L.A. Woman, is the final Doors album with lead singer and poet, Jim Morrison. This album encompasses a mixture of blues, funk, and rock while maintaining a sound that is still distinctly The Doors. The album strikes the rare balance of going back to basics while still exploring uncharted territory in the initial, pioneering journey of rock n roll. The music itself also possesses this simultaneous duality as it is much stripped down from the exuberant production of earlier albums, such as Waiting for the Sun and The Soft Parade, but is also enhanced by a new “voice” that Morrison discovered and the emergence of the bass guitar as a front and center instrument in the band’s sound.
Starting in 1967, The Doors had five previous studio albums to figure out what is necessary and what is superfluous. This is evident in every detail of L.A. Woman, right down to the album cover artwork. Gone is the image of a half naked Jim Morrison out in front of his “backing band”. On the cover of this album, an off-center, bearded Morrison is slouched down to appear smaller below the rest of the band. The cover contained a very generic look with the band name and title in uniform block lettering, omitting the use of even the band’s trademark stenciled logo. Interesting is the omission of the “The” in the band’s name, as the album is credited to simply to “Doors”, which perhaps implies that there are now several , generic “doors of perception” to be cleansed, not just these four particular ones. Whether or not this was the actual intent, there is no doubt that the band wanted to strip away any pretense of something mystical or magical and just put out an album of blues-influenced, rock music, and that they did.
L.A. Woman by The Doors
|Released: April 19, 1971 (Electra)Produced by: Bruce Botnick and The Doors
Recorded: The Doors Workshop, Los Angeles, December 1970-January 1971
|Side One||Side Two|
| The Changeling
Love Her Madly Been Down So Long
Cars Hiss by My Window
Hyacinth House Crawling King Snake
The WASP (Texas Radio & Big Beat)
Riders on the Storm
|Jim Morrison – Vocals & Voice Effects
Robbie Krieger – Lead Guitars
Ray Manzarek – Piano & Keyboards
John Densmore – Drums
Jerry Scheff – Bass
Marc Benno – Rhythm Guitars
A variety of themes permeate the album. The first track, “The Changeling” grabs your attention right away, with its addictive, funky hook accented by Morrison’s primal grunts. It is like Jim Morrison addressing the listeners about his pending move to Paris and attempt at a new life as a poet, like many of the 20th century’s great writers had done before. With his boisterous blues outburst of “see me change”, those who had watched Morrison’s career knew what he was talking about. Here was a man who had made a career out of being a chameleon – starting as a military brat progressing into a highway drifter and film student before creating the ideal “rock star” archetype that is still mimicked today, only to destroy that image by growing a beard, gaining weight, and sabotaging the band’s live bankability with bizarre on stage antics. Jim Morrison was a changeling and with the first track on L.A. Woman he was telling everyone that he was not done. This “change” theme is revisited later in the album, especially in the songs “Hyacinth House”, “The W.A.S.P. (Texas Radio & the Big Beat)”, and “Riders On the Storm”.
“Riders”, the album’s closer, is a unique song in the history of rock n roll. With several influences including, the traditional cowboy song “Ghost Riders in the Sky” and Morrison’s own defunct film, HWY: An American Pastoral as well as his poems. Often considered a Morrison masterpiece, because of its haunting theme and whispered background vocals, the song is really a showcase for the other three band members – guitarist Robbie Krieger, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, and drummer John Densmore – who use the song as a preview of the group’s new direction.
The band already knew coming in that this album would be an endpoint on a couple of fronts. It was the last one necessary to fulfill their contract with Electra Records, and the band had already quietly agreed to a break from Morrison, as he planned to move to Paris following its completion, and continue as a trio with Krieger, Manzarek, and Densmore. In fact, a common misconception is that the late-1971 album Other Voices was made in reaction to Morrison’s death, when it was actually started prior to his passing, with some songs actually worked on during the L.A. Woman sessions.
Beyond the four members of The Doors, there were two addition musicians involved with the making of L.A. Woman, bassist Jerry Scheff who played on every track and blues guitarist Mark Benno, who played rhythm guitar on four of the album’s tracks. Scheff, who was Elvis Presley‘s regular bass player at the time, was as much a part of the music on L.A. Woman as any of the “regular” Doors (a defacto “fifth Door”), being right out front in the mix and providing the memorable riffs for some of the most memorable songs.
