The Doors

With an intoxicating, genre-blending sound, provocative and uncompromising songs, and the mesmerizing power of singer Jim Morrison's poetry and presence, The Doors had a transformative impact not only on popular music but on popular culture.

The Doors' arrival on the rock scene in 1967 marked not only the start of a string of hit singles and albums that would become stone classics, but also of something much bigger - a new and deeper relationship between creators and audience. Refusing to be mere entertainers, the Los Angeles quartet relentlessly challenged, confronted and inspired their fans, leaping headfirst into the heart of darkness while other bands warbled about peace and love. Though they've had scores of imitators, there's never been another band quite like them. And 40 years after their debut album, The Doors' music and legacy are more influential than ever before.

Morrison's mystical command of the frontman role may be the iconic heart of The Doors, but the group's extraordinary power would hardly have been possible without the virtuosic keyboard tapestries of Ray Manzarek, the gritty, expressive fretwork of guitarist Robby Krieger and the supple, dynamically rich grooves of drummer John Densmore. From baroque art-rock to jazz-infused pop to gutbucket blues, the band's instrumental triad could navigate any musical territory with aplomb - and all three contributed mightily as songwriters.

The group was born when Morrison and Manzarek - who'd met at UCLA's film school - met again, unexpectedly, on the beach in Venice, CA, during the summer of 1965. Though he'd never intended to be a singer, Morrison was invited to join Manzarek's group Rick and the Ravens on the strength of his poetry. Krieger and Densmore, who’d played together in the band Psychedelic Rangers, were recruited soon thereafter; though several bassists auditioned of the new collective, none could furnish the bottom end as effectively as Manzarek's left hand. Taking their name from Aldous Huxley's psychotropic monograph The Doors of Perception, the band signed to Elektra Records following a now-legendary gig at the Whisky-a-Go-Go on the Sunset Strip.

Their eponymous first album, released in January 1967, kicked off with "Break on Through (to the Other Side)" and also featured the chart smash "Light My Fire", the scorching "Back Door Man" and the visionary masterpiece "The End". The Doors arrived fully formed, capable of rocking the pop charts and the avant-garde with one staggering disc. Before '67 was over, they'd issued the ambitious follow-up Strange Days, with such gems as "Love Me Two Times", "People Are Strange" and "When the Music's Over".

Next came 1968's Waiting for the Sun, boasting "Hello, I Love You", "Love Street" and "Five to One". Over the next few years they minded over new territory on such albums as 1969's The Soft Parade (featuring "Touch Me" and "Tell All the People"), 1970's Morrison Hotel (which includes "Roadhouse Blues", "Peace Frog" and "Queen of the Highway") and 1971's L.A. Woman (boasting "Rider's on the Storm", "Love Her Madly" and the title track).

They released six studio albums in all, as well as a live album and a compilation, before Morrison's death in 1971. Their electrifying achievements in the studio and onstage were unmatched in the annals of rock; and though Morrison's death meant the end of an era, Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore collaborated on two more original Doors albums, Other Voices and Full Circle, and a set of tracks they composed to accompany Morrison's 1969 recording of his poetry, released in 1978 as An American Prayer. They also pursued individual music projects, books, theatrical productions and other enterprises - and remain restlessly creative to this day.

In the decades since the Doors' heyday, the foursome has loomed ever larger in the pantheon of rock - and they remain a touchstone of insurrectionary culture for writers, activists, visual artists and other creative communities. Their songs, featured in an ever-increasing number of films, TV shows, video games and remixes, always sound uncannily contemporary. No matter how the musical and cultural tides turn, The Doors will always be ready to help a new wave of listeners break on through to the other side.

The Doors were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 1993.

Singer for The Doors

At the center of The Doors’ mystique is the magnetic presence of singer-poet Jim Morrison, the leather-clad “Lizard King” who brought the riveting power of a shaman to the microphone.

Morrison was a film student at UCLA when he met keyboardist Ray Manzarek on Venice Beach in 1965. Upon hearing Morrison’s poetry, Manzarek immediately suggested they form a band; the singer took the group’s name from Aldous Huxley’s infamous psychedelic memoir, “The Doors of Perception.”

Constantly challenging censorship and conventional wisdom, Morrison’s lyrics delved into primal issues of sex, violence, freedom and the spirit. He outraged authority figures, braved intimidation and arrest, and followed the road of excess (as one of his muses, the poet William Blake, famously put it) toward the palace of wisdom.

Over the course of six extraordinary albums and countless boundary-smashing live performances, he inexorably changed the course of rock music – and died in 1971 at the age of 27. He was buried in Paris, and fans from around the world regularly make pilgrimages to his grave.

In 1978, the surviving members of the band – keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore – reunited to record the accompanying music for An American Prayer, a compilation of Morrison’s poetry readings. He remains the very template of the rock frontman, and his singing, poetry and Dionysian demeanor continue to inspire artists and audiences around the world.

