Strange days indeed…
The Doors produced some of the most disturbing music ever to come out of the 1960’s. The band’s first single “Break On Through” made it into the L.A. Top Ten, though was largely ignored elsewhere across the U.S. They had better success with an abridged version of “Light My Fire”, which eventually reached number one in July 1967, and helped propel their debut album to climb the charts all the way to number two (it would have easily got to first position were it not for The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band). Buoyed by their success, the group went into Sunset Sound studios to record the next LP. As before, both Paul A. Rothchild and Bruce Botnick were brought in to engineer and produce, only this time the studio had been upgraded to an impressive 8-track facility – a quantum leap in technology in those days. Ray Manzarek recalled some years later: “It seems like nothing today… but those eight tracks to us were really liberating.”
The psychedelic weirdness of the title track is first, and was one of the earliest recordings to feature a Moog Synthesiser (The Monkees and The Beach Boys managed to beat them to it however). Released as a single, it may lack some of the immediate catchiness of “Light My Fire”, which was to all intents little more than a love song. “Strange Days” is darker, and far more mystical in subject matter, as Morrison sings: “Strange days have found us/Strange days have tracked us down/They’re going to destroy/Our casual joys”.
Robbie Krieger contributes two fine compositions in “You’re Lost Little Girl” and “Love Me Two Times”, the former a gloomy ballad while the latter (released as the second single) is a blues/rock classic “about love and loss, or multiple organisms” as Manzarek described it in his autobiography. On “Unhappy Girl” Manzarek found himself overdubbing an entire piano part while listening to the song being played backward, which is what gives the track an eerie, almost ghostly quality.
Now it wouldn’t be a Doors album without at least one highly experimental number – “Horse Latitudes”, which was based on a version of a poem Jim wrote when still in high school. Jim even explained the premise: “It’s about the doldrums where sailing ships from Spain would get stuck. In order to lighten the vessel, they had to throw things overboard; their major cargo was working horses for the New World.”
Side one ends with the stunningly poetic “Moonlight Drive”. Krieger lays down some exquisite bottle neck guitar, in a style that was unique only to him, while Morrison croons his way through the lyrics, which some suggest is about suicide by drowning: “Baby gonna drown tonight/Goin’ down, down, down”. Then again, it could have been nothing more than Jim’s idea of a tender love ballad.
“People Are Strange” commences side two, and is another haunting pop song, thanks to Ray’s stylishly kooky keyboards and Jim’s deliciously demented lyrics: “People are strange when you’re a stranger/Faces look ugly when you’re alone/Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted/Streets are uneven when you’re down”.
“My Eyes Have Seen You” and “I Can’t See Your Face In My Mind” are both sonically investigational explorations for Jim’s lyrics/poetry, although remain little more than interesting album tracks ahead of the closing blockbuster.
Just as they had done on their debut, the band finishes the album with the longest track, the epic “When the Music’s Over”, the lyrics to which would go on to be adopted by hippies and revolutionaries alike: “We want the world and we want it now”. The group had wanted to record the track live in order to capture how they usually performed it in front of an audience. The only problem was Jim didn’t turn up to the studio, so the rest of the guys decided to record this eleven minute epic without him, with Manzarek singing lead vocals instead. Morrison had to record his vocals the next day, nailing it after the second take. It’s an entrancing performance all the same, and a stunning feat of improvisation and passion; something I’m sure a young Patti Smith must have heard and thought “That’s what I wanna do!”
Strange Days may have lacked a lot of the impact of the band’s debut from several months earlier, but that doesn’t mean it is any way inferior, musically. It was a document that remains in complete contrast not only to the Summer of Love itself but to what most of their contemporaries were doing. The album would climb to number three on the charts and stay there for a year, not bad for an LP that consists of only thirty minutes of music. During this time The Doors were constantly touring, with Morrison pushing the limits of live performance, whose wild antics would eventually get him into trouble with the authorities on more than one occasion. But that was Jim – the Bacchanalian Rock God of his age, always causing chaos when he could while questioning the establishment. Unfortunately we shall never see the likes of him, or The Doors again. Strange Days is a testament to that fact, and would ensure that they were far more than your average rock band.