Tag Archive: The Doors


American Stones

In the ‘60s, rock and roll that was completely American was… kinda lame. After the Day the Music Died and the Chuck Berry/Jerry Lee Lewis pedophilia scandals (thanks, you two for RUINING everything…) America dropped the rock and roll ball. Luckily, the U.K. was ready to swoop in after not too long with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Who. Those bands were all so huge that America spent the next 5 years making carbon copies of British originals. The Beach Boys and other surf rock bands were the only originality the States had to offer. That should tell you something…

the corner of Haight & Ashbury

the corner of Haight & Ashbury

Then came the explosion of the Haight-Ashbury culture, which saw bands like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane coming to the front, and the dark drug culture of the Doors, opposite of the happy pot-smokers in San Francisco. Creedence Clearwater Revival offered a little southern-fried jangle and drawl, but they were too short-lived. And then there was Jimi Hendrix, an American trying to convince all of Europe he was one of them. His backup band was British, and he behaved like a Brit, so who was to say (other than his parents) that he was really American?

It’s ironic but true – rock and roll may have been started by black American blues musicians, but by the ‘60s, it was the domain of British white guys.

In the early ‘70s, things started to heat back up in America, but only slightly. The first few years saw a glut of bands like Kansas, Foreigner, Journey and Styx. But little did the world know that they would soon see the unleashing of a Boston juggernaut: Aerosmith.

Aerosmith

Aerosmith

When Aerosmith slithered on the scene, their eponymous first album was released at the same time and on the same label as another savior of American rock and roll, Bruce Springsteen. Because of that, they didn’t get their proper acknowledgement until a few years later. It also meant they had time to actually earn it. By their third album, Toys In the Attic, they were not only the tightest band making music, but they were ready to be hoisted up as America’s answer to all those great British groups.

It wasn’t an accident that Aerosmith reminded the public of the Rolling Stones. Steven Tyler had a swagger, style and physical profile very similar to those of Mick Jagger, just like Joe Perry was akin to Keith Richards in both appearance and guitar style. Steven and Joe even had a similar dynamic to Mick and Keith; one was the flamboyant and crowd-pleasing frontman, while the other was quieter and more unobtrusive, providing mystique.

I’m not saying there was anything insidious or contrived going on here. Record execs didn’t generate the idea of emulating the Stones in the hope of making more money. Rather, this was a simple matter of Steven and Joe admiring the Stones so damn much. Aerosmith probably made a conscious decision to look like Mick and Keith (long dark hair, skinny, colorful dress), but the similar stage relationship between the two had to be instinctual. To Aerosmith, the Rolling Stones were just “how it was done.” Why wouldn’t they be similar?

Next: the Big Three of rock stardom – can you guess what they are?

Honorable Mentions: 1960s

Now that I’ve covered the 60s, I should take a moment to acknowledge important artists from the era whose albums didn’t make the cut.

The Who

The Who, while a great band, have made relatively few songs that really reach out and grab me. They’re somewhat less accessible than fellow 60s heavies despite their super-famous status. Alas, that status probably comes less from their actual musical merits and more from their sheer volume, instrument-smashing antics and wild, crazy behavior, especially of drummer Keith Moon. For his part, Moon was one of the most brilliant and innovative rock drummers to ever to bless this earth, but it seemed his flame just burned too brightly; it quickly burned out.

Pete Townshend, on the other hand (and I may get in trouble for this) is severely overrated. Sure, he’s written some great tunes; “Baba O’Reilly” is a great little slice of adolescent recklessness. But point me to even one Who song that displays guitar prowess that couldn’t be precisely duplicated by a 7th-grader

Tommy

The Who’s boldest, most notable statement is Tommy, a two-disc rock opera which would work just as well as a Broadway musical as an album. Obviously I’m not the first to think so, since the musical theater version of it premiered in San Diego in 1992. It’s the story of a young boy who, after witnessing the murder of his mother’s lover by his father, becomes deaf, blind and mute. He suffers abuse from various family members, including his sadistic cousin, moronically religious parents and pedophilic uncle. It’s eventually discovered that he has an affinity for pinball, and this (for some reason…) leads people to think he’s some sort of messiah. Honestly, that’s where the story loses me; that idea is too ridiculous for me to reconcile. The plot after this point becomes messy, undirected, and pretty stupid. Some of the music is pretty awesome, but for the most part, it’s pulled down by Tommy’s harebrained story.

