Fifty years since the release of the band’s last album still resonates with fans
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist
This year marks 50 years since The Doors released their final album, L.A. Woman. The Doors were one of the most controversial bands in the late 1960s. This was attributed mainly to charismatic lead singer and poet, Jim Morrison and his oftentimes erratic onstage behaviour due to alcoholism.
A low point for the band occurred in March 1969, when Morrison was arrested after a concert in Miami. Morrison, who was very inebriated, went on a profanity-laced tirade and was alleged to have exposed himself on stage. He was later put on trial and accused of lewd and lascivious behaviour, indecent exposure, drunkenness, and profanity. Morrison was convicted but appealed the verdict at the time of his death. Posthumously, he was given a pardon in December 2010.
Morrison’s encounters with the law along with the bad publicity generated affected the band’s ability to tour. Future shows were cancelled due to Morrison’s arrest and trial. However, one option that The Doors had where they would be immune from anymore trouble with the law was to record another album in the safe confines of their home rehearsal studio in Los Angeles.
But the recording of L.A. Woman had a troublesome start. Longtime producer, Paul Rothchild (who passed away in 1995 at age 59), was frustrated with The Doors’ creativity and effort in the studio. It had gotten to the point where Rothchild would have preferred the smell of an outhouse instead of producing another Doors album. So, Rothchild left the project with audio engineer, Bruce Botnick, taking over the recording sessions.
The Doors, who usually recorded with each other, enlisted help during the recording of L.A. Woman. Rhythm guitarist, Marc Benno, was brought in to play alongside Robby Krieger. As well, Jerry Scheff, bass player for Elvis Presley, was another strong musical acquisition.
The band went back to their roots: blues and rock and roll. The opening track, “The Changeling” is a catchy and upbeat while being a downright hardcore song that combines blues rock and funk music—a tribute to James Brown. In addition, there is the symmetry provided by the rest of the band all having unique musical backgrounds. Ray Manzarek’s keyboard wizardry (jazz background), Robby Krieger’s guitar work (flamenco background), and John Densmore’s drumming (jazz influences).
The album contains other hits including “Love Her Madly” written by Robby Krieger. As well, the classic “Riders on the Storm” combines elements of soft rock, blues, and jazz. The overdubbing of heavy rainstorm sounds adds both a sinister yet ethereal quality to the song. Other tracks include “The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat),” “Been Down So Long,” “Cars Hiss by My Window,” “L’America,” “Hyacinth House,” and a cover of John Lee Hooker’s “Crawling King Snake.”
Yet, it is the title track, “L.A. Woman,” that still resonates with so many Doors fans including Jim Ladd, former disc jockey at KLOS radio in Los Angeles. He says “L.A. Woman” is the benchmark Doors song. “For me, as a Los Angeles native, it’s our anthem,” Ladd said in the 2012 documentary, The Doors: Mr. Mojo Risin’—The Story of L.A. Woman. “You know, what describes L.A. better than ‘L.A. Woman’? Answer, nothing!” Ladd also states the song is a perfect highway cruising song: “You need to be in a car with [the volume] on 10 and screaming down the freeway in Los Angeles listening to ‘L.A. Woman.’ You’ll get that song.” Morrison added his mark during the latter parts of the song when the tempo slows down and gradually speeds up again. Morrison repeats the phrase, “Mr. Mojo Risin’,” an anagram he created from his name.
Notably, the L.A. Woman album also revealed the cohesiveness of The Doors working together as a unit. They were a consistent and solid recording group, releasing six albums in a span of four years (1967 to 1971). But Morrison’s vocals and the effort he puts into every track on L.A. Woman is what drives the album. He belts out each song with his baritone voice that is at times, shouting and bellowing, almost like he is sending a message to his loyal fans that he still has it. The “Lizard King” can still slither and “do anything”; his “Mojo” is still “risin” and stronger than ever.
In March 1971, after Morrison finished recording his vocals, he moved to Paris to join his girlfriend, Pamela Courson. Morrison wanted to get away from the rock and roll lifestyle, the lingering negativity stemming from his Miami conviction, and just concentrate on his true passion: writing poetry. Tragically, he was found dead in a bathtub in a Paris apartment on July 3, 1971. He was 27. Morrison was later buried in Paris’ famous Père Lachaise Cemetery.
L.A. Woman was released in April 1971 and the album was a success. It went 2x platinum (selling over two million copies). It peaked at number nine on the US Billboard 200 charts in June 1971 staying 36 weeks on the charts. Ray Manzarek, who died in May 2013 from cancer at age 74, reflected on the legacy of L.A. Woman, in an interview with Uncut in February 2007: “Viewing it from the outside, you can put a neat little bow on it and see it as our last performance, but for us we were just playing our butts off,” he said. “Fast, hard, and rocking, but cool and dark, too. Every Doors song has its own spirituality, its own existential moment [….] I love the sound of The Doors—I can become an outsider now and think to myself, that is one tight motherfucking band.”
L.A. Woman is a perfect final album by The Doors and it is also a fitting epitaph for Jim Morrison. The album also has a sad legacy. It leaves Doors fans wondering, had Morrison lived, what music the group would have released of even greater quality and richness.