Unlike The Doors’ previous two albums, Waiting for the Sun, their third, is one of disparity. While the band’s earlier efforts formed an effective marriage between madness and melody, a dark Dionysian blend of electronic Baroque intermixed with blues, jazz, and early vaudeville, all held together with a strong literary expression, they were perhaps just a little too morbid and sinister for your innocent everyday teenager, who was far more likely to identify with The Beatles’ Summer of Love anthem “All You Need Is love” than let’s say, “The End”. And so it was that in the year 1968, The Doors would release what would become their first and only number one record in America, much to the surprise of critics, who regarded it as something of a let-down after what had gone before.
Opener “Hello I Love You” is dominated by Ray Manzarek’s notable keyboard playing, along with some unusually heavy guitar by Robby Krieger (by his standards). Jim Morrison’s lyrics are engaging and entertaining as always, even if he himself was not all that enamoured with the song itself, sometimes refusing to sing it on stage, leaving Manzarek to take on vocal responsibilities. The gorgeous “Love Street” is next, and is a petite and delightful ditty, where Morrison provides the listener with a colourful and descriptive narrative, all carried along by some exquisite piano by the ever reliable Manzarek. The lyrics were taken from a poem Morrison wrote when living on a street in Laurel Canyon, and remains after all these years a charming and enjoyable time-capsule into a period which no longer exists, where the lines “She has robes and she has monkeys/Lazy diamond studded flunkies” are as appealing as they are puzzling.
Things take on a more serious complexion with “Not to Touch the Earth”, a mere fragment of all that survives of a much larger musical-poetical suite titled “Celebration of the Lizard”. Intended originally to take up the second side of the LP, it was a concept which was instead rejected, and so all we have is this small portion of Morrison’s unique ambition. “Summer’s Almost Gone” could in hindsight be interpreted as the moment when the ‘summer of love’ truly had gone. I doubt whether this was what Morrison was in actuality referring to, but with lyrics such as “We had some good times/But they’re gone/The winter’s comin’ on/Summer’s almost gone”, one may now see it as analogous in terms of what was just around the corner for a generation who believed that flower-power alone could cure the world of all its ills.
The waltz of “Wintertime Love” is augmented with some attractive harpsichord by Manzarek (was there any style he couldn’t play?), along with a fine harmony from Morrison. However that’s probably about it. The side ends on a more sober note with the polemical “Unknown Soldier”, just to show that the group hadn’t gone completely soft. With the Vietnam conflict raging it’s no wonder that Morrison would want to make a statement of his own, and what a brave declaration it is considering that not too many rock artists in 1968 were willing to speak out against a war which was beginning to divide America.
“Spanish Caravan” opens side two, where Krieger gets to show off his Flamenco skills, and while the arrangement is traditional, and well-known to any aficionado of the Spanish art form, at the half way point things turn stormy before ending rapidly in a dramatic flourish of guitar and keyboards. “My Wild Love” finds the band doing penance in the form of a chain gang, and is another example of The Doors’ penchant for the visual. Less impressive is “We Could Be So Good Together”, which just comes and goes as if it almost never existed once it’s over. Far better is “Yes, the River Knows”, which is an endearing love song, and offered a hint at some of Morrison’s later tunes such as “Indian Summer” and “Hyacinth House”.
Now it wouldn’t be a proper album by The Doors if we didn’t finish with an anthem, and “Five to One” is one of the greatest national hymns to the 1960’s counter culture ever written. And as tame as it might seem now, remember it was only a little over a decade before, when a young man from Tupelo, Mississippi managed to cause an outbreak of hormonal hysteria just by moving his hips while singing “Heartbreak Hotel”. The lyrics themselves are simple but direct in their meaning, and when Morrison sings “Five to one, baby/One in five/No one here gets out alive… They got the guns/But we got the numbers” it’s unsurprising that the establishment were becoming increasingly agitated at what they saw as the potential end of western civilisation itself, or at least their idea of civilisation in any case.
At this point Morrison’s self-destructive tendencies were beginning to take their toll, not only on himself but also on the other members of the band as well, whose erratic behaviour meant that they found it increasingly difficult to work with their lead singer in the recording studio (the stage would become another matter entirely). Whether such antics were due to Morrison’s increasing disillusionment with the music business, or a natural proclivity for getting wasted, is difficult to say. What is certain is that while Jim had a flair for writing pop songs, the poet in him was desperate to break free and take flight. And so the seeds of The Doors’ ultimate downfall were sown. But regardless, on Waiting for the Sun The Doors managed to successfully blend fine musicianship with poetic observation. And while not of the high standard of their first two long players, there is still more than enough quality music contained within its grooves to please any fan, obsessive or otherwise. Oh, and it has a nice cover too.