Many years ago, in what seems like another lifetime, I bought a copy of The Doors: The Complete Studio Recordings, a glorious box set containing each studio album they released with Jim Morrison in replica LP packaging along with exceptional remastering. It also included a bonus album, Essential Rarities, which is basically a compilation of material originally released on a previous box set issued only a couple of years earlier, which I also own. Now for a band that were around for only six years or so, they managed to write and record an astonishing amount of material. Naturally the vast bulk of their best work can be found while Morrison was alive, yet Rarities offers the listener a chance to delve a little deeper into their oeuvre, a bit like rummaging through your grandfather’s garage, and finding things one never knew existed, nor ever would have guessed were there. Which is precisely what this collection is, a fascinating, if at times flawed assortment of moments and memories lovingly assembled by the surviving band members themselves.
First up is “Hello to the Cities”, taken from a live recording at The Cobo Hall, Detroit, 1970. I’m not quite sure what it’s doing on here, but I’m sure that for Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore, it would have been an entirely different matter altogether, from an emotional perspective at least. “Break on Through” was recorded at The Isle Wight Festival, England, 1970. It’s a cracker of a rendition, even if Morrison had by that point become increasingly disinterested in performing, one wouldn’t know it listening to this. “Roadhouse Blues” is another live recording this time from Madison Square Garden, 1970, and it’s great to hear the band really blues it up and blow it out. The opening bass line alone is enough to get one out of their seat, even if I am sitting on the chair in my living room. Next we are treated to a demo of “Hyacinth House” taped at Robby Krieger’s home studio in 1969. It’s a little rough, but intriguing nonetheless.
We have an outtake from The Soft Parade sessions, in the form of “Who Scared Who”. That they went to the trouble of adding a horn arrangement signifies that the group must have regarded it as a serious contender for the album (it winded up as a b-side). However Morrison’s vocals are a little on the unpolished side, so one can only guess as to why it was never completed. On “Whisky, Mystics and Men” The Doors do a Beatles, a la “Free as a Bird”, in that they took what was originally a vocal track by Morrison, before proceeding to overdub their instruments more than twenty-five years later, thus creating a ‘master take’. Personally I would have preferred to hear it in its original form, being the historian that I am, but I must say, the enhancements do actually work, and complement rather than detract from what could have been a very good song indeed. Adding flesh to the skeleton as it were.
“I Will Never Be Untrue”, recorded at the Aquarius Theatre, Hollywood 1970, is a rather old fashioned number, and a bit of a toss off really, but interesting all the same. We delve into the demos with a bluesy “Moonlight Drive”, from 1965, and which bears little resemble to the version The Doors recorded on their debut album the following year. “Queen of the Highway” could be a Sinatra outtake, with its jazzy, stylish arrangement, and Morrison’s mature crooning. “Someday Soon” is an unreleased song taken from an audience recording in 1970, and is quite enchanting, even if the sound quality is a bit distracting. “Hello I Love You” is yet another 1965 demo (taken from an acetate?), and while interesting, from an historical perspective, I doubt whether too many Doors fans will revisit it all that often. Not so the much fabled (and oft bootlegged) “Orange County Suite”, which finds Morrison in reflective mode, a song which could have easily made its way onto L.A. Woman.
A live take of the ambitious “The Soft Parade”, recorded for PBS Television in 1970, is an absolute blast, where the listener is carried away on a strange and unexpected trip through the labyrinth of Morrison’s creative mind. And for anyone who’s heard it, then you already know what I’m talking about.
From Madison Square Garden 1970 comes what is conceivably the most definitive version of the Oedipal epic that is “The End” they ever recorded, where both Morrison and his cohorts pull and stretch the minds of their audience in a way few bands were capable of at the time, making for a truly melodramatic and hypnotic experience.
The previously unreleased “Woman is a Devil” is the final track, and stems from a late night jam session the group held at Elektra Studios in 1969, and reveals how The Doors had by then decided that it was the blues they needed to explore the most, as a way of getting back to their roots and reinventing themselves as a group. And here we have a melancholic Morrison crooning his way into the afterlife.
Although there’s not much in the way of liner notes, the music alone speaks for itself. Certainly there are ghosts in these recordings which the listener doesn’t need a clairvoyant to discern. That much is apparent. What is obvious is that The Doors were a one off, a fluke of Nature, never to be repeated. One should be grateful that they ever existed at all.