I know the Who is one of the most touted rock bands ever, holds the record for loudest concert, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility; I know all that. But I listen to most of their music and just shrug. Most of it seems too dramatic, too forced, or too operatic.

Cream

Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton

I was 15 when I first started playing guitar, and that was when I was in the throes of Smashing Pumpkins fandom, among other modern rock interests. My dad cringed a little at my musical tastes, but his response was one of the most positive things possible: he pointed me towards “real” guitarists, and hoped that they would shape my guitar style rather than my more modern heroes. In part, it worked. I got a Cream greatest hits CD the same Christmas I got my first electric guitar. On the first spin of that album and the first time I heard “Sunshine of Your Love,” my ears pricked up in interest, which is what my dad thought would happen.

Cream’s biggest personality was Eric Clapton, though saying it was Clapton’s band is doing a grave disservice to the 2 other astounding musicians in that group. Jack Bruce pioneered the idea of bass guitar being used as the main rhythm method (no rhythm guitar). Then there’s Ginger Baker. He and Keith Moon serve as inspiration for Animal from The Muppet Show When I listen to the Wheels of Fire version of “Toad,” I can just see him going crazy on his kit. He must be using his head to crash the cymbals.

But the greatness and godhood of Clapton can’t be denied. He was the first guitar deity I ever prayed to, the first leader to win my allegiance. Though the height of his powers was the magical and heart-wrenching Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek & the Dominos, the genesis of his fame lies with Cream.

Even so, Cream had too short a history to make an album that was worth being on this list. If they hadn’t broken up when they did, the rock renaissance of the 70s would have lifted them up to the golden heights, and they may have brought a new definition to what rock music could be, could say, and could stand for. But as it stands, they’re an interesting footnote at best, with sadness at unfulfilled potential as their hallmark.

The Doors

My entrance into college life was achingly stereotypical. I packed up all my stuff in my family’s SUV, and my dad drove with me and my mom the two hours east to Quincy, MA. They moved me in, they dropped me off, they gave me hugs, and they left. But during move-in, I met my first college roommate, named Colin. He had sideburns, a smile that said he was up to something, and wore a Blues Brothers style hat and sunglasses; he looked like John Belushi, only not as fat. We only lived together for about a week before I moved out due to irreconcilable differences, but he remains one of my friends.

Colin was a Doors fan, and before then, I hadn’t really been exposed. He insisted that the Doors were a blues band, pointing to “Roadhouse Blues” as a principle example. Blues they’re not, but what they are is one of the most psychedelic bands ever to walk/talk/tour. When you hear a Doors song, you know it, mostly because of Jim Morrison’s mix of southern drawl and screaming howl, or Ray Manzerek’s distinctive organ-playing.

Jim is one of the major members of the 27 Club, a group of musicians who died at the age of 27. He’s the only member of the club whose death still remains a bit of a mystery. He was found by his longtime girlfriend in the bathtub, and no autopsy was performed. Alcohol or drugs or both are popularly thought to be a contributing factor, Jim’s history being what it was, but no one actually know save his girlfriend and the coroner who handled his body. Some even doubt he’s really dead….

Bob Dylan

I know, I know; Bob Dylan’s a legend. He’s a pioneer, he’s foundational, and about 90% of today’s musicians simply wouldn’t exist were it not for him. I know all that. But with the exception of 2 or 3 songs, I don’t like him. His voice sounds like a geriatric duck squawking while a pickup truck repeatedly runs it over. I fully recognize that he’s written some of the greatest songs that have ever existed. I wish by all that is holy that he would NOT try to sing them. Mr. Zimmerman, I’m not trying to malign you as a person, but for God’s sake take a vow of silence. Thank you.

The Mothers of Invention

Frank Zappa must have been an alien. That’s the only way to explain his totally original thinking, his utter lack of conformity, and his daring, nothing-is-sacred attitude about musical norms and styles. When my friend Mike played me to “Call Any Vegetable,” there are many words to describe my emotions: shocked, confused, irritated, intrigued, dismayed, amused, and weirded out start to cover it. The only thing I can say is that The Mothers of Invention (Frank’s band), are among the most – scratch that – THE most original band of the 60s – scratch that – of the 60s and 70s – scratch that – EVER. (Footnote: “original” doesn’t always equal “good”)

The Beach Boys

According to my parents and sister, I got would regularly get up on the coffee table when I was 3 and dance my heart out to the Beach Boys, sometimes pretending it was a surfboard. I question the veracity of these claims, but that is neither here nor there. The fact remains that the Beach Boys more than an early musical influence to me; they very well may have been the first music I ever heard.

