Tell all the people that you see/Follow me...
With those words penned by bandmate Robbie Krieger, Jim Morrison invited listeners to the world of The Doors' fourth studio album, The Soft Parade. Originally released on July 18, 1969, it was the fourth consecutive top ten smash for Messrs. Morrison, Krieger, Manzarek, and Densmore, but in the ensuing years it's also become one of the group's most divisive - primarily for its extensive use of orchestral arrangements. To mark its fiftieth anniversary, Rhino has released The Soft Parade as the latest in its oversize series of Doors box sets. The limited and numbered 3CD/1LP collection is the most eye-opening yet, as its bonus section affords listeners the opportunity to hear its four orchestrally embellished tracks (as well as one B-side) in stripped-down, Doors-only mixes.
But first, the original stereo album appears in remastered form on both CD and 180-gram vinyl LP. Robby Krieger stepped up to pen four tracks as well as co-write one with Jim Morrison, who wrote the remainder of the album's material. For his part, Krieger embraced the experimental direction (for The Doors, anyway) of utilizing orchestration, while Morrison stayed true to his vision of the tight rhythm section alone. The brass section included studio veterans like Jay Migliori and Jules Chaikin, who played lead trumpet with the big bands of Les Brown and Stan Kenton. Harvey Brooks of The Electric Flag and Doug Lubahn were also brought on to fatten the sound with their bass playing. (Lubahn had previously guested on Strange Days and Waiting for the Sun.)
Krieger supplied the album's most memorable song with the U.S. top five smash - and The Doors' most successful integration of strings and horns (including Curtis Amy's now-famous saxophone solo) - "Touch Me." Morrison's primal, lustful vocal and the band's taut, urgent playing elevated the already-melodic, lyrically simple pop tune into a blast of rock fury that combined AM and FM sounds into something uniquely Doors.
Perhaps "Touch Me" should have opened the LP rather than Krieger's wistful "Tell All the People" with its brash brass band and crooned Morrison vocal; one can fairly ask if the singer was gently ribbing the lyrics with his full-throated delivery. Another Robby composition, "Wishful Sinful" (a minor hit that just missed the top 40 at No. 44), was beguilingly swathed in lush, baroque strings and soft horns and winds. Even more atypical, though, was Jim's own "Easy Ride," a brisk country excursion with tasty licks from Krieger.
The Lizard King was in totally convincing form on his own, oft-overlooked "Shaman's Blues," a bleakly attractive waltz with impressionistic, pointed words perhaps reflecting his own frustrations. (His personal demons would strike most vividly onstage at Miami's Dinner Key Auditorium on March 1, 1969, when the singer would engage in the behavior that led to convictions for profanity and indecent exposure. The prolonged sessions had wrapped for The Soft Parade less than two months earlier.) "Wild Child" was even tougher, a bluesy dollop of riff-rock anchored by Manzarek's hypnotic organ, Krieger's slinky slide guitar, and Densmore's martial drums.
Morrison and Krieger meshed their sensibilities on the slight, mantra-like "Do It" ("Please please listen to me children/You are the ones who will rule the world...") and traded off vocals on the album's oddest track, "Runnin' Blue." For this offbeat mélange peppered with references to the late Otis Redding, Morrison took the hard-driving R&B verses and left the bluegrass-inspired choruses to Krieger. The jazz-inflected horns add another element altogether to this most uncharacteristic of Doors songs.
The title track "The Soft Parade" was the LP's most ambitious cut and one which allowed producer Paul A. Rothchild's contributions to come into focus. Morrison deftly combined spoken-word poetry with various musical settings (rock, easy listening, bouncy pop, and even danceable R&B) on this multi-part, 8+-minute epic (recorded over three sessions) culminating in a quintessential, trance-like Doors stomp that should have quelled any complaints that the group had gone, well, soft. "The Soft Parade" brings the most eclectic of the band's LPs to its natural close, pulling together the threads of the album and showcasing the many styles and colors The Doors could call their own while still remaining in their dark, mysterious milieu.
The first disc appends "Who Scared You," the orchestrated B-side of "Wishful Sinful," as its bonus track. Disc Two begins to unfold the story of the album's creation, premiering a clutch of fascinating new mixes of the six tracks (including "Who Scared You") which originally featured orchestration. Robby Krieger has added new guitar parts to "Touch Me," "Runnin' Blue," and "Wishful Sinful," though for purists, the original, non-overdubbed versions are also included. (One might also have liked to heard isolated versions of the orchestrations.)
