Suffice it to say that Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robbie Krieger, and John Densmore set the night on fire with their debut album, the 1967 Elektra release of The Doors. That amalgamation of blues, rock, pop, jazz, and pure poetry has recently turned 50 years old, and so it’s received its first-ever box set expansion from Rhino as a limited, numbered 3-CD/1-LP hardcover book-style box set including both the original mono and stereo mixes of the original LP (with the mono version appearing on CD for the first time) and a live set on CD, as well as the mono album on heavyweight 180-gram vinyl.
Especially as heard in mono – the centerpiece of this deluxe 50th Anniversary Edition – The Doors is all tough snarl and raw energy from a club-honed garage band. When The Doors entered Sunset Sound in late August 1966, the band had enough material (all jointly credited to the group members) for two albums; the material would be winnowed down to eleven songs for the debut record produced by Paul Rothchild and engineered by Bruce Botnick. It took a bit more than a week and $10,000.00, and the group had an album. First released in January 1967, just months before the Summer of Love, The Doors was a proudly anti-hippie platter: more hellfire and brimstone than peace and love.
The aggressive approach and adventurous, jazz-influenced musicianship were laid out in the opening track (and first single), “Break On Through (To the Other Side).” Melding heavy rock and bossa nova, “Break On Through” incited controversy for the band – not the first time, and certainly not the last – with its lyric of “she gets high,” the latter word conveniently replaced with Jim Morrison’s wail. (Later issues, including the 2006 stereo and 5.1 remixed editions, restored the original word, and also speed-corrected the entire album. Note that there are still variances in the timings of the original mono and stereo mixes as presented here.)
Love songs, de rigeur for the era, weren’t overlooked, though The Doors’ approach was a unique one on such tracks as “Soul Kitchen” (“Let me sleep all night in your soul kitchen/Warm my mind near your gentle stove”), inspired by one of Morrison’s favorite haunts in Venice, and “The Crystal Ship,” which morphs from a seemingly romantic ode (“I’d like to have another kiss/Another flashing chance of bliss”) to an impressionistic series of images that leave the song wide open to interpretation. (Is it drugs? Is it suicide?) The slinky paean to a “Twentieth Century Fox” is an effective blues-rock stomper penned for Morrison’s then-girlfriend Pamela Courson.
Any band with a well-honed stage act would have had a number of covers in their repertoire; The Doors were no exception. The Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht showtune “Alabama Song,” a.k.a. “Whisky Bar,” from the play Little Mahagonny (1927) and the opera The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (1930), was certainly an unexpected choice for any American rock band in 1967, but The Doors’ seedy interpretation of the hauntingly jaunty number was spot-on. Willie Dixon’s “Back Door Man” showcased the band’s spin on the blues.
Of course, it was “Light My Fire” (primarily written by Krieger) that ignited The Doors’ ascendancy – and that of Jac Holzman’s Elektra label itself – as it became a No. 1 Pop single in a version substantially edited from the seven-minute album track. (Unfortunately, that single version is still absent from this box set and from widely available release on the CD format overall, despite the fact that the band relented some time ago for a digital release.) The album performance extends the core melody – the most outright “pop” ever written or recorded by the band, in the best sense of the word – with Manzarek and Krieger’s virtuosic jams, both of which were edited out of the 45 RPM version. On “Light My Fire” and elsewhere on The Doors, the band plays intuitively as one unit, with Manzarek’s commanding carnival-esque organ, Densmore’s insistent, jazz-inflected drums, and Krieger’s fluid guitar all supporting Morrison’s electrifying, from-the-gut leads. (The Wrecking Crew’s esteemed bassist Larry Knechtel was brought in to add bass to “Light My Fire” as well as three more tracks on the LP.) “I Looked at You” and “Take It as It Comes,” two Sunset Strip-style rockers, weren’t without hit single potential themselves.
Though “End of the Night” ramps up the mystery and menace on the album, the dark tour de force is, of course, “The End.” The moody, nearly 12-minute Oedipal opus of song and spoken word which concludes The Doors remains as visceral and unsettling now as it must have decades earlier, culminating in Morrison’ anguished, angry exhortation of “F–k, f—k, kill, kill, kill…” Pretentious, perhaps, and hardly typical fare for a band hoping to make it commercially – but undeniably effective.
The 40th Anniversary Edition of 2006 added three studio bonus tracks from August 1966 (two versions of “Moonlight Drive” and one of “Indian Summer”), but alas, those three cuts have not been retained for this reissue. Instead, the bonus tracks consist of a newly-assembled version of the band’s Live at the Matrix. The band’s shows at San Francisco’s Matrix on March 7 and 10, 1967 were first released in 2008 as a 2-CD set with 24 tracks. The presentation here has eight songs from March 7 only, sequenced in the order of The Doors. Just “I Looked to You,” “End of the Night,” and “Take It As It Comes” are missing from the set list. Moreover, the 2017 Live at the Matrix, while considerable shorter than the original release, has been mastered from a better, first-generation source. (The 2008 release was reportedly sourced from third generation tapes.) The upgrade in quality is considerable, although far from pristine quality. The performances are powerfully immediate, not to mention extended even from the album versions, as the band performed in concentrated yet loose style on the cusp of national stardom.
The Doors: 50th Anniversary Edition is packaged in the style of a hardcover book. A pocket to the left houses the mono vinyl and a 12-page booklet, while the right has circular slots for each compact disc. The booklet contains David Fricke’s detailed essay about the making of the album as adapted from a 2010 magazine article, as well as Bruce Botnick’s new commentary. This release, produced and deftly remastered in both mono and stereo by Botnick, can’t be truly called definitive as it lacks the 5.1 surround mix as well as the previously released bonus content associated with the album. But it’s a fine and attractively designed tribute to the original release, particularly for finally re-presenting the mono version with its sheer, punchy musical attack. The power of The Doors can’t be denied.
The Doors: 50th Anniversary Edition is available now at: