1986_VanHalen 5150

5150 by Van Halen

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5150 by Van HalenWith the possible exception of AC/DC, it is hard to find an example of an established rock band with a single, charismatic, lead singer that becomes even more successful once that singer is replaced. After the acrimonious departure of David Lee Roth in early 1985, Van Halen was at sea for a while as they actively searched for Roth’s replacement. Their record company, Warner Brothers, did not want them to continue on with the same name, feeling like it might distort the successful branding. Further, many long-time fans were hoping for reconciliation and dismissing any serious chance at reformation with a new lead vocalist.

Unfortunately, the rift between Roth and the rest of the band was far too deep and with Roth publicly declaring the band dead and making grand plans for a solo music and acting career, the band was determined to carry on without him. After briefly entertaining the idea of using multiple singers on their next album, Van Halen decided they wanted a permanent band member to front them. Enter Sammy Hagar, a well established rock star in his own rite, as the lead singer in the band Montrose and as a solo artist.

Further, Hagar was also a proficient guitarist, which freed up Eddie Van Halen to further branch out on the keyboards, as he had started with the previous album, 1984 (MCMLXXXIV). The band scored a couple of big hits from keyboard-driven songs on that album and that trend would certainly continue with 5150.

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5150 by Van Halen
Released: March 24, 1986 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Mick Jones, Donn Landee, & Eddie Van Halen
Recorded: Nov. 1985 – Feb. 1986, 5150 Studios, Hollywood, CA
Side One Side Two
Good Enough
Why Can’t This Be Love?
Get Up
Dreams
Summer Nights
Best of Both Worlds
Love Walks In
5150
Inside
Musicians
Sammy Hagar – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Eddie Van Halen – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Michael Anythony – Bass, Vocals
Alex Van Halen – Drums & Percussion

Another factor that led to the new sound of 5150 was the absence of producer Ted Templeton, who had produced all of the band’s previous six albums. This left production duties to the band itself, led by Eddie Van Halen with the help of Mick Jones and Donn Landee. This production team moved away from the traditional “live” sound of previous albums and towards a sleeker 1980s sound, especially among the three keyboard-driven songs, each of which would become huge hits.

Two of these hits used the long-string sound that Eddie Van Halen had established on the previous album. “Dreams” is the standout here, showcasing Hagar’s vocal range as well as the band’s pop sensibilities, while maintaining a unique, dynamic edge. Perhaps the first true “love song” in the Van Halen catalog, “Love Walks In” features Hagar on lead guitar and showcases some excellent background harmonies by Eddie Van Halen and bassist Michael Anthony, which had become a longtime staple of the band’s sound.

The most unique-sounding and innovative of these keyboard songs is “Why Can’t This Be Love”, where Van Halen uses a wild-sounding synthesized clavichord for the main riff while Hagar providing some rhythm guitar support. Being the first single to be released by the band in the Spring of 1986, this song re-introduced the band with a fresh and unique sound that was mainly well-received. However not everyone was impressed with the new sound, as a lot of longtime fans felt alienated by the dual whammy of replacing Roth and moving further away from the guitar-driven sound of the group’s early days. Soon these fans would adopt the name “Van Hagar” for this new formation, so to derisively avoid acknowledging this as a continuation of that earlier band.

Van Halen in 1986

5150 does contain a solid handful songs that would have fit into the style of some on the band’s early work including the songs “Summer Nights”, “The Best of Both Worlds” along with the album’s opening track “Good Enough”. However, none of these really rise to the level of the band’s better guitar-driven songs of the past. One exception to this is the standout title song “5150”, an upbeat jam with a catchy melody that highlights the talents of both Eddie Van Halen and his older brother, drummer Alex Van Halen.

Van Halen did score their first ever #1 album with 5150, a feat that served to validate their decision to move forward with a new frontman and updated sound. The band would continue use this formula with similar success, as all four of their Hagar-era albums reached the top of the album charts, stretching well into the early 1990s.

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1986 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration anniversary of 1986 albums.

 

Too Fast for Love by Motley Crue

Too Fast for Love by Mötley Crüe

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Too Fast for Love by Motley CruePerhaps more than any other band, Mötley Crüe epitomized the “hair band” phenomena of the 1980s, with their updated version of 1970s glam. But they did have a brief moment of pre-glam, pre-hair when they were simply a hungry hard rock band from L.A. looking to make their breakthrough.

