Earlier this year, Rhino marked the fiftieth anniversary of The Doors' debut with a 3-CD/1-LP box set premiering the original mono mix of the album for the very first time on CD and including it on vinyl, as well, plus a new version of Live at the Matrix. The label has recently followed that up with a deluxe edition of Strange Days, the band's sophomore album, also in time for its own golden anniversary. (The Doors arrived in January '67, and Strange Days in September of that year.) This time around, the mono/stereo CD set is available on its own, and the mono vinyl is available as a standalone release. This pared-down approach should please those fans who prefer one format over the another and don't wish to purchase a set with both CD and vinyl.
"Strange days have found us/Strange days have tracked us down," proclaimed Jim Morrison in his most sinister tones on the album's haunted opening track. Morrison had never shied away from pondering the darker side of the love generation, and this introductory statement seemed to augur for anything but peace and love on the Sunset Strip: "They're going to destroy our casual joys/We shall go on playing/Or find a new town." Drummer John Densmore held down the tribal-like beat accompanying Ray Manzarek's twisted carnival organ and Robby Krieger's dark licks, while Morrison's use of a Moog to transform his voice gave the song a distinctively psychedelic quality. Guest bassist Douglas Lubahn fattened the sound of "Strange Days" and other tracks on the LP.
For this set of ten moody compositions (all credited jointly to the band) released in the year of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, producer Paul Rothchild, engineer Bruce Botnick, and The Doors made full and inventive use of Sunset Sound's new eight-track facilities. Though much of the album was honed onstage in live performance, the studio became as integral an instrument as the guitar, organ, or drums. The frightful noise of a roiling storm and clattering sound effects underscored Morrison's searing spoken-word "Horse Latitudes." He claimed to have written the poem as a teenager, inspired by the sad history of horses being thrown overboard by the stranded Spanish Armada. Manzarek's backwards organ runs through the dark but decidedly pop-ish "Unhappy Girl."
The Doors also found room for two of their earliest songs, the eerie, blues-rooted "Moonlight Drive" (featuring Manzarek on both piano and harpsichord, dueling in different channels on the stereo version) and "My Eyes Have Seen You," with its stop-and-start rhythm and pounding piano. More of the moment was "I Can't See Your Face in My Mind," with its hazily languid Eastern feel. Like its predecessor, Strange Days ended with a lengthy epic. "When the Music's Over" was a worthy follow-up to "The End." The expansive song took its final form only after the band's many improvisations of it onstage. A multi-part suite, the lyrics took in imagery of rituals, religion, and the environment, tormented by humanity ("What have they done to the earth? What have they done to our fair sister? Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her...") By the time of Morrison's final, insistent yelp of "Music is your only friend/Until the end/Until the end/Until/THE END!" the group had pulled out every trick in its book: four artists operating as one heavy voice.
For all this powerful experimentation, Strange Days (a top five album and eventual platinum seller in the U.S.) yielded two hit singles. "People Are Strange," a No. 12 Billboard hit, returned to the cabaret milieu of The Doors' "Alabama Song," although this time the tune was an original. Manzarek's jaunty tack piano lent an unusual, old-fashioned flavor to the lament for, or ode to, outsiders. The slightly risqué top 25 entry "Love Me Two Times" was, like "Light My Fire," an exercise in carnality lustily sung by Morrison. (It was actually banned by some radio stations, though it lives on in oldies rotation today!)
As the CD premiere of the mono mix is the main attraction here, it's important to note that the mono edition has generally been accepted as being not a dedicated mix but rather a fold-down, i.e. a two-channel stereo mix "folded down" to one stereo channel, with a couple of exceptions. In his new liner notes, original engineer Bruce Botnick disputes this. He describes the tube console at Sunset Sound: "...this particular console had the unique ability to allow simultaneous mixing with separate mono and stereo mixing busses. We listened mainly in mono, as that was the primary medium that played on AM radio, so the mono mix that you are listening to actually reflects our original focus. By no means was the stereo a throwaway, but it was sort of a 'second child.'" While the mono mix is somewhat less "psychedelic" and sonically immersive than its stereo counterpart, it's in-your-face, forceful, and appropriately tough as remastered by Botnick. Both the mono and stereo mixes have been remastered with clarity and power from the original analogue tapes.
Like the 50th anniversary edition of The Doors, this iteration of Strange Days drops the bonus tracks present on the 40th anniversary release - in this case, alternates of "People Are Strange" and "Love Me Two Times." (Ironically, the mono and stereo versions plus the two bonus tracks could handily fit on one CD, so tight is the original album.) In addition to Bruce Botnick's illuminating technical notes on an inner panel of the digipak, the set also includes a 12-page booklet with an equally informative historical essay from David Fricke, and full lyrics for each song.
With its mono CD premiere, this reissue of one of the strongest albums in The Doors' relatively small catalogue fills in a key gap for many collectors. Morrison, Manzarek, Densmore and Krieger imbued Strange Days with equal parts innovation, inspiration, and (self-) indulgence. What made record buyers sit up and listen in 1967 is still just as potent today. The music is your special friend, dance on fire as it intends...
Strange Days: 50th Anniversary Expanded Edition is available now: