The Doors: L.A. Woman - 40th Anniversary Edition
L.A. Woman: 40th Anniversary Edition
In the end, The Doors were a jazz organ trio playing the blues, what keyboardist Ray Manzarek called "The Modern Jazz Quartet of Rock." Flirting with psychedelia on its first four albums, providing an acid soundtrack to 1967's Summer of Love, and releasing a critical career- killing album in The Soft Parade (Elektra, 1969), the band found its roots and made comeback skid-marks with Morrison Motel (Elektra, 1970) in the lowdown brilliant white-man boogie of "Roadhouse Blues." The Doors perfected this sound on what was appropriately their swan song, L.A. Woman (Elektra, 1971). Forty years on, L.A. Woman remains that perfect and troubled cultural enigma, that coda to what the Rolling Stones' ghastly free concert at Altamont started: the end of 1960s innocence and hope and the beginning of the 1970s' "elegantly wasted" surplus. That is what "Riders on the Storm" was all about.
L.A. Woman can be considered the Doors' version of the Beatles' Let It Be (Apple, 1970): the masterpiece produced from the pressure of a popular band imploding beneath the weight of its collective egos and the musicians' chosen excesses. Singer Jim Morrison could never be accused of being the poster child for great mental health and by 1970 he was fraying on all fronts. After the encouraging success of Morrison Hotel (and in the shadow of Morrison's indecency conviction), the band was encouraged by its producer Paul Rothchild to record again. Recording started, Morrison drug his feet and Rothchild criticized the new song "Love Her Madly" as "cocktail music" ultimately leaving the band to complete the new recording on its own. Among the chaos, hurt and confusion, the band did exactly that, creating its Symphonie Fantastque in L.A. Woman.
The recording was made mostly live in the Doors' Workshop at 8512 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood. After the exit of Rothchild, engineer Bruce Botnick stepped in, co-producing the album with the band. Guitarist Marc Benno was added on rhythm guitar, as was Elvis Presley's bassist, Jerry Scheff, giving heft to the sonics. The band taped in white-hot spurts, recording in the garage-like atmosphere, between December 1970 and January 1971 after several false starts as early as October 1970. The recording was interrupted by a planned tour to promote the new album. The tour lasted exactly two dates. The Doors opened the doomed tour at the Dallas State Music Fair on December 11, 1970, performing well. Tapes of this show, including the only live performances of any of the L.A. Woman material ("Love Her Madly," "The Changling" and "L.A. Woman") reveal the band tight and a rasping Morrison loose but engaged. The final Doors show, December 12th at the Warehouse in New Orleans, fell apart with Morrison experiencing an emotional break. The rest of the concert and the tour were cancelled and it was decided that Morrison would no longer tour.
At this point Morrison and his girlfriend, Pamela Courson, were planning a poet's exile in Paris, when the band reminded Morrison that he had an album to complete. Morrison relented, often recording in the Workshop's bathroom, where he believed the acoustics were better. In March 1971, after completing the album, but before mixing it, Morrison and Courson left for Paris where they would both live until Morrison mysteriously joined "The 27 Club" on July 3, 1971, following Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, who died mere months before (also aged 27). At the time and now it all seemed so weirdly and sadly appropriate. In singer Neil Young's mind, it's better to burn out than to fade away.
The music on L.A. Woman is uncompromising and immediate. It reflects Manzarek's interest in both jazz and classical music as well as cabaret fare, all intertwined inventively through the blues. Morrison's frustration and anger are palpable on the James Brown- funky "The Changeling" and the jack-hammer hard "Been Down So Long." This ain't "Love Me Two Times." It's the band's return to the primal, to the blues, in probably a more authentic and honest way than the band's LA peers, Canned Heat, who fashioned itself as some kind of "keepers of the blues flame." The Doors were more successful specifically because of Morrison's lack of attention to authenticity. He did what you do with musical styles, he and the Doors played the blues, transforming the old twelve bars into something new and vital.
In the heroin and honey blues languor of "Cars Hiss By My Window," the Doors' forced the evolution of Southern California's image from The Beach Boys' "California Dreaming" by transmogrifying it into "L.A. Woman," the pinnacle then preceding, predicting and prevailing over both Motley Crue's "Girls, Girls, Girls" and Guns N' Roses' "Paradise City." The road quality of the recording's three central songs, "Lover Her Madly," "L.A. Woman" and "Riders on the Storm," lends a heartbeat to the band's nihilistic vision of Southern California. The tracks possess in inherent momentum, so that only the first notes need be struck to set the sound in motion with a life of its own.
"Crawling Kingsnake," the John Lee Hooker statement, falls in behind this momentum, Morrison's throwback to that other time, slingshot forward into "The WASP," Morrison's poetry sculpted into completion a micro-history of music on the radio. A throbbing, driving beat interrupted by the cabaret jones that gave genesis to "Alabama Song," "Mack The Knife" and the other Kurt Weill allusions present throughout the Doors' band book. If a career were to have to end with a song, let it be "Riders on the Storm," that strange and lonely minor-key blues, shot full of jazz at midnight.
Tracks: CD1: The Changeling; Love Her Madly; Been Down So Long; Cars Hiss By My Window; L.A. Woman; L America; Hyacinth House; Crawling King Snake; The WASP; Riders On The Storm. CD2: The Changeling; Love Her Madly; Cars Hiss By My Window; L.A. Woman; The WASP; Been Down So Long; Riders On The Storm; She Smells So Nice; Rock Me.
Personnel: Jim Morrison: vocals; Robbie Kreiger: guitar; John Densmore: drums; Jeff Scheff: bass; March Benno: rhythm guitar.