Birth: December 8th, 1943
Death: July 3, 1971
Keyboardist for The Doors

Ray Manzarek was the architect of The Doors' intoxicating keyboard sound. Manzarek's evocative playing fused rock, jazz, blues, bossa nova and an array of other styles into something utterly, dazzlingly new.

The group was born in 1965, when Jim Morrison and Chicago native Manzarek -- both UCLA film students -- met on Venice Beach. The singer's poetry was a perfect fit for the classically trained keyboardist's musical ideas, and eventually they decided to form a band. Though several bassists auditioned for the group, none could match the bass lines provided by Manzarek's left hand. Signed to Elektra Records, The Doors released six studio albums, a live album and a compilation before Morrison's untimely demise in 1971.

Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore released two albums as a trio under the Doors moniker, with Manzarek and Krieger handling vocals. Manzarek next formed the group Nite City, which invited comparisons to Mott the Hoople and Aerosmith; the quintet released its one album in 1977.

The surviving Doors reunited to create a musical backdrop for Morrison's recorded poetry on the 1978 release An American Prayer. Manzarek produced and performed on five of the L.A. band X's albums, including Los Angeles, which remains one of the high-water marks of the punk movement. The keyboardist authored several books, and recorded numerous solo albums. Ray lived with his wife of 45 years, Dorothy, in Napa, CA until his passing in May of 2013 following his ultimately fatal bout with bile duct cancer.

Birth: February 12, 1939
Death: May 20, 2013
Drummer for The Doors

Drummer John Densmore was far more than merely the rhythmic engine of The Doors. Strongly influenced by jazz skinsmen like Elvin Jones and the supple grooves of the Brazilian wave, he brought a highly evolved sense of dynamics, structure and musicality to his beats.

Inexorably drawn to music from childhood, Los Angeles-born Densmore honed his sense of dynamics playing with his high school marching band. In the mid-’60s he joined guitarist Robby Krieger in a band called Psychedelic Rangers; shortly thereafter they hooked up with keyboardist Ray Manzarek and Morrison, and an explosive chapter in the development of rock ‘n’ roll began. A raft of paradigm-shifting recordings and epochal live performances would follow.

Morrison’s death in 1971 marked the end of an era, though the surviving trio recorded two more albums of songs and an instrumental backdrop for the late singer’s recorded poetry.

The versatile musician explored reggae and jazz in subsequent projects, wrote books and articles and became active in L.A.’s adventurous theater community. He earned an L.A. Weekly Theatre Award for the music he created for the Tim Robbins-directed stage production Methusalem.He also co-produced the play Rounds, which was given the NAACP award for theatre in 1987.

Densmore’s autobiography, Riders on the Storm: My Life With Jim Morrison and The Doors, was published in 1991 and was a New York Times bestseller. He's written articles and essays for Rolling Stone, London Guardian, The Nation, and many nationally syndicated newspapers.

Birth: December 1, 1944
Guitarist for The Doors

With a flair for wicked bottleneck slide, exploratory solos and gutbucket grooves, guitarist Robby Krieger brought a stinging, sinuous intensity to the sound of The Doors. But he was also a key songwriter in the band and penned some of their biggest hits – notably their mesmerizing #1 hit, “Light My Fire.”

Before picking up the guitar at age 17, the L.A. native studied trumpet and piano. The inspiration for switching to guitar came not from rock ‘n’ roll, but Spanish flamenco music. His first guitar hero, however, was jazz legend Wes Montgomery.

After Morrison’s death in 1971, Krieger, Manzarek and Densmore carried on as a trio. They released two more albums as the Doors before calling it quits in 1973, though they did reconvene a few years later to create music for poetry Morrison had recorded shortly before his death, released as the 1978 album An American Prayer

Krieger went on to enjoy success as a jazz guitarist, recording a handful of records with the Robby Krieger Band in the 1970s and ’80s. Versions (1983) and No Habla(1986) amply demonstrate his versatility. “I think playing guitar is probably the one thing that gets better with age,” he says.

Robby Krieger is listed among Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.”

Birth: January 8, 1946
"Break On Through (To The Other Side)"

You know the day destroys the night 
Night divides the day 
Tried to run 
Tried to hide 
Break on through to the other side 
Break on through to the other side 
Break on through to the other side, yeah 

We chased our pleasures here 
Dug our treasures there 
But can you still recall 
The time we cried 
Break on through to the other side 
Break on through to the other side 

C'mon, yeah 

Everybody loves my baby 
Everybody loves my baby 
She get(s high) 
She get(s high) 
She get(s high) 
She get(s high) 

I found an island in your arms 
Country in your eyes 
Arms that chain 
Eyes that lie 
Break on through to the other side 
Break on through to the other side 
Break on through, oww! 
Oh, yeah! 

