divorce Song”)

Liz Phair emerged from the lo-fi indie world. (“Lo-fi” and “indie” are code for “We are so not Steely Dan.”) Exile in Guyville reflects her origins – it sounds as if it had been put together in her living room. It’s one of the landmarks of the ’90s, even though it doesn’t include her big hit, “Supernova,” which is about me. Many of these songs throw structural tricks at you, such as “Johnny Sunshine” – the first minute of that song is the best minute on the album. Like The Doors, Phair has never hit this personal standard again.

Beck, Mellow Gold (1994)
Jim Morrison may have acted like he was a shaman, but Beck actually is. The ubiquitous “Loser” leads off this monster, but it’s nowhere near the best song – just listen to “Beercan.”

Veruca Salt, American Thighs (1994)
You read it here first: Veruca Salt and Soundgarden are actually the same band. Chris Cornell was the voice of Soundgarden; Louise Post and Nina Gordon were the voices of Veruca Salt. You could swap them and the music would be almost the same. I’d love to hear Louis and Nina sing “Fell on Black Days,” with Chris singing “Seether.” Soundgarden released Superunknown, their fourth album, in the same year, which just proves that these are people who get a lot done in a day.

Postscript: No way am I choosing two obvious debuts, R.E.M.’s Murmur (1983) and Pearl Jam’s Ten (1990). These bands are way overrated, plus look how boring the album titles are. And now Eddie Vedder is giving ukulele concerts! The B-52s warned us about what could happen if parties got out of hand. R.E.M. and Pearl Jam are Exhibits A and B. Puny humans.

I finally watched The Doors, which I meant to see in 1991. (I’ve been busy.) Two hours of Jim Morrison self-destructing is not what I’d call a date movie. I did enjoy the Thanksgiving scene at the home of Morrison and his saintly but scatterbrained girlfriend, which ended with a burnt duck and a knife fight. I’m willing to add these features to next year’s feast if we could do it at someone else’s house.

Doors fun fact: Val Kilmer with long hair and a beard looks just like Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski.

The best Doors movie is still Apocalypse Now, but I was glad I saw Oliver Stone’s depressing film because it made me reconnect with his subject. For those of us who are lucky enough to have reached middle age, The Doors are like the authors we read in high school or college and haven’t touched since. Returning to their 1967 debut album for the first time in maybe 20 years, I was stunned. The Doors  rocks, mocks, and mesmerizes. “Break on Through (to the Other Side)” would be the big radio hit for most other acts. Here it’s just the opener. It’s followed by the funky weirdness of “Soul Kitchen.” And we still have “Light My Fire” and “Twentieth Century Fox” waiting in the middle of the record.

It’s hard to believe that four guys who had been working together for a year could have accomplished so much in so short a time. You could pick and choose from The Doors’ other records and create a standout listen. But even if it included songs such as “Touch Me” and “Love Me Two Times,” this new album still wouldn’t be as good as The Doors.

It’s not as if each member of The Doors was an instrumental wizard. They’re good (the drummer is adequate), but together they manage to be unique. And then there’s Jim Morrison. As a songwriter, he can be brilliant or lame, and he can do both in two consecutive lines, as in “LA Woman”:

Motels, money, murder, madness

With four simple nouns, Morrison pins LA like a butterfly.

Let’s change the mood from glad to sadness

Sadly, this is something I could’ve written in 6th grade.

But only Jim Morrison could lead us through the slow-motion asteroid belt that is “The End,” with its plaintive repetition of “the end,” which he finally rhymes with “I’ll never look into your eyes…again.” The song climaxes with enough murder and madness for anyone, along with some trenchant observations along the lines of “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Yeah fuck!” (Here in the U.S., this line is usually printed as “Kill! Kill! Kill! Yeah kill!”) I could only play The Doors when my parents weren’t home. This was the ultimate trip when I was 12 and I was delighted to discover that I’m still transported by it.

The Doors is the best debut ever recorded
Being me, I wondered which albums would fill out the Debut Top 10. So I made a list. And being me, there are 11 contestants in the Top 10.

The most important part of any project is making sure you can get it done before you die. To keep things manageable, I set these rules:

* 20th century only. I’m not confident picking rock albums after about 1995.

* No country, alt-country, neocountry, outlaw country, or in-law country. Metal is ridiculous. Reggae isn’t, but it doesn’t appeal. I made one exception for rap.

