Decades before Harry Styles and Justin Timberlake, and even before Jon Bon Jovi, one rock star made women all over the world swoon with his sultry voice, brooding looks and outrageous live performances. Jim Morrison, the frontman of the legendary California band The Doors, redefined what it meant to be a “rock star” while his music brought poetry to life. So if you’re not familiar with one of the greatest American bands ever, allow me give you a brief introduction to the band and their music…
Other than perhaps Mick Jagger, no other rock icon of the late 60s had such charisma and sex appeal as Morrison. He’s been called by some as “the most influential frontman in rock history.” He was dripping with sex appeal, and often taunted and pushed the limits of the law. Morrison is somewhat of a legend, considering his hard-partying lifestyle and drug use, and subsequent mysterious death in a Paris bathtub at 27 years old in 1971. But the band isn’t known only for Morrison and his controversial antics and live performances.
The Doors were pioneers of the “psychedelic” movement of the late 60s, with their music being heavily influenced by drugs like LSD (or “acid”). Their music was also very heavily influenced by the blues. Much like how Bob Dylan changed rock music forever by writing about substantive issues and whose lyrics often questioned societal values, Morrison perfectly blended his poetry with rock music (listen closely to the lyrics of the music). No other artist had previously done that.
A Brief History of the Band… The Doors consisted of drummer John Densmore, keyboardist Ray Manzarek and guitarist Robby Krieger, and of course, Jim Morrison. The band formed in 1965 after Morrison and Manzarek met in L.A. while students at UCLA’s film school. Krieger and Densmore were established musicians on the LA scene but soon joined Morrison and Manzarek to form The Doors, whose name comes from poet William Blake. In Blake’s piece, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” came “If the doors of perception were cleansed, then everything would appear to man as it is: infinite.” Author and philosopher Aldous Huxley had also famously written “The Doors of Perception”, which may have also been an influence.
The band was a fixture on the Sunset Strip, quickly becoming known for Morrison’s outrageous stage antics, and were soon signed to Elektra Records. After that, the rest, so they say, is history. They exploded and became one of the biggest bands in the late 60s.
The Doors released six albums during their brief tenure. The first, “The Doors,” was released in 1967, the same year as the Beatles’ “psychedelic” album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Their self-debut featured two of the most well-known songs, “Light My Fire” (see clip below) and “Break On Through.” The 11-minute epic, known as “The End,” where the lyrics allude to the “Oedipus complex,” rounded out that record.
Their second album, “Strange Days,” followed the same year, and you probably are familiar with the song “People Are Strange.”
The third album, “Waiting for the Sun” was released in 1968, with their well-known song “Hello, I Love You,” kicking off the record.
1969 saw the release of album number four, “The Soft Parade,” which was a departure from their previous three. The band incorporated brass and string instruments, and it was more heavily influenced by the bands’ love of jazz. It was at this point that Morrison’s substance abuse problems grew worse, and he began to drift away from the band, leaving Krieger to write many of the songs on this album. This one also took longer to record and ended up costing a lot more money to create because of the drawn-out writing and recording sessions. Here’s a clip from “Touch Me,” featured on “The Soft Parade.”
The record that features one my favorites, and often a cult favorite, “Peace Frog,” made its debut in 1970. “Morrison Hotel” went back to the band’s bluesy roots and was more well-received by critics. “Indian Summer” is another stand-out track from this album. “Roadhouse Blues” is also one of the band’s more popular songs.
The band’s sixth and final studio album, “L.A. Woman,” was released in 1971, three months prior to Morrison’s death. This album yielded some of the band’s best songs (in my opinion): “Love Her Madly” and “Riders on the Storm.” It was critically acclaimed as the band’s best album. Manzarek has said that many of the songs on “L.A. Woman” are about their experiences living in Los Angeles.
Shortly before “L.A. Woman” was released, Morrison took a hiatus from the band and relocated to Paris with girlfriend Pam Courson in early 1971. He presumably died of a heart attack and was allegedly found by Courson in the couple’s bathtub. There is a lot of mystery surrounding his death, partly because no autopsy was performed. There are some accounts that he died of a heroin overdose. He is buried in Paris, and his grave is often a shrine for fans.
One of the best biographies I’ve read is about Morrison, “No One Here Gets Out Alive,” written by Jerry Hopkins and longtime Morrison friend Danny Sugerman (who wrote one of my favorite books, “Wonderland Avenue” about his friendship with Morrison and struggles with heroin addiction). There are several books written about Morrison, but “No One Here Gets Out Alive” is an incredible read. Check out the 1991 Oliver Stone film, “The Doors,” where Val Kilmer gives a believable performance as Morrison.
Quite simply, this band, while short-lived, matters because they’re one of the most influential bands to come out of the U.S. Morrison redefined what it meant to be a frontman, and the band’s poetic and experimental music has influenced countless bands since. Morrison was a legend, and I don’t feel I’m over-exaggerating by making that statement.
A 16 year old fangirl trapped in the body of a 39 year old 1D AF single mom of three. Probably the only person in the world with Metallica, One Direction, Tiesto and the Beatles all in the same playlist. Loves Zayn Malik, heavy metal music, running and the Indiana University Hoosiers. Big fan of Louis CK and all things sarcastic. Freelance writer and university instructor based in the Chicago area.