Classic albums are significant all on their own. They have become mainstays of music lore and garnered praise solely for their musical value. Some albums need no history to be great. However, a significant anniversary of a great album allows us to reflect on its legacy and assert its significance in any terms. Starting with the 45th anniversary of The Doors’ self-titled debut, I hope to achieve a reflection on the importance of these albums through this column.
What better place to start than 1967, which was a banner year for classic albums (“Sgt. Pepper,” “Are You Experienced,” “The Velvet Underground & Nico,” etc.). “The Doors” happens to be the oldest of the old, turning 45 this month. The album is most famous for not only being the critical and commercial peak of The Doors’ career but also playing a role in representing the California-led “Summer of Love” phenomenon of that year. The lineup of Jim Morrison, Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek and John Densmore was not set until mid-1965, but the band absolutely burst onto the Los Angeles music scene and was playing steady gigs at the Whiskey a Go Go when Jac Holzman signed them to little-known Elektra Records.
As a label that was willing to loosen the reins with forward-thinking pop artists such as The Doors, Elektra provided the perfect opportunity to explore every creative nook and cranny. It took eight months for the album to gain full commercial recognition at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 for this reason. Imagine for a second that The Doors did not exist. Now, picture a band — whose sound is a combination of blues and beat poetry — that takes its name from an Aldous Huxley book (which in turn takes its name from a William Blake poem). This band also incorporates elements of bossa nova, baroque music and the oedipal complex and covers a song from a 1930s opera on its first album, all without an actual bassist. Then, picture that you’re hearing about this band 45 years ago.
Clearly, The Doors were facing an uphill battle to gain critical and commercial acceptance. Yet, just as any band that springs from nothingness, Morrison and company did it on the strength of their songs. While not every track is essential to the band’s history, “The Doors” is the single best collection of songs in their discography, highlighted by “Break On Through (To the Other Side),” “The End” and especially “Light My Fire.” These three tracks each showcase a different facet of The Doors’ artistry and serve as a testament to their dynamic range: “Break On Through” as the chugging opener; “Light My Fire” as the album’s focal point, complete with skillful soloing; and “The End” as the lengthy, eerie closer. Together, they give “The Doors” a beautiful symmetry and form the album’s longest-lasting contribution to music history. “Light My Fire” is by far the most important recording of The Doors’ career as well as one of the greatest songs ever made, and it couldn’t be more fitting. In the middle of their most prolific period, with “The Doors” plus other songs that would appear on subsequent albums, the song demonstrates collaboration at its finest. Krieger, the guitarist, comes in with an unfinished song, Morrison adds to it a second verse, Manzarek a baroque-sounding organ intro, Densmore deftly changes the rhythm, and out comes a masterpiece. Once the solo sections were cut out, all of a sudden there was a breakthrough single and The Doors never looked back.
In the following years, The Doors would find unprecedented success that was cut short by terrible tragedy. Morrison’s self-destructive nature got the best of him in 1971 at the age of 27. Albums as a trio and sporadic reunions — including last year’s bizarre collaboration with Skrillex — would follow, but Morrison’s absence could never be overcome. Nevertheless, The Doors are largely revered as an iconic band that pushed the boundaries of what rock and roll could be. Their sound is still original and instantly recognizable, and “The Doors” is a huge reason why.