The band’s 1981 debut album Too Fast for Love captures this era in raw and unpolished form. There are flaws throughout, including the obvious fact that Nikki Sixx had not yet learned how to play bass (which he later admitted), the overall low budget under-production, and the fact that songs do tend to repeat themselves in near mind-numbing sequence. In spite of this, the album illustrates that there is something real and legit about these four young talents, including Sixx whose main contribution is as the band’s primary songwriter, which can attract even non-fans of the band or the genre.

The talent represented here validates Mötley Crüe as a legitimate rock band. This is especially true for the most talented member of the band, guitarist Mick Mars, who is the only member of the band that truly has his sound fully formed and cultivated on this debut.
 

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Too Fast for Love byMötley Crüe
Released: December, 1981 (Elektra)
Produced by: Mötley Crüe
Recorded: Hit City West, Los Angeles, 1981
Side One Side Two
Live Wire
Come On and Dance
Public Enemy #1
Merry-Go-Round
Take Me To the Top
Piece of Your Action
Starry Eyes
Too Fast for Love
On With the Show
Musicians
Vince Neil – Lead Vocals | Mick Mars – Guitars
Nikki Sixx – Bass | Tommy Lee – Drums

 
Mars’ sound is the lynch pin that really elevates this album from semi-professional demo to consumer-ready rock product. His technique and sound textures are best displayed on the album’s only ballad, “Merry-Go-Round”, in which Mars alternates between lightly picked staccato notes and sustained, heavy chords and includes a fantastic, overdubbed lead that takes the song home.

However, a true listen to Too Fast for Love reveals that there are some other budding musicians beyond Mars. Although both fall just short of being fully matured in their craft, Tommy Lee plays some animated and entertaining drums while Vince Neil sings with a melodic, new-wave-ish voice.

Several of the songs reflect the band’s seventies influences. The opener “Live Wire”, with it’s machine-gun rift that dissolves into a calmer mid-section is reminiscent of Rush’s “Bastille Day”. Deep Purple’s influence can easily be heard in the entertaining “Piece of Your Action”, while the album’s title song sounds like any number of Kiss songs.

Too Fast for Love also includes a couple of really good rock-pop songs. “Public Enemy #1” would have been a huge hit if it were released during the band’s heyday a half decade later, while the closer “On With the Show” displays the Crüe’s versatility as up-and-coming musicians.

Even some of the album’s weaker songs, such as “Take Me to the Top” and “Starry Eyes” display a bit of authentic, early eighties charm that makes Mötley Crüe’s debut well worth the listen.

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1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1981 albums.

 

Bella Donna by Stevie Nicks

Bella Donna by Stevie Nicks

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Bella Donna by Stevie NicksAfter three albums with Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks was doubtlessly the most recognizable figure in that popular and talented band. However, her actual participation as far as songwriting and lead vocals had never eclipsed 50% on any of those albums. So prior to her debut solo effort in 1981, there was uncertainty about how a full album of her music would pan out. One serious listen to Bella Donna would set all doubt aside. This debut solo album went on to achieve critical and commercial success, topping the U.S. album charts and spawning four Top 40 hit singles, while reaching the Top 20 in six other nations.

The album contains ten songs composed by Nicks on piano over several years while on tour with Fleetwood Mac in the late seventies. These songs were then enhanced by producer Jimmy Iovine and a posse of talent, ranging from headline acts like Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Don Henley, formerly of The Eagles, to top-notch session musicians such as Donald “Duck” Dunn from the famed Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama. The result is an interesting and pleasant listen which contains some timeless works that flirt with pop, country, and folk while remaining distinctive and original.