Made the scene 
Week to week 
Day to day 
Hour to hour 
The gate is straight 
Deep and wide 
Break on through to the other side 
Break on through to the other side 
Break on through 
Break on through 
Break on through 
Break on through 
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah 
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
  • This was the last song Jim Morrison recorded. He went to France and died a few weeks later. The single was released in June, 1971, shortly before Morrison's death.
  • The song can be seen as an autobiographical account of Morrison's life: he considered himself a "Rider on the storm." The "killer on the road" is a reference to a screenplay he wrote called The Hitchhiker (An American Pastoral), where Morrison was going to play the part of a hitchhiker who goes on a murder spree. The lyrics, "Girl you gotta love your man" can be seen as a desperate plea to his long time girlfriend Pamela. (thanks, keith - boston, MA)
  • As it says in Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend by Stephen Davis, in 1962, while Jim was attending Florida State University in Tallahassee, he was seeing a girl named Mary Werbelow who lived in Clearwater, 280 miles away. Jim would oftentimes hitchhike to see her. "Those solitary journeys on hot and dusty Florida two-lane blacktop roads, with his thumb out and his imagination on fire with lust and poetry and Nietzsche and God knows what else - taking chances on redneck truckers, fugitive homos, and predatory cruisers - left an indelible psychic scar on Jimmy, whose notebooks began to obsessively feature scrawls and drawings of a lone hitchhiker, an existential traveler, faceless and dangerous, a drifting stranger with violent fantasies, a mystery tramp: the killer on the road." (thanks, Angela - Chesterton, IN)
  • This evolved out of a jam session when the band was messing around with "Ghost Riders In The Sky," a cowboy song by Stan Jones. It was Jim Morrison's idea to alter the title to "Riders On The Storm."
  • The Doors brought in bass players Marc Benno and Jerry Scheff to play on the album. Scheff came up with the distinctive bass line after Manzarek played him what he had in mind on his keyboard. It took a while to figure out, since it was much harder to play on a bass than a keyboard.
  • Ray Manzarek used the electric piano to create the effect of rain.
  • This was the last song on the last Doors album with Morrison. Fittingly, it ends with the storm fading slowly to silence. The remaining Doors released 2 more albums without Morrison before breaking up in 1972. In 2002, Kreiger and Manzarek reunited as "The Doors Of The 21st Century." Densmore, who says he wasn't invited to join them, went to court and eventually got a ruling preventing the group from using The Doors in its name, so they changed their name to "Riders On The Storm" after this song. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
  • If you listen closely, you can hear Jim Morrison whispering the lyrics over his own singing, which causes a kind of creepy effect.

    This was Morrison's final contribution as a rock star. Ray Manzarek told Uncut magazine September 2011: "There's a whisper voice on 'Riders on the Storm,' if you listen closely, a whispered overdub that Jim adds beneath his vocal. That's the last thing he ever did. An ephemeral, whispered overdub." (thanks, Mark - West Bountiful, UT)
  • Paul Rothchild, who produced The Doors' first five albums, decided not to work on this because he didn't like the songs. He thought this sounded like "cocktail music." The Doors ended up producing it themselves with the help of their engineer, Bruce Botnick.
  • The single was shortened for radio play. Some of the piano solo was cut out.
  • In year 2000, the surviving members of the Doors taped a VH1 Storytellers episode with guest vocalists filling in for Morrison.Scott Stapp from Creed sang on this track.
  • Creed contributed a version of this to the 2000 Doors tribute album Stoned Immaculate. Creed also performed it with Doors guitarist Robby Krieger at Woodstock '99. Krieger sat in on Creed's "What's This Life For?" during the set.
  • Doors drummer John Densmore wrote a book called Riders On The Storm about his life with Jim Morrison and The Doors. (thanks, Ted - Poway, CA)
  • Eric Red, the screenwriter of the 1986 film The Hitcher, has said that his screenplay was inspired by this song. He said in an interview with DVD Active: "I thought the elements of the song - a killer on the road in a storm plus the cinematic feel of the music - would make an terrific opening for a film. I started with that scene and went from there." (thanks, Edward Pearce - Ashford, Kent, England)
  • When the 71-year-old Ray Manzarak was asked by the Somerville Journal in March 2010 if he turns up or turns off Doors music when he hears it on the radio, Manzarek said, "Oh, God, turn it up! Are you kidding? Living up in northern alifornia, it rains a lot, so they play the heck out of 'Riders on the Storm.' And when that comes on, I crank that sucker, man." (thanks, DeeTheWriter - Saint Petersburg, Russia Federation)
  • When he recorded this song, Jim Morrison had already decided that he was going to leave the band and go to Paris, where he would die. Some of the lyrics in this song ("girl, you gotta love your man...") relate to his love for his girlfriend Pam Courson, who went with him to France.
  • At the end of this song, there are sound effects of thunder, and the faint voice of Jim Morrison whispering, "riders on the storm." This was envisioned as his spirit whispering from the beyond.
Of all creative bands in the history of rock music, the Doors may have been the most creative. Their first album contains only masterpieces and remains virtually unmatched. Jim Morrison may well be the single most important rock frontman. He is the one who defined the rock vocalist as an artist, not just a singer. Ray Manzaker's style at the keyboards was at the vanguard of the fusion of classical, jazz, soul and rock music. The virulence of some of their riffs bridged the blues-rock era and the hard-rock era. Whether it was him, Krieger or Manzarek or all of them, their songs have a unique quality that has never been repeated. They are metaphysical while being psychological and while being physical (eroticand violent). They are the closest thing rock music has produced to William Shakespeare.
(Translated by Ornella C. Grannis)

The Doors were the leading performers of a brief but intense creative season, during which they recorded one the greatest masterpieces in the history of rock music. The more time passes by, the more it seems that their fame will be forever tied to that first effort.

