As someone who once went to Paris primarily to see Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde’s graves I’m a bit biased and it’s hardly an original thought, but what a great LP Doors L.A Woman is. I bought it way, way back in September 1988 from a stash of LPs that someone’s sister was selling. If you look at what else I was buying then it sticks out like a sore thumb amongst all the AC/DC and Queen LPs which I was working my way through.
I loved the Doors from early on thanks to the opening scene from Apocalypse Now and, you guessed it, my folks who not only had ‘Light my Fire’ for me to listen to, but had actually seen them in their one UK concert at the Roundhouse in London in 1968, supported by Jefferson Airplane*, I got to hear first hand about how Jim Morrison told the crowd off for talking and was generally pretty scary, even in a big puffy white shirt. So when the chance came to get hold of L.A Woman I leapt at it and, boy was I disappointed!
First off, the cover – who was the old beardy dude stage right? he wasn’t the guy I’d glimpsed on TV programmes about the 60’s (this was before the Oliver Stone film and the huge renewal of interest in the band, where you couldn’t move for posters of bare-chested Jim). Next up, I liked the pretty little pop song ‘Love Her Madly’ right from the off and I worshipped ‘Riders on The Storm’, but the rest of it was just boring OLD music to me. 16 year olds, know sweet FA.
‘Riders on the Storm’ made a huge, huge impression on me as a kid and I have really vivid memories of listening to it in the car at night, my view framed by my parent’s heads in front of me, driving home from a friend’s house in the rain, headlights picking out the hedgerows pressing in, the dark laced with silvered slivers of rain; I’d be about 12 years old. The memory is such a clear one I wonder if it’s a composite of several different times, maybe my dad kept the tape in the car especially for such occasions. I remember loving all the sound effects at first, but then just getting sucked in by the keys and the sweet, sinister singing. I must have head this track hundreds of times since then, but put it on and I flash straight back to that time and place.
The only tunes on L.A Woman that made it onto my iPod are ‘Riders ..’ and the title track and so it was an interesting exercise listening to it again as an album today. What struck me very strongly was what an unsung blues LP it was, the brilliant, rather manly ‘Been Down so Long’ (surely a line stolen from the Richard Farina book?) and the swaggering ‘Cars Hiss by my Window’ (gotta love the lines ‘the cars hiss by my window / Just like waves upon the beach’) really stamp the Doors blues credentials straight up and stamps notice that this is a grounded, earthy LP and that psychedelic flights of fancy had little place here – ironically I find their cover of ‘Crawling King Snake’ a bit anaemic.
I confess I never got into ‘L.A Woman’ until Jane’s Addiction covered part of it as an ‘L.A Medley’ on one of their B-sides. I listened to it again after that and it just clicked, wise heads in the documentary below called it ‘quintessential film noir’ and I agree, it always seemed like a movie to me – impossible to listen to without thinking about driving and perfect headphone music. The way that the bass line and rhythm, umm, drive this song is incredible, especially given how light and supple they are, I’ve heard a lot of much heavier bands making a lot more noise, for a lot less propulsive effect; and what a finale! It’s also got one of my favourite Morrison performances on it, he really stretches out and uses his voice like an instrument and you get the impression that he’s just enjoying the noise of it, rather than obsessing over the lyrics too much for once. Side note: I far prefer the bearded, cuddlier Jim Morrison than the amphetamine lizard king of a few years before.
I liked ‘L’America’ and it’s slightly off-kilter, Leonard Bernstein melody more today than I’ve ever done previously and there is a deeply melancholy air about ‘Hyacinth House’ which is appealing, but I am a bit conflicted about ‘The Wasp (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)’. On one hand I love the beat and you just have to love the line about being ‘stoned immaculate’, but the diddly-deep-da-diddly-deep-da-dee-deep bits spoil the whole thing for me, just kill it dead. Sorry if I’m getting a bit technical for you all there! ‘Love Her Madly’ is pretty throwaway in this company, but a real jewel nonetheless.
The real surprise for me today was ‘The Changeling’ I barely remembered the track and so I really wasn’t prepared for a strutting, discordant around the edges, James Brown number. I’ve become completely obsessed with it today, why only today?
I’m a Changeling
See me change
I’m the air you breath
Food you eat
Friends you greet
In the sullen street
Knowing this was the Doors last LP makes me happier than it makes me sad, what a grand statement to make and what a great way to check out.
116 Down (so long, it looks like up to me).
Below is a link to a brilliant documentary about the making of this LP that I watched on the BBC about a year ago, it’s really worth watching for the billboards alone. I’ve just worked out how to do this .
(warning / tip-off: contains bare thingys at about 29:20, or so)
*Did they play the Isle of Wight festival too? unsure, but it was definitely their only ‘proper’ concert.