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Bella Donna by Stevie Nicks
Released: July 27, 1981 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Jimmy Iovine and Tom Petty
Recorded: Studio 55, Los Angeles, Autumn 1980 – Spring 1981
Side One Side Two
Bella Donna
Kind of Woman
Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around
Think About It
After the Glitter Fades
Edge of Seventeen
How Still My Love
Leather and Lace
Outside the Rain
The Highwayman
Primary Musicians
Stevie Nicks – Lead Vocals, Piano
Tom Petty – Guitars, Vocals
Don Henley – Drums, Vocals
Lori Perry & Sharon Celani – Backing Vocals
Waddy Wachtel – Guitars
Roy Bittan – Piano
Dan Dugmore – Pedal Steel
Bob Glaub – Bass
Russ Kunkel – Drums

…and we fight for the northern star”

While Bella Donna‘s opening title song is definitely Fleetwood Mac-esque in it’s calm approach and long sustained guitar drones, it also contains a more ceremonious or ritualistic feel, like some kind of mass, as it vacillates between beatless sound scape and rhythmic drive. It is followed by “Kind of Woman”, another very calm, almost melancholy song, with a waltz-like beat an excellent guitar lead.

The album then abruptly takes a radical turn with “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”, one of two songs by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers on the album, along with the entertaining “Outside the Rain” on the second side. That band didn’t use these songs for themselves (and their current album, Hard Promises really could’ve used these), and the resultant Nicks-led recordings add a completely new dimension to Bella Donna.

“Leather and Lace” is a true duet with Henley, resulting in a moody and romantic ballad which has a sparse acoustic arrangement that really showcases the vocal talents of both. On the other end of the pop spectrum, “Edge of Seventeen” offered a rhythmic dance beat with a near rap in between the oft-repeated chorus about the “white winged dove”. Rumor has it that the title was coined by Tom Petty’s wife, who replied “age of seventeen” when asked by Nicks how old they were when they first met. But Stevie mis-heard this as “edge of seventeen” and was instantly taken by the concept.

Perhaps the most enjoyable song on the album, “After the Glitter Fades” is a pure country song, reminiscent to some of Olivia Newton John’s early stuff, with dynamic vocals nicely complimenting to rich arrangement, which contains virtuoso piano by Roy Bittan and masterful pedal steel by Dan Dugmore.

Stevie Nicks would continue on with Fleetwood Mac as well as produce more solo albums with much success in both throughout the rest of the 1980s and well into the 1990s. But artistically, she would not again reach the heights of Bella Donna in either side of her musical career.

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1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1981 albums.

 

Escape by Journey

Escape by Journey

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Escape by JourneyRarely does a band become more successful after one of its founders and leader departs from the group. Greg Rollie was the original lead singer, keyboardist, and overall and heart and soul of the group Journey from the band’s beginning in 1973 to the arrival of front man Steve Perry in 1978. After some lukewarm sales of the band’s moderately successful initial three albums with Rollie as lead singer, the band hired Perry at the request of Columbia Records, initially to split vocal duties with Rollie. However, Perry eventually became the primary lead vocalist and, by the end of 1980, Rollie had decided to call it quits altogether.

Fortunately for Journey, the British pop band The Babys were breaking up at about the same time, freeing up keyboardist Jonathan Cain to join the band. This created the respectable songwriting triumvirate of Perry, Schon, and Cain that launched the band into mega popularity through the early 1980s, starting with their 1981 album, Escape.

Although a critical listener may find the lyrical content a bit common and trite, there is no denying that sound that was forged on this album creates a niche and feeling that is quite fantastic. There is an edge to each and every song that makes it indelible and taps into a deep reservoir of nostalgia, while some of the individual, performances are at a stratospheric level.

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Escape by Journey
Released: July 31, 1981 (Columbia)
Produced by: Kevin Elson & Mike Stone
Recorded: Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, California, Winter-Spring, 1981
Side One Side Two
Don’t Stop Believin’
Stone In Love
Who’s Crying Now’
Keep On Runnin’
Still They Ride
Escape
Lay It Down
Dead or Alive
Mother, Father
Open Arms
Group Musicians
Steve Perry – Lead Vocals
Neal Schon – Guitars, Vocals
Jonathon Cain – Keyboards, Piano, Guitar, Vocals
Ross Valory – Bass, Vocals
Steve Smith – Drums, Percussion

While Cain was the driving force behind crafting many of the songs on Escape, and Perry and Schon provided, without a doubt, the incredible performances of this album (more on them later), bass player Ross Valory added a special touch to this album, with a unique-sounding, high end buzz to his bass sound that gives it just an edge to make the overall sound distinct. This is evident right from the jump on the hit “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” as he compliments the low end of Cain’s rotating piano riff in a preview of one of the elements the distinguishes this album from any other (including other Journey albums).