The band was dominated by the histrionic personality of singer Jim Morrison, the inspiration behind their music. James Douglas Morrison was born December 8, 1943, in Melbourne, Florida. His father, a high ranking Navy officer, expected him to pursue a similar career. After severing all ties with his family, Jim moved to Los Angeles to enroll at UCLA where he studied cinematography, Latin and Greek. He majored in Technical Cinematography in 1964, after directing an experimental film.

At UCLA Morrison met Ray Manzarek, nine years older, a graduate in economy, who loved the blues of his Chicago and played the piano for Rick and the Ravens, a Santa Monica band held together by members of the same family. Drummer John Densmore, a jazz aficionado, and guitarist Bobby Krieger, a flamenco and jug music enthusiast, both members of The Psychedelic Rangers and followers of guru Maharishi Yogi, soon joined Morrison and Manzarek. It was September 1965. The Doors were born.

The name "Doors" is a double tribute: to the poetry of William Blake for whom the doors divide that which is known from that which is unknown, and to the book about psychedelic drugs by Aldous Huxley "The Doors of Perception". The tribute clearly conveyed a debt of gratitude and set the way for the development of their sound.

The Doors began playing regularly at The London Fog, on Sunset Boulevard. Soon after they were hired by the famous Whiskey-a-go-go, where they competed with the best bands of the area - Turtles, Seeds, Love.

Their sound, a fierce blues-rock far more mature than the shy beat in circulation at the time, catapulted them to the top: the exuberant organ played by Manzarek (that also served as bass and chorus), the neat, dreamy, hallucinogenic, typically West Coast guitar of Krieger and the bluesy fiber in the fabric of Densmore's drumming sound, created the suggestive backdrop to which Morrison added with his cavernous voice continual references to darkness, void, oblivion and death. His sensational sermons shocked and enlightened the existentially damned. Like many of the Bay Area, Doors concerts also became actual "acid tests", during which the band rambled and stretched blues classics to the limit.

The Doors were offered a contract in the summer of 1966. The following January their first album, The Doors (Elektra, 1967) was released and was accepted enthusiastically by those who had followed them underground.

The album is the outcome of the fusion of six elements of highly suggestive potential: the coarse skin-tight twitch of blues-rock (sealed by the obsessive beat of Densmore); a personalized baroque interpretation of psychedelia (trademark of the fatuous and eclectic Manzarek's organ that varies from sluggish swing to a peeling of the bells onto majestic liturgical swirls); an accurate plan of exotic infection (Latin and Hawaiian flavors in Krieger's guitar), the seducing and sinister voice of Morrison, the evangelic charm of his personality and the shocking value of his lyrics, halfway between Greek tragedies and Freudian psychoanalysis.

The album begins with one of their most famous tunes, Break On Through, a feisty and irreverent piece with an out-of-control rhythmic session that burns itself, without a single second of pause, in just over two minutes, an epileptic punk-rock anthem before its time. Soul Kitchen is a blues-rock that begins like an experience recalled and stretches itself to a spectacular end, culminating with a demonic invocation during the satanic ceremony in the "kitchen of the souls". The Mephistophelian atmosphere sweetens in the oblivion of Crystal Ship, a perfect little masterpiece on the expansion of consciousness, in which the search for metaphysical freedom awakens simultaneously primordial fears and euphoria ("...the days are bright and filled with pain..."). An acute, irrefutable pain adds strange hues to the piece (the imperceptible undertones of acid) in a mix of dizzy heights ("...we'll meet again, we'll meet again, oh, tell me where you freedom lies...") in which the work evolves to an epic crescendo. 20th Century Fox is a sarcastic hymn to a shrewd woman who "...won't waste time on elementary the world locked up inside a plastic box...", a feminine portrait worth of the imagery of Dylan and the Jefferson Airplane.

"Light my fire, try to set the night on time to wallow in the mire; try, now we can only lose and our love becomes a funeral pyre...". A text of eleven verses for twelve minutes of mesmerizing music: an organ that spins in sidereal spaces like a baroque harpsichord, a guitar that self-ignites, extinguishes itself and comes back to repeat the cycle, drums that desecrate Cuban dance music, a voice that comes from the darkness of the other side to launch its heart wrenching call: Light My Fire (a creation of Krieger, like many of their most mesmerizing riffs). It's a melodramatic hymn to sex and death, to fire and darkness, to the savage instincts that awaken in the middle of the night, to the languid premonitions that infect their pleasure. In the long instrumental break the spectacular duet between Manzarek (jazz, baroque, and boogie) and Krieger (raga, Arab, Gypsy and Spanish) creates a tense and feverish, refined and linear sound that opens all "doors" and reaches the psyche.

