The Doors were one of the most exciting and inventive groups of the 60’s and early 70’s, whose ability to blend Baroque, blues, rock, jazz, pop, and even Flamenco all into one cerebral vessel was as unparalleled as it was distinct. But when Jim Morrison moved to Paris in 1971, never to return, the remaining members chose to push on, releasing two more albums, as if in denial that they could continue as a viable artistic entity without the very thing which had made them popular in the first place; an alluring and magnetic front man. After a couple of years however Ray Manzarek finally threw in the towel, having eventually realised that without that all important fourth element, there was little point in continuing to flog what was quite clearly an already long deceased horse.
Out of all three it was Manzarek who probably had the most talent, so it should come as no surprise that he should so quickly embark on a solo career. In 1974 he released the eccentric The Golden Scarab, a mostly instrumental affair that highlighted Manzarek’s ability to experiment and collaborate with other artists. Later that same year he issued The Whole Thing Started with Rock and Roll Now It’s Out of Control, which was arguably his most accomplished album, although one which hardly impressed the critics much less made any kind of dent in the charts. Whether Manzarek was bothered by this I can’t say, but he should have been pleased with the results regardless of what anyone said or how few copies it sold. For The Whole Thing Started… is one of the most unusual LPs of the 70’s, a decade which was simply brimming with diversity.
One of the factors which make this album worth listening to, outside of Manzarek himself, is the sheer quality of musicianship on display here by those assembled around him. The title track is a fun and enjoyable homage to the genre which inspired him and a thousand other musicians in the first place. It’s not a classic by any means, but decent nonetheless. “The Gambler” has some of those attractive trademark keyboards Manzarek is famous for, and whose lyrics are perhaps a metaphor for those who live in the fast lane (either that or a simple anti-gambling message). The Oriental oriented “Whirling Dervish” twirls around your living room like an Eastern whirlwind. Manzarek’s keyboards are excellent throughout, but it’s John Klemmer’s scorching saxophone which dominates. The funky clavinet driven “Begin the World Again” is another highlight, and which has some humorous hippie lyrics by Manzarek, most of which concern good old Mother Earth, along with some engaging female backing vocals that only add to the listener’s enjoyment. “I Wake Up Screaming” is more interesting for having a then unheard of Patti Smith (who was something of a Jim Morrison devotee) reciting a poem by Morrison, than for the song itself. The whole tune seems a little too upbeat, and what Jim himself might have thought of it is anyone’s guess. The old-fashioned “Art Deco Fandango” takes a step back in time, and is a pleasant enough New Orleans inspired number. Manzarek reaches back to The Doors on “Bicentennial Blues (Take It Or Leave It)”, even dusting off his old Vox Continental for the occasion. During his extended solo, Ray throws in a cheeky reference to “Light My Fire”. Had of Morrison still been around and with the band, this is perhaps the sort of music we might have been hearing. The album concludes with “Performed Garden”, a semi decent tune where part way into the song Manzarek simulates having an orgasm (strange I know, but it’s not as lewd as it sounds. But if you’re into that sort of thing, check out Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby” released only a year later).
Sadly, Ray passed away in 2013, which only makes one wish that his albums had have been better appreciated, so as to encourage him to continue recording. As it turned out The Whole Thing Started… would be Manzarek’s last LP until 1983’s Carmina Burana, a rather madcap but well-meaning experiment produced by Phillip Glass. That the man had more talent in one finger than most people possess in their entire body, is undeniable. And on top of that, he was also one of the true believers, someone who never turned his back on the ideals of the 60’s counter culture. Sure he was a little wacky, but in the best possible way. When I heard of his death, I felt as though something singular had left this earth. And while his solo output pales in comparison to that of his work in The Doors, any fan of that group will find that there is enough reward to be found provided that they aren’t expecting another L.A. Woman.