* Since The Doors is named for The Doors, each album must have the same name as the band. A few disqualified yet very worthy discs will appear in my next post.

* I don’t care if the album has the same name as the band, I won’t consider any band named after a U.S. city or state, or any members of the REO Styxjourneywagon military-industrial complex.

* The band has to be composed of newcomers. Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, and Crosby, Stills & Nash are out of bounds.

Here then are my picks for Best Debut Albums of the 20th Century By Newcomers Who Aren’t Somebody Stupid Like Foreigner:

The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967)

Creedence Clearwater Revival, Creedence Clearwater Revival (1968)

The Clash, The Clash (1977)

The B-52s, The B-52s (1979)

The Undertones, The Undertones (1979)

Pretenders, Pretenders (1980)

Run-D.M.C., Run-D.M.C. (1984)

The Smiths, The Smiths (1984)

Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman (1989)

Moby, Moby (1992)

Some thoughts on each:

The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground and Nico
Maureen Howard, the drummer, has no sense of rhythm, and Lou Reed sings like Bob Dylan. If you call that singing. They make The Doors sound like the Vienna Philharmonic. But this garbage scow of a record has left miles of ripples behind it. The Doors had the talent, but the Velvets incited people to make their own music. I don’t know what Nico actually contributed here, and I hate her voice, so I’m pretending that “and Nico” isn’t in the title.

Creedence Clearwater Revival, Creedence Clearwater Revival
This one is a tour of American roots music. In that respect it resembles The Beatles’ debut, Please Please Me, which is about half covers of American R&B artists. Creedence Clearwater Revival has their lengthy cover of “Suzie Q,” which fills the A and B sides of one 45. “Porterville,” one of their originals, showed us where CCR was going.

The Clash, The Clash
The Clash, The Sex Pistols and The Damned all released their first records in 1977, but Johnny Rotten gets on my nerves and The Damned, while riotous, were less technically accomplished than The Velvet Underground. The Clash was a revolution and is one of the most serious competitors to The Doors. “I’m So Bored with the U.S.A.,” “White Riot,” and most of the rest of this lineup hit you like a flight of airborne watermelons.

The B-52s, The B-52s
Wall-to-wall party, featuring “Planet Claire,” “Dance This Mess Around,” and the greatest song of all time, “Rock Lobster.” I wish I could go back in time and swap some babies. My Hanukkah wish is to hear Fred Schneider handle the vocals on “The End” and Jim Morrison tackle “Rock Lobster.” If you imagine the albums on this list existing on a spectrum that runs from serious to frivolous, Tracy Chapman and The B-52s would be the farthest apart.

The Undertones, The Undertones
Take The Clash’s ferocity about politics and focus it on teenagers and their pitiful troubles and you have The Undertones. Cons: This record is a monoculture. The only variation between songs is in the speed with which they’re played. Pros: The 14 songs on this disc are barely half an hour long. The uniformity of sound doesn’t have time to wear out its welcome. “Teenage Kicks” still gets the airplay, but wait’ll you hear “Jimmy Jimmy.” Bonus: As good as this record is, their second album, Hypnotised (which includes their masterpieces, “There Goes Norman” and “My Perfect Cousin”), is even better. Of all the bands I’ve reviewed here, only The Undertones and CCR turned in a substantially superior performance the second time around.

Pretenders, Pretenders
Women have always had to fight for their right to rock. Bands like Heart don’t help. But Chrissie Hynde not only rocked, she disemboweled. There is no song in rock like “Tattooed Love Boys” and few women who can write words and music at Hynde’s high level. Pretenders is still a beacon for the ages. I wrote about the Pretenders at Ladies of the Eighties.

Run-D.M.C., Run-D.M.C.
Recently I ate lunch at a hip Portland burger place full of pale white 20somethings uniformly dressed in black and listening to 50 Cent with the volume cranked to 11. Given my stage of life, I deserved a free burger for correctly identifying 50 Cent. The cashier didn’t see it that way. I came along too late to get into rap, but in 1984 even I could tell that Run-D.M.C. was an early clue to a new direction. I don’t want to listen to it, but I have to acknowledge it. Now get off my lawn.

The Smiths, The Smiths
I always thought these guys were pretty funny, though I’m guessing that they weren’t trying to be, like when they sang about people dying. Here on The Smiths they already sound like veterans, and in fact in the four short years they were together they hardly varied their sound at all. I like to think that The Smiths’ collective philosophy of relationships is summed up by two back-to-back song titles on this disc: “What Difference Does It Make?” and “I Don’t Owe You Anything.”

Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman
Makes you want to reach through the speakers and hold her. Chapman was only 25 when Tracy Chapman appeared, but it was already obvious that she was in total control of her talent and able to tell someone’s life story in a couple hundred super-sharp words. What’s more heart-breaking than “Fast Cars” and the vicious life pattern the narrator struggles to escape? As for “Talkin’ ’Bout a Revolution,” this song has never gone out of style. Just ask Occupy Wall Street.

Moby, Moby
In the ’90s I discovered trance, house, and other forms of electronica. Once I found that I could sink into stuff like Moby and literally enter a trance-like state while I was writing, I was sold. Moby is an odd one, a vegetarian Christian who makes dance music for 24-hour party people who majored in recreational drugs. Praise the Lord and pass the beets.

Next post: Best Debut Albums of the 20th Century By Newcomers Who Didn’t Name Their Debut After Themselves and Who Aren’t Somebody Stupid Like Foreigner. Until then, the Twentieth-Century Fox I married asks you to remember that when the music’s over, turn out the lights.

“Pictures of You”
The Cure
1989

“Space Age Love Song”
A Flock of Seagulls
1982

I coach a chess club at a local school, grades 3-8. My toughest challenges are not explaining how to castle or how the knights move. It’s not the 4th-grade belching contests or the two 5th-grade boys I had to separate because they were fighting over the good-behavior trophy. The real problems are the 12- and 13-year-old girls.

One year, Madison, a 6th-grade girl, came to the club in a torn denim jacket and a Led Zeppelin T-shirt. Trying to bond with her, I said that I’d seen Led Zep in concert. Madison rolled her eyes and I suddenly saw myself as she saw me: an old man, claiming to know something about her music! The following year she showed up with black hair, black lipstick, black fingernail polish, and a Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me Cure T-shirt. I could’ve told her that I’d seen The Cure, too, but I’m a nice guy. I didn’t want to ruin another band for her.

The Cure have been around long enough to draw pensions. They (“they” meaning Robert Smith) are best known for being gloomy. Right up my alley! I’ve already written about my favorite Cure song, “Pictures of You,” a ballad of lost love that is 278 words long. That’s like a Dickens novel in rock ’n’ roll years.

Let’s instead move on to A Flock of Seagulls (affectionately known as A Flock of Haircuts). Loyal Reader Julius questions their existence. My apologies, Loyal Reader. No ’80s dance party would be complete without their two biggest hits, “I Ran (So Far Away)” and “Space Age Love Song.”

There’s not much to say about “I Ran (So Far Away)” that the song doesn’t say itself:

And I raaaaaaan.
I ran so far away.
I just raaaaaaan.
I ran all night and day.
I couldn’t get away.

“Space Age Love Song” is a simply structured number that moves from start to finish in an unvarying line. Sort of like an object in space. It was in constant rotation on MTV in 1982. As Springsteen put it, “57 Channels (and Nothing On).” It is exactly 73 words long, of which 15 are “I was falling in love” and 12 are “Falling in love.” Pithy. “I saw your eyes/and you made me smile,” the Haircuts sing in stanza 1, which is sweet, but the next line is “For a little while,” which is ungrateful. What have you done for me lately, person with eyes? In stanza 2, the narrator sees the eyes again, and this time “you touched my mind.” Cool. Telepathy. No wonder you fell in love.

Don’t take my word for it. Here are A Flock of Haircuts at the height of their powers.

A few years ago in chess club we had a boy who loved Culture Club. When I made the mistake of telling him that I didn’t, he started singing “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me.” By the end of the school year my answer was yes. Music from the 1980s can heal us – or it can be weaponized. Madison understood this when she adopted The Cure as a lifestyle. I’m sure it was her defense against the world and her rebellion against her parents. In the early ’70s I did the same thing to my parents with The Doors (minus the drugs, alcohol, and multiple sex partners).

You wouldn’t think these issues would arise in a roomful of kids playing chess, but they do. Adult themes play out in miniature, just as we play this miniature substitute for war. All you can do with these children is be patient, try to put yourself in their place, and don’t let on that you know anything about their music. Kids need to rebel, and The Cure are a good ally in a rebellion. Or The Doors. But not A Flock of Seagulls.