Then the arcane nightmare of the hypnotic End Of The Night, a desperate lullaby about "the end of the night" (as opposed to endless nights, a description of the terrifying separation from the dreams and the pleasures of the night). Take It As It Comes, a disengaged and resilient reprisal of the vortex of Light My Fire introduces the very long eleven minutes of The End, the legendary agony with which the album ends.

Eleven minutes of laments, of mysticism, of collective and rarefied improvisations on resignation. A primordial magma of emotions, of convulsed exorcisms, of confusing plots. Eleven minutes of sulfur and incense: "...this is the end, my only friend, the end...the end of everything that stands..." in a crescendo that grabs and holds. Amidst irregular breathing, slobbered lewd images and blasphemous biblical verses, the ceremony proceeds relentlessly through curses and nightmares. The myth of Oedipus fills every word with horrendous foreboding. The dying soul, lost in a desperate land, staggers without support. The song is insidious and epic at the same time. Morrison's voice is that of the narrator, but also of the protagonist, lacerated by monstrous traumas. The phrasing is the nonsensical sequence of a journey that's lasted too long. The instrumental suspense electrifies every word: "...The killer awoke before dawn. He put his boots on. He took a face from the ancient gallery, and he walked on down the hall. He went into the room where his sister lived, and then he paid a visit to his brother, and then he walked on down the hall. And he came to a door, and he looked inside, "Father?" "Yes son?" "I want to kill you." "Mother, I want to...". Blinding spotlights point to the site of the tragedy. The psychopathic sweetness of the assassin who relives the torpid fairy tales of the subconscious within the skeletal tapestry of the text now adorned with whispers and screams, love and hate, sounds and silence. By assimilating and consuming it all within his delirium he becomes a giant with enormous tentacles that reach beyond "the real", into the "the eternal" populated by "snakes". The doors of perception unlock, and an angelic vampire agonizing on the edge of the abyss with dilated pupils, proclaims, as time and memory march solemnly: "...the end of nights we tried to die...this is the end!".

The instrumental chaos of The End, and When The Music's Over, symbolize an important moment in the evolution of the Doors' style, much like the experiences of acid-rock. The harmonic separation in both cases has a function strictly theatrical. Every choreographed sound is functional to the acting of the singer. It's a soundtrack more than a musical composition. The quintessence of the Morrisonian melodrama is the ability to recite monologues while singing, to create an atmosphere of suspense by unleashing the fury of rhetoric, to captivate an audience by learnedly alternating states of submission and exaltation.

Their rock became immediately recognized as a refined product of the underground. It didn't match any of the styles in vogue. It was too hard and maniacal to be compared with the dreamy styles of the Bay Area, it was too baroque and metaphysical to fit the common psychedelic beat.

Their concerts had little in common with the psychedelic concerts of the time. It was Morrison who dominated, with his shaman like personality and his provoking attitude. Authorities and moralists alike pursued Morrison without mercy (he was arrested twice: in 1967 in Connecticut for rioting, and 1969, in Miami, for lewd acts in public). The persecution was well deserved, Morrison's was a dissolute existence filled with alcohol and drugs.

Incorrigible rebel like James Dean, quintessential to his music like Jimi Hendrix, poet of a generation like Bob Dylan, inclined to self-destruction like Jack Kerouac, Jim Morrison was the spokesman of post-pacifism and post-psychedelic restlessness. Through the exaltation of drugs and sex Morrison assaulted the strongholds of conservative ideology and rendered tangible the apolitical rebellion of his generation. "We want the world and we want it NOW!" was the only slogan that truly spoke for everybody.

The fundamental component of The Doors' music were Morrison's lyrics. His classic and modern education gave him Blake's apocalyptic symbolism, Poe's macabre decadence, Hawthorne's anti-puritan pessimism and Ginsburg's angry reprimands. These references, more or less close to Morrison's idea of life and of the world, never came out as such, but as amalgams within his own poetry and the occult symbols of his paranoia, which his poetry couldn't renounce: the "crystal ship" (heroin) saves from the pain, "the fire" with which a hypothetical lover should light the night (sex, death, perhaps both), the seven mile long cold "snake" of the ancient lake ("ride the snake" a sexual parody of "ride the tiger"), "the music" a euphemism for life (it's your friend, until the end), "the riders on the storm" (of which he was most certainly one), the "lizard" (himself) and "the end" of it all (my friend the end, my only friend, the end).

At the bottom of that complex and fantastic world there was Morrison himself, his damned life and his fears, confessed in many escapes from reality ("...desperately in need of some stranger's hand..." he whispers in The End). Every scream hides an exorcism, every whisper a prayer, every show is a maniacal ego-trip: "the artist is both shaman and scapegoat, the crowd projects its fantasies upon him and those fantasies become real. To destroy their fantasies people must destroy him." Every one of his efforts was a parable of his own destruction and can be recalled like that of a Christ desperately searching for his own Calvary.