Don't Stop Believin' singleNeal Schon knows how to make an entrance, holding off for nearly a minute in this opening song, then providing a memorable rapid guitar tap that builds in intensity and volume. The guitarist is on at every moment in this album, making one wonder why he is not better recognized in the present day. He adds a solo at the end of “Who’s Crying Now” that elevates the otherwise standard love song to a new level and shines brightest on “Mother, Father”, the best song on the album.

A true classic in every sense, “Mother, Father” was arranged by Neal’s father and jazz musician Matt Schon who put together the ingenious chord structure that sets the mood for Perry’s soulful vocals and the absolutely superlative solo in the mid section. It climaxes with a surreal, harmonized outro, which completes a song that is as melodramatic as anything The Who ever did, while as deep into the “inner space” as anything that Pink Floyd ever did.

Steve Perry’s voice is a unique entity, unlike any ever quite heard before or since. He compliments any odd 7th or augmented chord by smoothly transitioning from note to note along an almost-superhuman range. He never seems to miss a note, but especially shines on the rockers “Lay It Down” and “Stone In Love”, as well as the ballad “Open Arms”, a calm lullaby that eases the album to its conclusion after the emotional journey of “Mother, Father”.

Another high point on the album is “Still They Ride” a haunting ballad, dripping with melancholy, that is dark yet addictive, here the band displays amazing discipline in measuring out the simple and slow notes with perfect, moody precision.

Journey in 1981

In total, Escape is a difficult album to pigeon hole. It is best known for its ballads that rose high in the charts, but yet has made a few “Top Heavy Metal Album” lists. It was undoubtedly a template for scores of album oriented rock efforts in the 1980s. Yet it gives a slight nod to the progressive rock of the 1970s with the exotic arrangements, jazz fusion, and the mini-suite title song, “Escape” (not to mention the official title of the album being the cleverly arranged “E5C4P3”).

No matter how it may be classified, it was certainly and instantly a hit, and the band did not shy away from reaping the benefits from this new found fame. In 1982, with the gush of a mainstream audience, Journey became the top-selling concert ticket, and that same year a Journey Escape video game was released for the Atari 2600 system.

Journey may be credited or blamed for what followed in the wake of Escape, when acts such as Poison, Bon Jovi, and countless other “hair” bands would put forth their own inferior carbon copies of this album but nonetheless stuck to the formula and gained success from it. In any case, they were the originators of this hybrid of pop-friendly “hard rock”, whether by design or not.

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1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1981 albums.

 

Surf's Up by The Beach Boys

Surf’s Up by The Beach Boys

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Surf's Up by The Beach Boys1971 was an exceptionally great year for rock n roll, and we at Classic Rock Review regret that we can not give a proper review to all the great works from that year in the short time we allotted ourselves. However, there is one that we felt we had to “squeeze in” before we’re done, due to it being probably the most unique and unusual album of that year – Surf’s Up by The Beach Boys. This 17th overall album by the group was also sort of a commercial comeback as it reached the Top 30 on both sides of the Atlantic.

To be honest, this album can be very frustrating. It is a mish-mash that, on the one hand, offers deep, rewarding, quality compositions worthy of the talent in this band. But on the other hand, there are some tacky, directed “social commentary” songs that, in many cases, barely rise to the level of musical Public Service Announcements. However, the album does possess a cohesive mood and tone and it does get more consistent and stronger as it goes along. So, in the end, we decided that the good here outweighs the bad and that the album needed to be reviewed.

Some has stated that Surf’s Up defined the band’s tumultuous career better than any other album, and this very well may well be the case. The Beach Boys rode to fame on selling good times, fast cars, surfing, and girls. In the process, the squeezed every bit of the “endless fun” out of California and over-used the term “surf” (which, including this album and title song, is used in some form in the titles of four different albums and eleven different songs). In the end, this was all a nice fantasy, but eventually you have to grow up and face the realities of life.

