The just-reissued Doors debut from 1967, expanded to include a mono mix (for both CD and LP) and a key ’67 concert, not to mention a recent 10” vinyl box chronicling the band’s pre-fame 1966 setlist, might turn you inside out.
BY FRED MILLS
Fifty years on, all the children are still insane—now, more than ever, and perhaps more than anyone is comfortable with acknowledging. Enter The Doors, as fresh now as it was a half-century ago, alternately testing and serenading America’s youth. This is a fact not in dispute: The self-titled debut of the Lizard King & Co. remains as iconic a release as any from the post-British Invasion rock era, perhaps the defining moment for the underground-on-the-verge-of-going-overground.
How many times can Elektra (via the WEA group’s stalwart keepers of the archives, Rhino) return to the Doors well? How much time do you have?
But this 50th anniversary box is no marketing afterthought. Sure, you probably are not lacking for the original stereo mix of The Doors; by 1967, that’s how most of us would have first heard the LP anyway. A second CD containing the so-called “original mono mix,” while not essential, finally makes that mix available in digital formats so fans don’t have to track down original vinyl mono LPs. (For a younger generation, this may seem slightly archaic, but even by the late ’60s albums were still being pressed in both stereo and mono, and there is a collector camp that prizes mono over stereo. Although, admittedly, they are not rare, as a quick glance at Discogs shows several copies available for as little as $10.)
Vinyl nuts such as yours truly, of course, will appreciate the opportunity to own a pristine mono-mix LP here despite the easy availability of used vinyl copies. Neither it nor the CD mono version are particularly revelatory, but there’s always some fun to be had with the old A-B test between the mono and stereo mixes of records from this era.
CD3, recorded live at venerable San Fran venue The Matrix in March 1967, is perhaps the chief draw for completists; we are advised that this comes from the recently discovered original, professionally recorded, tapes, as opposed to the third-generation dubs that comprised a 2008 release of the Matrix tapes. The Doors estate, via its Rhino-distributed Bright Midnight imprint, has been nothing if not generous with its archival offerings over the past decade and a half, and discoveries do indeed continue to be made, such as the London Fog May 1966 10” box that surfaced not long ago (see below). So even if you own the 2008 Bright Midnight version of the Matrix ‘67 or an earlier bootleg version (yes, there are several couple), this concert recording essentially becomes the proverbial “definitive” one. The eight-song set very nearly replicates the original LP’s 11-song tracklisting, only lacking “I Looked at You,” “End of the Night,” and “Take It as it Comes,” and with the latter arguably the only essential song among those three, Live at the Matrix emerges a must-own live representation of the band on the cusp of greatness, the debut LP having only been released a few weeks’ prior. Listen to Morrison’s growls, howls, and yowls during “The End” and dare to differ.
The box also boasts a full-sized hardback book featuring journalist David Fricke’s liners and tons of photos. As an artifact, it’s flawless, so even if some might argue that musically speaking, it’s for completists only, there’s no question that it merits a solid “5” out of 5 stars. Ride the highway west, baby…
… To the prior year.
Allow me to introduce the latest in a long-running parade of posthumous Doors live releases, London Fog May, 1966. It summons from the mists of time a proverbial “recently discovered” live recording of the band, expertly cleaned up for the modern digital ear, in order to give acolytes a sense of what Jim Morrison, Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek, and John Densmore actually sounded like, onstage, around the time they were recording their debut album for Elektra Records but had yet to burst upon the national scene.
And it’s neither time capsule nor curio, but rather a valid projection into the collector-archival ether that should hold up for future generations. Vintage, if hard-edged, blues apparently dominated early Doors sets: Here, a lengthy workout on Willie Dixon’s “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man” and a remarkably serpentine, sensual Muddy Waters’ “Rock Me” showcase not only Morrison’s intuitive embrace of the blues’ primal imperative, but his bandmates’ agility as translators of same. Also in the mix are covers of Big Joe Williams, Wilson Pickett, and Little Richard. Seminal Doors originals also make surprise appearances: a somewhat hesitant “Strange Days” (which would go on to be overhauled and polished in the studio to provide the second album’s title track), and a rowdy-bawdy-bluesy “You Make Me Real,” which subsequently went into hibernation until 1970’s Morrison Hotel.
Time capsule: well, actually… yeah. Rhino has pulled out all stops for this box, which houses both a CD and a 10” vinyl disc of the nine tracks, plus an assortment of memorabilia that includes reproductions of the evening’s setlist from the London Fog, a postcard and drink coaster from that Sunset Strip dive, and photos of the evening Nettie Pena, a UCLA Film School student who Morrison, also a student, enlisted that evening to document his band’s performance on a small reel to reel deck. In those photos, the musicians seem impossibly young, as yet unjaded by stardom, yet clearly determined as artists. Talk about a snapshot. (Pena, who also wrote a review of the gig, discloses that she cannot locate an additional reel of tape from the show that contained the band doing a 15-minute “The End,” but promises that if it ever surfaces, she’ll immediately pass it along to the Doors camp.) Worth additional note: a passionate remembrance in the CD booklet penned by Ronnie Harran, who at the time of the show was booking the nearby Whisky A Go Go and, acting on a tip, came to check out the Doors during their residency at the Fog, ultimately returning to the Whisky, eager to book them at her venue. Everything is housed in a 10-inch, thick cardboard box—pure collector catnip. Just the effort alone that’s been put into this project demands an above-average rating for archival releases; the mesmerizing music guarantees it a perfect score.
Commentary, artifacts, and nostalgia aside, London Fog May, 1966 ultimately brings the Doors—pardon the inside joke—reverse full circle. Prior to Morrison’s death in 1971, the group had reinvested itself in the blues that had originally spawned the combo back in the early ‘60s (as Rick and the Ravens), tackling both vintage material and primal original compositions on Morrison Hotel and on swansong L.A. Woman. And while it’s impossible to say if the Doors vaults have finally been combed clean (as this obsessive Doors collector’s CD library can testify, the band and its archivists have been diligent over the course of the past decade and a half; hats off to Rhino, Rhino Handmade, Bright Moonlight, Elektra and everyone involved), there’s something fitting about celebrating the 50th anniversary of the release of the band’s debut LP by listening to an early Doors set comprising the blues, soul, and ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll that inspired the musicians in the first place.
But then, of course, there’s the matter of said debut LP, from 1967, now graced with a deluxe reissue/reappraisal. Rewind this tape and start from the beginning. Is everybody in?
Photo Credit: Joel Brodsky