Saturday, December 10, 2016

Soundtrack for The Strip

The Doors (AM9) introduced the hazy, drug-addled dreamland of Jim Morrison. The set list looks like a 'best of' with one of the strongest openers ever, "Break on Through (To the Other Side)," a track that pretty much defines the newly celebrated drug-culture of the mid-60s. "Light My Fire," the anthemic closer to the A side is one of 60's most endearing moments, from the infectious organ intro to Robbie Kreiger's typically underrated guitar work, "Light My Fire" may be the finest single of the decade. (The edited version at just over three minutes, and minus most of the solos, spent three weeks at No. 1.)    

Certainly, the most affecting track is the hypnotic "The End", an odyssey that drifts, sways, vibrates... "This is the end, my only friend, the end." Terminal and fatalistic, "The End" was just the sort of psychedelic nihilism that appealed to a discontented and oppressed youth roaming the Strip. Decades later it still addresses the faux tragic poet in everyone. There is a moment in many an angst-ridden teen's life when he or she takes The Doors painfully seriously (even today's Caucasian youth who tend to embrace, through hip hop, a culture that isn't even theirs).  It comes right after they're old enough to understand that the world is a serious, confusing, and complicated place and just before they're mature enough to appreciate the value of humor, irony, or self-awareness.  Jim Morrison apparently never matured beyond this state of being and The Doors' earth shaking debut is all the better for it, "The End" its masterstroke. 

On Mr. Tambourine Man (AM8), the 12-string twang of Roger McGuinn's Rickenbacker is as distinctive as that of the Fender Stratocaster: unforgettable and (in the hands of a competent musician) mesmerizing. The Byrds early on were acoustic musicians with no real experience in electric, yet here on their debut the guitar work is complex, interwoven and delicate: electric guitars with "acoustic" sensibility. Maybe it was luck. Mr. Tambourine Man holds the destinction as the first folk-rock album: a juxtaposition of Dylan's brilliant poetry and British Invasion influences, the harmonic vocals are as beautiful as that of the Hollies. For fans of intoxicating melody and harmony, the Dylan compositions are heavenly. The classic Byrds' sound of soaring three-part harmonies and ringing electric 12-string guitars is entirely assimilated by the group here in its infancy. 

Few rock 'n' roll bands hit the ground running as did The Byrds (or The Doors). Their 1965 debut welds folk's socially conscious sentiment to rock's driving backbeat, creating an electric spark that reverberates to this day. The chiming Rickenbacker of the title tune and soaring harmonies of "Spanish Harlem Incident," "All I Really Want To Do" and "Chimes of Freedom" took Dylan's songs to a place he himself could never get. Gene Clark's original "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better" serves as a template for nearly every lost-love jangle-pop song that ever followed, and though you could dance to its backbeat, The Byrds' arrangement of Pete Seeger's "The Bells of Rhymney" carries its disastrous subtext in the sublime drone of McGuinn's 12-string and the closing harmonies. The band's originals, like "You Won't Have to Cry" and "It's No Use," show off the Beatles' heavy influence (albeit, filtered through The Byrds harmonic sensibilities), as well as the club-rock sounds breaking out along the Strip. Mr. Tambourine Man and The Doors sum up the L.A. 60s vibe yet translate seemlessly to a brave new, youth-oriented, world.