However, they don’t make the cut. Their early output is just beach-oriented airwave filler, and I’m frustrated that, like early Beatles and Stones records, it takes them awhile to get the concept of a unified album. But more than those things, they simple aren’t people I look back on through the annuls of history and say, “I love those guys.” That, and I can’t stand “Kokomo;” every time I hear it I want to bludgeon someone to death.

Canned Heat

Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson, Bob “The Bear” Hite

A lot of people know the “Goin’ Up the Country” song, but have no idea who sang it. I’ll set the record straight; it was Canned Heat, a simple and no-frills blues and boogie outfit that saw its best days in the late 60s. It’s kind of a shame that “Goin’ Up the Country” is their most famous tune, since it’s most certainly not their best. It also doesn’t feature Bob “The Bear” Hite on vocals, their main singer, a dynamic and charismatic frontman. The lead is instead sung by Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson, the lead guitarist and sometime singer.

Where the Bear was rotund and a husky tenor, Blind Owl was pale and pretty, with a reedy alto voice. What could have made Canned Heat great was if they used the interplay between the two singers. I think it could have been very interesting had the Bear and Blind Owl taken duets or back and forth, but as it was, they just traded off songs; sad.

Alan Wilson is yet another member of the 27 Club, though far less well known. He died of a drug overdose in 1970. The reason he doesn’t get the play other Club members get is that he was an unobtrusive member of a semi-famous band; also sad.

Once again, Canned Heat could have been awesome had circumstance allowed them to continue unhindered, but God obviously had other plans for Blind Owl. For the Bear, as well; he died in 1981.

On Monday: A visit from the red guy with horns; he’s bringing his pitchfork.

The Velvet Underground + Nico + Andy Warhol

The prize for the trippiest song of the 60’s is won by “Venus In Furs” by the Velvet Underground (silver medal would go to the Doors’ “The End”). Lou Reed and John Cale were initially brought together by their shared appreciation for the drone: using sustained notes and chords in long and sometimes disharmonious strains, creating a sound that’s designed to help the listener descend into madness. The two of them created drones no stronger than on “Venus In Furs.” Reed’s use of the ostrich guitar is particularly notable. In addition, the lyrics penned by Lou Reed present nothing less squirm-inducing than sado-masochism, which is sexual play-acting that depends upon one person being “master” (or in this case “mistress”) over the other person, who is the “servant.” The servant is completely beholden to the master, dependant on him/her for everything. In this way, the master exerts absolute power over the servant. At its heart, sado-masochism is the desire for power expressed in sexual terms.

“Venus In Furs” is based on a novella of the same name by 19th century Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (his name is where the term “masochism” comes from). The novella appears to make a comment about equality among the genders, and even has whispers of the women’s movement.

the cover of VU&N, with the peel-off sticker

Finally, we have “European Son,” which completes the dream of the album with a dizzying freak-out of absolute madness. From the very beginning of this nearly 8 minute track, one can hear the nervousness and tension in the music. It’s a dam that is just barely holding the river back for the first minute or so. Suddenly, the sound of breaking glass; a piece of the dam breaks, then another, letting streams of water out at various points. Soon, the dam gives way and the entire river rushes forward with abandon. The Velvet Underground & Nico ends in approximately seven minutes of utter chaos; instruments become amorphous shapes in a multi-colored world, and the swirls and pinwheels of sound lose all form and coherency. When the album finally ends, the listener is crying “no more.” Oddly enough, “European Son” is nothing compared to the track that ends VU’s second album, “Sister Ray.”

I had heard about the Velvet Underground ever since I really started paying attention to popular music history, which was when I was about 13. However, I had never heard any of their music, or at least not knowingly. I had heard R.E.M.’s two VU cover songs from Dead Letter Office (“Femme Fatale” and “There She Goes Again”), and I had probably heard snippets of VU songs in my voluminous viewing of MTV and VH1. I ate up Behind the Music and Legends like jelly beans. But sadly, it was embarking on the project you are currently reading which brought the Velvet Underground into my zone of deliberate listening. The Velvet Underground was always a name I knew from musical lore, but had no application for. I understood them to be incredibly foundational (half of my musical heroes listed them as a primary influence) but didn’t understand why. In the full scope of my life, my conversion to a Velvets fan has been very recent. Now, on the other side of it, I wonder what took me so freakin’ long.

Friday: the art of Jimi Hendrix