Wednesday, February 3, 2021

The Doors of Perception - 1970

It's amazing that there could be so much incredible music simultaneously. The Billboard album Top 10 in December 1970 included Let It Be, Let It Bleed, Deja Vu, Tea for the Tillerman, Moondance, the Doors Live and Morrison Hotel (and that only scratches the surface). Yet more productive than any other band that year, was the Doors.
Now in 1970, it was obvious that Elektra Records liked the young, slim, sexy Jim far more than the fat one he'd become. Both the live album released that year and the compilation, 13, had photos of Morrison from a younger, less alky, day; no beard, no belly. But for those who were really there for the music and not the soap opera that was Mr. Mojo, Jim's voice simply got better with age. You could hear it on Morrison Hotel, but this was the late 60s and artists had to quickly get out another one; the Doors were preparing for L.A. Woman before summer was over. (Morrison Hotel was recorded in December 1969 and January 1970.)

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I think the wonderful part of Calif. by R.J. Stowell is that as you read, you get to experience the California of 50 years ago, and in 1970, this happened (and it's just page 1):

     “I love the places I’ve never been,” she said. Farmgirl stared out the window like a puppy. “There it is!” I knew where it was; I’d grown up in L.A. Barney’s Beanery, Santa Monica Blvd., the beginning or the end of Route 66. We took a booth by the pool table. There was a book of matches in the ashtray that said, “Fagots Stay Out.”

     Two guys who looked like Jim Morrison were playing Eight Ball and arguing. The first was the young Jim; the other, the fat one with the beard. I liked them both. I had a chili-size and Hadley, Farmgirl, had a vanilla Coke and an order of fries with gravy. As the waitress walked away she said, “Gravy is so much better than ketchup it’s not even worth talking about.”

     When the Morrisons left, Farmgirl jumped up to grab the table. She stood at the register with a dollar bill and got quarters from a scroungy old man who shaved his gray whiskers like a poorly mown lawn. She pushed her quarter into the slot and the balls tunneled down.

Back to our program...
Okay, back to the Doors and the fat Jim. On Morrison Hotel the band was clearly returning to its blues roots, but for L.A. Woman, arguably the Doors' greatest achievement, each simply excelled. Morrison Hotel was a comeback of sorts, fusing a newfound appreciation for blues with the group's early sound. With few exemptions, L.A. Woman reveals how the band left behind the pop flavors of their salad days in favor of straight-ahead, grungy blues.
L.A. Woman’s bluesy existential bent and its bar-band R&B flow freely on the two hardest cuts, "Been Down So Long" and "Cars Hiss By My Window," oddly stripped of Ray Manzarek's trademark keyboard. It shows the incredible musicianship of Manzarek, who knew when to keep it low. The title cut is a strong rocker where the instruments rip and burn, a testament to a city as the ultimate femme fatale, a place Morrison viewed as diseased and alienating. "L'America" is the third rail here, a potent psychedelic chestnut rejected from Antonioni's "Zabriskie Point" but it has an odd otherwordly energy, as does Robbie Kreiger's "Love Her Madly." Pretty good when these are the weakest tunes on the album. "Riders On The Storm" fittingly closes the LP with a strong jazzy sensibility and ominous thunder and rain, a sad testament to a life lived on the edge of the abyss. L.A. Woman is a fitting "signing off" from the Lizard King.
And here's my recommendation – but caution, I've evolved since the isolation began – buy this LP on 180-gram vinyl. That's right, you heard it from me, buy new! In my vintage stereo days, I would never have said this, but having switched up to PS Audio and an audiophile turntable, I'm embracing new vinyl anew. While the 180-gram part is a gimmick (but not for 70s era RCA Dynaflex LPs – which were horrible – definitely replace your old Bowie), the remastering of L.A. Woman for the 2019 vinyl release is magic. The stereo separation is sublime, and the lack of surface noise reveals the pressing we've waited for for nearly 50 years.

Calif. is available here on AM. Send us an email at and we will invoice you through PayPal -OR- Click on the link to your right to order from Amazon.

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