Upon its release in July 1968, some might have found the title of The Doors’ third album, Waiting for the Sun, to be ironic. After all, Jim Morrison, Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek, and John Densmore, were hardly ever in pursuit of anything remotely sunny. But the album, with its rather bucolic cover shot, most certainly struck a chord with listeners in the year between The Summer of Love and Woodstock. Waiting for the Sun became the band’s only No. 1 album, and included the No. 1 single “Hello, I Love You.” Now, it’s become a 2-CD/1-LP box from Rhino, following the label’s 50th anniversary reissues of The Doors and Strange Days. The set features Bruce Botnick’s remastered version of the original stereo mix on both CD and 180-gram vinyl, plus a disc of 14 previously unreleased tracks including nine rough mixes and five live performances from Copenhagen, recorded on September 17, 1968.
“Hello, I Love You” opened the original LP, produced by Paul A. Rothschild, with a burst of sheer adrenaline. A poppy, lustful number with a crunchy, Kinks-esque riff, it dated back to the band’s early days in 1965 but was resuscitated at the behest of Elektra leader Jac Holzman. It set the stage for a diverse set of tunes touching on all facets of the group. Most striking was undoubtedly “The Unknown Soldier.” The dark and brooding lament was unafraid to detail the ugliness of war in its depiction of an execution, with a military march, gunfire, and climactic shrieking against an effects-laden backdrop. Though he tried to keep it hidden, Morrison knew of what he spoke, having been a military brat himself. It shared a thematic continuity with the album closer, the equally uncompromising “Five to One.” Also set to a martial beat, the Lizard King scowled his way through the pointed lyrics about the power of youth uprising: “The old get old/And the young get younger/May take a week/And it may take longer/They got the guns/But we got the numbers!”
Waiting for the Sun offered a look at the band’s softer side, as well. The wry “Love Street” found Morrison observing the various liaisons of the Laurel Canyon scene, set to a jazz-inflected melody. “Summer’s Almost Gone” is an attractively pensive meditation, also rescued from The Doors’ 1965 demos: “When summer’s gone/Where will we be?” Another seasonal rumination, the swirling waltz “Wintertime Love” (“Winter’s so cold this year/You are so warm/My wintertime love to be”) added prominent harpsichord to the band’s many colors. The cinematic and impressionistic “Spanish Caravan” boasted flamenco guitar. On the opposite end of the spectrum, “My Wild Love” is an a cappella chant in the manner of a work song, with just percussion provided by handclaps, a rattle, and a primal-sounding drum as accompaniment. Manzarek traded organ for acoustic piano on the hauntingly attractive ballad “Yes, The River Knows,” his keys woven in with Krieger’s sensitive guitar work. The straight-ahead rock tune “We Could Be So Good Together” was a leftover from Strange Days, reflecting The Doors’ time crunch in penning new compositions.
The highlight of Waiting for the Sun should have been “The Celebration of the Lizard,” the extended poem/song suite intended to occupy an entire side of vinyl. But the while the epic text depicting a life cycle from death to rebirth was printed on the album’s gatefold inner sleeve, all that made it to the actual record was the bizarre, unsettling “Not to Touch the Earth.” At a little under four minutes in length and despite the fine, tight interplay between Manzarek’s organ and Densmore’s drums, it was a mere, tantalizing sample of the opus that wasn’t meant to be. Its final words, though, lived on: “I am The Lizard King/I can do anything…” (The originally unreleased, full-length “Celebration” and alternate takes of “Not to Touch the Earth” were appended to the 40th anniversary edition of Waiting for the Sun, but none of that release’s bonus tracks have been reprised here. “Celebration” is also available in live form on Absolutely Live and in its studio version on Legacy: The Absolute Best.)
The second disc of the anniversary collection features rough mixes of nine of the album’s eleven tracks. (“The Unknown Soldier” and “We Could Be So Good Together” are absent.) These have been sourced from a tape dated April 18, 1968 and represent original engineer Bruce Botnick’s rough, first stabs at mixing each track. There are small variances and of course, different instrumental and vocal balances throughout. The overall sound is much more rough-hewn. Longtime fans of the album intimately familiar with the original versions should find these most interesting. “Hello, I Love You” is a bit longer with stronger emphasis on Manzarek’s keyboard; “Love Street” is also extended. Krieger’s liquid guitar lines stand out on “Summer’s Almost Gone.” Botnick had already conjured the vivid sonics for tracks like the quiet “Yes, The River Knows,” the energetic “Spanish Caravan” and the aggressive “Five to One” in his rough mixes, tweaking and subtly refining them for the final versions. Joining these versions are the five previously unreleased tracks captured in Copenhagen in the wake of Waiting for the Sun‘s release. The audio quality on these audience-sourced recordings is listenable but muddy. However, the historical significance of the material – with the band in top, heavy form – may well justify their inclusion.
Rounding out the package is a new 180-gram vinyl edition of the album for those who prefer to listen to the album with the analog warmth offered by the format. Both vinyl and CD have been remastered by Bruce Botnick utilizing the Plangent Process, popularized by Bruce Springsteen on his recent remastered reissues. Botnick worked at Bernie Grundman’s studios, and as he explains in his liner notes, this brought the album full circle as the original release was mastered with Grundman when he was the lacquer-mastering engineer at Contemporary Records. Additionally, the CD is encoded with the MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) process. When played through a system with MQA-enabled device, the disc is promised to play back at 176/24 high resolution. (Read more on MQA here from its creator, and in Stereophile here and here.) As most CD consumers don’t have MQA-enabled devices and there have been questions in audiophile circles about the bitrate, the system hasn’t been widely adopted yet.
Everything has been packaged in a limited and numbered, roughly LP-sized, hardbound format similar to The Doors. The vinyl LP and softcover 16-page booklet are housed in the front inner pocket, with the CDs in slots within the gatefold. The booklet contains a fine historical essay by David Fricke as well as audio notes and memories from Bruce Botnick.
Alternately mellow and harrowing, Waiting for the Sun marks the halfway point of the original band’s all-too-short studio discography. Though the album has been reissued and remastered numerous times in the past, the reasonable price point (roughly $36 as of this writing), classy packaging, and previously unreleased mixes make this set a worthy addition to the ongoing Doors reissue program.