"Tell All the People" works well in its new mix, revealing a pop-country feel and placing more emphasis on Morrison's grandiose vocal. "Touch Me" (even with a new Krieger solo replacing the original's indelible sax) can't help but feel a bit undernourished without those powerful horns as punctuation. "Runnin' Blue" benefits from Krieger's lithe overdubbed guitar, but the strict "Doors Only Mix" is potent, too, shining an even brighter light on Manzarek's contributions. "Wishful Sinful" is more muscular and visceral but has almost too much breathing room without the horns and strings; Krieger makes up for some of what's missing with his solo. The orchestral elements of The Soft Parade have always made it stand out in The Doors' canon; if these stripped-down mixes aren't superior to the originals, they're a valid alternative view on the sessions. Longtime fans should savor the opportunity to hear these songs in a new light.
Three more tracks have been culled from May 6, 1969 studio rehearsals when Morrison wasn't present - with Ray Manzarek (a.k.a. Screamin' Ray Daniels) on vocals - that include an early version of "Roadhouse Blues," a song that would arrive the following year in finished form on Morrison Hotel, and a cover of Willie Dixon's "(You Need Meat) Don't Go No Further." The Dixon song would end up as the flipside of the "Love Her Madly" single in 1971. These three songs are appealingly loose, in-the-moment, and appropriately bluesy, and while Manzarek was not a vocalist on the level of Morrison, his enthusiasm makes them an enjoyable listen. (So does the often dryly funny studio chatter.) All feature newly recorded bass parts by Robert DeLeo of Stone Temple Pilots, who joined Krieger and John Densmore at a tribute concert for Manzarek in 2016, three years after the organist died of cancer. (Surprisingly, the original, bass-less versions are not featured of these tracks.)
The third and final CD opens with Morrison's short "I Am Troubled" and alternate takes of his "Seminary School (a.k.a. Petition the Lord with Prayer)" recitation from the epic "The Soft Parade." But the centerpiece of this disc is the premiere of the full-length 64-minute jam session "Rock Is Dead" from February 25, 1969. Individual segments of the jam have been released in the past, including the originals "Rock Is Dead" (threaded throughout the session), "Woman Is a Devil," and "Whiskey, Mystics, and Men." Truth to tell, it's unlikely any but the most dedicated would listen to the entire, all-over-the-place track more than once (and its individual parts aren't indexed here for easy access) but box set producer/original album engineer Bruce Botnick deserves credit for its warts-and-all inclusion here. Morrison plays the role of showman/preacher as the band plus Harvey Brooks romps through blues forms and improvised pieces that might have had titles like "Rock and Roll Woman," "Boogie All Night Long," and "Queen of the Magazine" as well as covers of "Pipeline" (The Doors Go Surf!), "Mystery Train," and a dirge-like "Love Me Tender." This disc closes with a much shorter jam from May 6, "Chaos," incorporating "Fever" and "Heartbreak Hotel."
Botnick has mixed the bonus tracks as well as remastered the original album in the Plangent Process (also utilized by Bruce Springsteen on his recent remasters) for vinyl and CD. Botnick's fine remastering is encoded in MQA for those with playback abilities in the format. The Soft Parade is packaged similarly to previous sets in this series, in a sturdy and attractive LP-sized format. The three CDs, adorned with custom labels, are housed in slots on the right side of the gatefold while the left side has a pouch for the 20-page booklet and the vinyl LP in its own protective sleeve. The booklet boasts essays by David Fricke and Bruce Botnick as well as lyrics and recording information.
By the time of The Soft Parade's original release, The Doors were caught in a maelstrom from which they only partially escaped. The 50th anniversary edition chronicles the period directly before and shortly after Jim Morrison's Miami incident, a period in which the band sought to take their music in a new direction. As the most comprehensive exploration of a tumultuous, still-divisive, and sometimes-misunderstood chapter in the Doors' history, this collection makes for a worthwhile exploration. Rock isn't dead, after all.
The Soft Parade: 50th Anniversary Edition is available at:
3CD/1LP: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada
1CD [Remastered Original Album Only]: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada
Mark Schlesinger says
Why d they stuff the vinyl 'll down our throats? $$$$$$.
Exactly. We're not all into Snap, Crackle and Pop.
Rob Maurer says
Bassist Doug Lubahn passed away earlier this week.