On stage Morrison took from his experience as an actor and a poet and combined it with movement, recitation and music. The result was an original expressive form entirely centered on the musical momentum that became known as "the theater of sex and death". Against the Hippies' flower power he set his own personal "sexual power". Without tricks or disguises he was able to excite the audiences with the depth of his transmission, or in moments of delirium with verbal assaults and sexual simulations. Sex for Morrison was liberating and glorifying, as in all primitive cultures. The true Morrison was the one who insulted and degraded the audience, the one who laughed at himself unabashed in hedonistic and blasphemous rituals on the stage of Miami. But sex was also macabre. His lyrics are permeated with a clear foreboding of his tragic demise and with a cosmic sense of murder as supreme manifestation of life (the "killer on the road" whose "brain is squirming like a toad" in Riders of the Storm).

Morrison manifested a tendency to split his personality which he liked to link to a religious antithesis: Christ/Satan. He defined himself "the king of sinners" elaborating on squalid and contorted dissertations on incest, homicide and the Oedipus Complex, while at the same time posing as a prophet, a redeemer and a martyr (in a famous photograph he's crucified naked on a telephone pole). This split personality tendency produced sudden transformations: while reciting the Celebration Of The Lizard, during a silent pause, he assailed a sleepy audience with a belligerent scream (wake up!), a true awakening of his demonic alter-ego.

There is yet another component to Morrison's artistic personality: he writes as an actor. His lyrics are movies (the execution of the "unknown soldier", the symbolic tragedy of the "celebration of the lizard king"). When he sings his monologues he adapts his voice to every different atmosphere, to the different scenery of the piece (arrogant and imperious in Light My Fire, desolately nostalgic in Strange Days, insane and murderous in Break On Through); he's an actor.

The success of the 45 Light My Fire allowed the band to immediately record a second album, Strange Days (Elektra, 1967).

The second album substantially copied the structure of the first. It was released in 1968, and the days were indeed strange for the United States, for the students in the occupied campuses, for the soldiers in Vietnam, for the revolting blacks. Morrison lived those times on his terms, but he understood the crisis that would bring the country to its knees, and he envisioned the insanity and the solitude that transformed sky scrapers into mental institutions and apartments into isolation blocks. The denizens of the metropolis are lost, estranged, confused, alienated, and hostile to each other.

The meaning of the entire album is linked to the rhythm, the tone and the volume of Morrison's voice: gloomy when it comes to prophesies the looming apocalypse, detached and menacing when it converses with its own phantasm.

A whirling organ introduction opens the discussion, "Strange days have found us" (as if, for years, they had hunted a humanity too sure of its own civilization). The announcement is given by a sinister and spiritless voice that seems to come from some catacomb (obtained in reality with an elementary and suggestive echo effect). The pronouncement plays on the many meanings of the word "strange": strange as incomprehensible, strange as different, strange as hallucinatory. Incomprehensible because the confusion of an entire generation had never been so great and so marred by undefined sensations of discomfort, different because never before had American society been confronted by so many social movements and because never before had the survival of mankind been put into discussion; and hallucinatory because that was the effect of the drugs.

You're Lost Little Girl, Love Me Two Times, Unhappy Girl are brief "strange stories" centered around a female. The cabaret-style refrain of the first, the syncopated blues of the second, the oriental-like whisper of the third confirm the incredible ability of the band to assimilate elements of diverse genres and then fuse them into a unique mix of rhythm, harmonic progressions and crescendos.

Horse Latitude, although extremely concise, is a crucial moment of the album: the music ties itself up in clusters of dissonance, the voice screams, others scream along, in a rousing electric sabbath in the moonlight. The instruments obey faithfully every order imparted by a detached and glacial tone of voice: ...pause...consent...

Then all is lost in the relaxed mood of Moonlight Drive, a syncopated artifact of lunar song: "...let's swim to the moon...penetrate the evening that the city sleeps to hide...". The moon is an important symbol in the Morrisonian mythology, the inspiration of opposite sensations: it awakens instinctive madness while igniting the yearning desire for eternity.

People Are Strange is the vaudevillian refrain sung by the lonely stranger (another symbol for Morrison himself). "...faces looks ugly when you're alone... women seem wicked when you're unwanted...when you're strange no one remembers your name...". It's a desolate admission of his own loneliness, although the words can easily lend themselves to other interpretations. Yet only in such a condition can the collective drama be comprehended, the collective drama of an entire society made up of folks who are strange, meaning different from one another.

My Eyes Have Seen You, Latin-laced soul with a hard-rock rhythm that changes mood rather suddenly and gives it a touch of insanity, and I Can't See Your Face, another lesser known song dedicated, in a soporific Hawaiian siesta, to a mysterious female interlocutor who sweetens the dramatic atmosphere, confirm the band's exceptional state of grace in both composition and performance: the perfect "dry" timbre of the organ, the happy "pizzicato" counterpoint of the guitar, the evocative swirling rhythm of the drums.

A scream and a handful of bluesy chords on the organ skirted by guitar distortions announce When The Music's Over. It's only the beginning of a journey that will take us far, that will upset the world in a disorderly sequence of metaphorical images ("...cancel my subscription to the resurrection..."). Anger turns to melancholic depression, to a prayer, to a request, to a tiff, to a whisper: "...before I sink into the big sleep I want to hear...the scream of the butterfly...". The leading thread twists convulsively, the theme changes continuously to follow the agonizing gargles of a man ready to die. Every instrument plays frantically, war-like, along with the voice: "...I hear a very gentle sound, very near yet very far, very soft yet very clear...". The will to vindicate. The need for a victory. The cry of he who can't justify history, "...what have they done to the earth?...ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her...and tied her with fences...". The conclusion of he who has waited too long and doesn't want to wait any longer. A slogan fit for every mouth: "...we want the world and we want it...", a small pause without uncertainty, doubt or fear, only to fill the lungs and scream: "...Now! Now? Now!!!...". Three times in three different tones. Three times for three different meanings in the same atmosphere of suspense. Then the immediate doubt that it may not be enough, that it may not be needed after all, or that it may not be necessary: " us!...when the music's over turn out the lights...". And the final confession before the great sleep: " is your special friend, dance on fire as it intends, music is your only friend, until the end...". When The Music's Over is the last hymn of a generation that began with the English invasion and ended with the poets of the San Francisco Bay Area. Morrison took the protest, until then confined to restricted circles, and grafted it to the seed of existential malaise, rendering it universal.

The sensational Doors ascended to the top by circumventing both conventional style and the hit parade. They're neither hippies nor pop: they're pure cult. They took the opportunity to repeat themselves a few months later with a third album, Waiting For The Sun (Elektra, 1969). The band had to search every drawer to gather enough material for a third album in two years. The album seems a patched-up job rushing to exploit the success of the 45 Hello, I Love You. The rich, fearless, energetic and perfectly arranged sound of the previous two albums is muddied by catchy insipid love songs reminiscent of traditional pop. The scenery of The End and When The Music's Over will never be repeated. The angry symbolism of the originals has been transformed into a random collection of incoherent phrases and artificial machinations.

Hello, I Love You begins with a riff stolen from The Kinks. The witty psychedelic bubble gum is light years away from the visionary, infectious atmosphere of Crystal Ship. Through unimpressive tunes and reworked ancient motifs (Spanish Caravan, Krieger's flamenco masterpiece; Love Street, a jazz cocktail; the lugubrious highway country of Summer's Almost Gone; My Wild Love, a chorus of blind and maimed pirates gathered under the skull and crossbones; and the just as depressing Yes, The River Knows), the album peddles only indecision.

Even the four noble songs have been left substantially unfinished. Wintertime Love, despite the romantic and martial epic of the baritone's ballad and the crazy with passion carousel of the harpsichord, doesn't produce a love story with growls and nightmares, but a tender love affair. The Unknown Soldier reproposes the old cliches of die-hard pacifism with pomp - the bells that salute the execution of the condemned. The fragment Not To Touch The Earth, prologue to one of Morrison's masterpieces The Celebration Of The Lizard (the complete text is on the jacket) and the final invective Five To One, also torn between the ferocious fighting attitude of the warrior (...they got the guns but we got the numbers...) and the lascivious sexual call, are not enough to dignify a mediocre work that signals the Doors' definitive withdrawal from psychedelic mysticism and metaphysical drama.

The acute crisis comes with Soft Parade (1969), an almost total rejection of what had made The Doors the myth of a generation. The violins and wind instruments called in to fill a frightful void of ideas, ended up ruining even what little could have been saved: the successful single Touch Me, melodic but much too hysterical, accentuated by brasses and counterpointed by strings; and Wild Child, a collection of obscenities left over from previous works (a blasphemous version of The Virgin's Prayer). The expressive shivers of the first tragic poems and the fantastic swirls of the bluesy baroque that sustained them had dissolved into the inconsistent, overly sweet kitsch of Wishful Sinful. Tell All The People is the political chant of the moment. It fails like all the others. The ambitious but disappointing Soft Parade shows precisely how many light years separate The Doors of 1969 from The Doors of 1967. This crisis of expression obviously coincided with Morrison's personal crisis. The dissolute life he lived without any restraints had debilitated him. Stardom and the awareness of being the center of attention rendered the crisis more acute.

