4.5 out of 5 Stars!
I freely confess, I was never a fan of The Doors during the band’s actual existence (from 1965-1973). In hindsight, the reason was certainly understandable—when the band burst onto the scene in ’67 with its self-titled album, I was only seven years old, and during that time in my young life, The Monkees were (to my mind) the next best thing to peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and chocolate milk. Then, when I really started “getting into” music around the age of eleven or twelve, no one within my circle of friends even owned an album by The Doors, but instead, introduced me to “new” and exciting groups they’d discovered such as Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Jethro Tull, Yes, The Allman Brothers Band, Grand Funk Railroad, Led Zeppelin, Bloodrock, and Black Sabbath. Plus, by this time, The Doors had already lost Jim Morrison (RIP) and were already considered “old hat” and “hanging on by a thread.”
Therefore, it wasn’t until the early ’80s—when I’d reached my twenties and regularly performed in my own groups—that I gained an interest in the band. For this sudden exposure, I thank a Chicagoland act called Moonlight Drive. As the name implies, the outfit was a “Doors tribute band,” fairly popular in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, and I luckily found my own band playing several shows with the group in the tri-state region. Of course, I’d certainly heard of The Doors, but only knew the hit singles such as “Hello, I Love You” and “Touch Me,” and had always thought the band rather lightweight and way too “acid rock poppish” for my tastes. But after seeing Moonlight Drive deliver a dramatic, heavy-hitting set of The Doors’s best tunes, including many of the non-hit singles, on several nights, I suddenly found myself hooked. Only then did I realize that The Doors’s back catalogue apparently had much more to offer than the Pop-Rock fare I’d always associated with the band, so on a whim, I subsequently purchased the six studio albums from the “Jim Morrison” heyday.
My favorite of the group’s platters not only proved to be the “rockingest” of them all—no surprise, considering my preference for heavier material—but also the last of the Morrison albums. On L.A. Woman, the group included one amazing track after the other—not one “filler” in sight—and I ended up playing it regularly through the decades, certainly more so than any of the group’s earlier efforts, which I consider less consistent (and yes, as on 1969’s The Soft Parade, for instance, occasionally way too light for me). Additionally, this collection had a biting edge to it, along with a darker atmosphere (perhaps since I knew it would end up being Morrison’s swansong), and also included more Blues-based tunes as opposed to much of the group’s previous and “trippier” Psychedelic-tinged work.
Here, Morrison performs at his grittiest and gruffest best, belting out the lyrics with an almost punkish urgency and dementia—I have to believe that vocalists such as David Johansen from New York Dolls gained much inspiration from Morrison’s performances—where I can easily forgive his occasional inaccuracies regarding pitch. Moreover, his often cryptic and mysterious lyrics are, as ever, pure poetry, justifiably earning him legendary status in the rock ‘n’ roll world.
Meanwhile, although never a stable fan of Ray Manzarek’s organ tones (depending on the track, such as the catchy hit “Love Her Madly,” where the Hammond has a Farfisa sound that always rubbed me the wrong way), his rollicking performances on the funky opener “The Changeling” and the thumping “The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)” helped launch both tunes to the top of my “favorites” list, plus his strange Hammond insertions on “L’America” made for some creepiness I found endlessly charming. And of course, his wildly melodic traditional piano dexterity on the bopping “L.A. Woman” as well as the Fender Rhodes that graces that composition and also provides the haunting leads and solid chord patterns on the stunning “Riders on the Storm” aided to create two unforgettable and endurable classics, which incidentally are my other two favorite tracks not only on this album, but in the band’s entire catalogue.
Meanwhile, Robby Krieger impresses throughout. His guitar leads (especially on the bluesier songs “Been Down So Long,” “Crawling King Snake,” and “Cars Hiss By My Window”) are always tastefully executed and often inspired, while his rhythm guitar bits (as well as those provided by “guest” rhythm guitarist Marc Benno) never distract or hog center stage when not warranted, allowing the songs to breathe without clutter. Drummer John Densmore also displays the full spectrum of his skills, his tempos always tight and punchy, and his fills perfectly appropriate on both the rockers and the laid-back numbers. Additionally, although just one in a long string of session bassists playing on each of the band’s studio albums, Jerry Scheff also delivered a meritorious performance, his bass lines working in perfect tandem with Densmore’s beats, and his riffs always melodious with first-rate implementation. Plainly speaking, in my estimation, he was the “guest bassist” through the years who offered the most energy and backbone to the band’s overall sound.
Regardless, anyone still unfamiliar with The Doors (and without the good fortune of having a tribute band like Moonlight Drive to provide a marvelous replica) who yearns to investigate the band, L.A. Woman is a great place to begin, since it shows the group at the height of its fame and creativity. After Morrison’s passing, the surviving members went on to release two additional albums, but alas, the music seemed a pale imitation of what appeared on this platter, so who knows what else the band may have fashioned had Morrison not left this planet so tragically young? I can’t help thinking that, if L.A. Woman gives any indication, chances are it would’ve likely been just as exceptional.