Benno added his talents to the album’s title song along with “Been Down So Long”, “Cars Hiss By My Window”, and the cover of the John Lee Hooker song “Crawling King Snake”. These tracks also happened to be the same ones where Morrison best used his new found “blues” voice, a vocal style unlike any he had presented before, but did with exceptional talent and ease, especially on “Cars Hiss by My Window” – a song in which Morrison’s vocals shine on two levels, the straight-up singer voice, and the wild-mimicked bluesy-harmonica sounding “voice” solo that ends the song. Although Benno had never even heard of The Doors before being booked for these sessions, he and Morrison became fast friends, going to lunch and drinking together between recordings.
Aside from the well-received title song, these extra-bluesy songs that Benno worked on have been commonly knocked by die-hard Doors fans as the “filler” on L.A. Woman, but, although they may not quite match the rest of the album, they certainly do not detract from the album as a whole. Lyrically these songs may not quite be the high points of the album, but the only real filler is the odd-marching, quasi-psychedelic “L’America”, which sounds like an incomplete experiment that should have been left for the box sets decades later.
Thematically, L.A. Woman is not an acid trip, an orchestral, or a poem, but is quite simply the completion of the band’s take on blues rock that started with their previous album, Morrison Hotel in 1970, but it is not a pure blues album. In fact, one of the band’s finest pop songs is present in “Love Her Madly”, which sounds like it could of fit well on Strange Days in 1967. It is perhaps the best audio evidence that this is, in fact, The Doors we are in listening to.
The band was not looking to explore new musical themes or expand consciousness – they just wanted to record an album and the result was a magical capture of lightning in a bottle. Certain unforeseen situations led to this confluence. Longtime producer Paul Rothschild had disagreements with the band on their approach and walked away from the project early on, leaving the production to engineer Bruce Botnik and the band members themselves.
The album was recorded at the band’s rehearsal space on Santa Monica Blvd, in a building that was once an antique store. Botnik converted a bathroom into the vocal booth for Morrison and used just an 8-track recorder, which is incredible considering the depth of the resulting sound. This location was chosen after the Doors decided to forego professional studio costs and considered a number of locations including Robbie Krieger’s beach house, which was decorated with several hyacinth plants.
“Hyacinth House” is an oft-overlooked gem on L.A. Woman with Krieger’s folksy guitars, Morrison’s calm yet desperate pleads of paranoia and need for change and, most especially, Ray Manzarek’s virtuoso work on the organ where he subtly mimic’s a piece by Chopin. Another interesting piece on the “second side” of the album is “The W.A.S.P. (Texas Radio & the Big Beat)”, a spoken-word poem that at once pays homage to Mexican pirate radio of the sixties while taking the listener on an undecipherable poetic journey, all above a funky-riff that could have been used for a Sesame Street learning experiment. It is hard to think that anyone but Morrison himself truly “got” this song, but it does add a nice bit of balance to much of the rest of the album.
Speaking of “sides” of the album (for those of us old enough to remember such things), one of the flaws of L.A. Woman is the fact that it reversed what should have been the extended closing number of each side – the 7-plus minute songs “Riders on the Storm” and “L.A. Woman”. The title song, with its movement and rhythm, and nearly constant build to a crescendo, is the undeniable climax of the album and would have worked best as the last song on the album instead of “Riders On the Storm”, which kind of drip-drops its way out. As a matter of fact, both these songs were included in the high-selling Greatest Hits compilation in 1980, with “Riders” finishing side one and “L.A. Woman” wrapping up side two. Was this the quiet recognition of an original faux pas in song sequence by the band?
But no matter where it sits in the song sequence, the song “L.A. Woman” is a masterpiece, just like the album of the same name is. Every track is musically crafted to near perfection without being over-produced nor overdone. This is probably due to the fact that The Doors were just looking to make music with this album and not accomplish any loftier goals. They simply wanted to jam and move on to the next phases of their lives and careers. Tragically, there would not be much of that life left in Jim Morrison, who died at the age of 27 on July 3, 1971, just three months after the album was released.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1971 albums.