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Surf’s Up by The Beach Boys
Released: August 30, 1971 (Brother)
Produced by: The Beach Boys
Recorded: Los Angeles between November, 1966 and June, 1971
Side One Side Two
 Don’t Go Near the Water
 Long Promised Road
 Take a Load Off Your Feet
 Disney Girls (1957)
 Student Demonstration Time
Feel Flows
Lookin’ at Tomorrow
A Day In the Life of a Tree
Til I Die
Surf’s Up
Band Musicians
Brian Wilson – Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Carl Wilson – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Mike Love – Vocals, Saxophone
Al Jardine – Bass, Vocals
Dennis Wilson – Drums, Vocals

The band’s primary songwriter and musical driving force, Brian Wilson, retired from performing live by 1965 due to psychological and anxiety issues. He instead concentrated on studio production for the band. In 1966 he produced the brilliant Pet Sounds, a great departure from the band’s early work that was universally acclaimed.

Later that year, Wilson brought in Van Dyke Parks to collaborate on a follow-up album titled SMiLE, but due to growing artistic turmoil within the band, Brian’s deteriorating mental state, and a prolonged production problem, Parks abandoned the project in 1967 and the album was never released.

A key song from those sessions called “Surf’s Up” was performed live on piano by Brian Wilson for a CBS News special on “modern” music, which caused much curiosity and speculation by fans and critics about the unreleased “SMiLE” material over the next several years. During this time (1967-1970), The Beach Boys released several more albums, but each decreased in popularity, signaling a rapid decline for the band.

Then in 1971, Jack Reiley was brought in as manager, and he master-minded this new album. It was to be built around the (now mythical) song “Surf’s Up”, along with other abandoned out-takes from previous projects and new, politically-orientated songs. Reiley would also co-write a couple of fine songs with Carl Wilson and even performed the lead vocals on the psychedelic Parks/Brian Wilson song “A Day in the Life of a Tree”, after everyone in the band refused to sing it.

The youngest of the three brothers in the band, Carl Wilson had never previously written anything of significance for The Beach Boys, but his co-written contributions of “Long Promised Road” and “Feel Flows” are two the best songs on this album. Further, with Brian all but absent from the (1971) production of this album, Carl stepped up and assumed many of the producer responsibilities, although production credit was ultimately given to simply “The Beach Boys”.

The album’s sound is further diversified by the large number of other songwriting contributors. Al Jardine wrote some of the new “politically conscious” songs, including the opener “Don’t Go Near the Water”, an ironic message from a band that had been advocating the exact opposite for many years. Mike Love reworked a live standard into “Student Demonstration Time” and, although not quite yet an “official” member of the band, Bruce Johnston wrote and sang lead another on the album’s finer songs, the nostalgiac “Disney Girls (1957)” (Johnston was a long time “stand-in” for Brian Wilson on stage).

However, even though his actual participation was minimal, Brian Wilson managed to contribute the album’s two most significant songs, the two that close out Surf’s Up.

First, there was the newly-penned “Til I Die”, a beautiful but haunting ode to helplessness, which contains the tradition “Beach Boys sound” built around the rich harmonies of Carl, Brian, and Mike Love.

Then, of course, there is the climatic title song written five years earlier. A mini-suite in three distinct parts fused together seamlessly. The original, Brian Wilson produced backing track provides a backdrop for new vocals by Carl during the first part, while Brian’s original vocals are used in the middle part. The song’s concluding section was based on another SMiLE-era track, “Children Are the Father of Man”, and features Jardine on lead vocals and Carl and Brian doing harmonies. As a whole, even though the song distinctly changes and the lyrics are a bit thick, the message is undeniable.

Through the rest of the 1970s and well into the 1980s, Brian Wilson virtually dropped out of the music scene while the rest of the band would tour and play some of their greatest hits from the early 60s in what would become known as the “Endless Summer”. Surf’s Up proved to be their last, best effort as, artistically, the Beach Boys would not quite reach this level again.

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1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1971 albums.

 

LA Woman by The Doors

L.A. Woman by The Doors

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LA Woman by The DoorsL.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.

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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
  L.A. Woman
 L’America
 Hyacinth House
 Crawling King Snake
 The WASP (Texas Radio & Big Beat)
 Riders on the Storm
Musicians
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”.

The Doors Riders on the Storm single“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.

The Doors Love Her Madly singleThematically, 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.

The Doors in 1970

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.

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Contributers:
J.D. Cook
Ric Albano

1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1971 albums.