The subsequent, Morrison Hotel (1970), is their hard-rock album. Having abandoned the metaphysical psychedelia of their debut, The Doors are happy to play blues and country. This redemption favors some aggressive chords and some suggestive atmosphere (the powerful Roadhouse Blues a la Animals). Some of the lyrics are still intriguing (Peace Frog and Queen Of The Highway). The cameo Waiting For The Sun is a classic of horror-rock. It's a hypnotic melody propelled by a cadenced rhythm in which the voice, alternating between military-style singing and rapture propels toward a fainting fit while "waiting" ("waiting for you to come along" never really telling who's "you"). The Polynesian languor of Krieger's guitar and the lysergic fever of Manzarek's organ are sublime.

New emerging idols contributed to Morrison's decline. Alice Cooper came to mystify audiences only months after David Bowie and Lou Reed. Everybody employed histrionics, and everybody made references to sex, some even better, more audaciously. Hendrix and Joplin managed to perfect the process of total identification with rock music. The MC5 came to explain once for all how to get politically involved with music. Morrison became surpassed: the new world that came to close the 60s had no use for his mask.

The Doors remained themselves only on stage. Their concerts, although poor in comparison to those of their contemporaries, could still count on the chameleon-like personality of Morrison and could still offer music of high quality. A testimonial of their vitality "live" was the double album in 1970, Absolutely Live. This album brings back the primordial, existential, terrifying tension and the hypnotic, electrifying atmosphere of the first two albums. The repertoire includes a couple of Chicago blues classics, a medley that culminates in a version of Five To One full of pauses, whispers and suffocated screams, and a great, great version of When The Music's Over, a personal, delirious frenzy; a full immersion trance interrupted by an infuriated "shut up!" to the audience who dared applaud, thus breaking the silence imposed by the enunciation of the text.

But most of all there is Morrison's legendary monologue, his spiritual testament: Celebration Of The Lizard , a spirited recitation in eight parts. A heartbreaking wail and unsure singing open the scene of growling, drooling dogs in heat. The master of ceremonies announces the ritual about to begin. An agitated "wake up!"starts an evocative sequence centered on the symbolic figure of the "snake...pale gold". A little song, shy and insane, pregnant with nostalgia of childhood carried on on the wings of memory: "Once I had a little game, I liked to crawl back into my brain...I mean the game called 'go insane'...just close your eyes forget your way to lose...". A different voice carries on: "...way back deep into the brain back where there's never any pain". A psychopathic refrain: "we're getting out of town...and you're the one I want to come...". Then: "... not to touch the earth...", and an invitation to ", run, run...". A posse of filthy outlaws whispers: "...we came down the rivers and highways...climbing valleys into the shade...". Then the final message, when the music's over: "I am the Lizard King, I can do anything, I can make the earth stop in its night arrives with her purple legion, retire now to your tents and to your dreams, tomorrow we enter the town of my birth. I want to be ready."

The Doors came back with L.A. Woman, released in April 1971. It was an album of renewal, intended to interpret the new directives of rock music. It had echoes of the acid rock of the Bay Area, of progressive rock, of hard rock. The Doors managed to modernize their sound, severing altogether their ties with the now surpassed concept of psychedelia and consequently losing some of their identity. The lyrics mumble ordinary tales. The images (the man who changes borrows from the myth of the journey by train toward adventure), and (...LA woman...I see your hair is burning...) are repetitive. Intellectual realism at which Morrison never excelled, argue against already controversial social issues. L'America (of the Puerto Rican ghettos) and The Wasp are a pretext to survey an entire generation ("...I love the friends I have gathered together on this thin raft..."). Toward the hermetic universe symbolic of "the end"proceed both the paradise of the drug addicts of Hyacinth House and the crawling sexual snake of Crawling King Snake. Riders On The Storm delivers the most suggestive lyrics of the album, one of the few in the Morrisonian opus to predict salvation for those who ride the storm.

The other Doors (besides Morrison) are the protagonists of the music. Manzarek in particular effortlessly captures the catchy beat of Love Her Madly, the band's last hit. The blues dominates in every variant, from Changeling to Crawling King Snake. There is also powerful rock, as in L.A. Woman, eight minutes of honkytonk piano upon which Morrison can unleash his demonic shouts; The Wasp with a declamatory opening a la Burdon and a vaudevillian proceeding; the epic and sarcastic marching step of L'America; the suave and Pink Floydian movement of Hyacinth House; the autumnal bitterness of Riders On The Storm, where the jazzy rhythm of the drums simulates both the rain that hits the asphalt and the steps that rush upon the sidewalk, slowly discharging the measure of the metropolitan solitude.

Morrison's voice adapts like a chameleon to the various atmospheres. His ability to oscillate between the black thunderings of gospel, the crooning of a Broadway tenor or the smooth balladeering of a lounge lizard, earn him a place of honor among the great dramatic vocal interpreters.

It seemed the beginning of a new era for The Doors, instead was the end. Morrison was found dead at 28, in a bath tub of a Paris hotel. It was the third of July, 1971. The news of his death came after two days, after he had been buried a Pere Lachaise, the poet's cemetery, in an informal ceremony. His poetry was published posthumously.

Without Morrison The Doors faded fast, after just two mediocre albums: Other Voices (1971) and Full Circle (1972). Manzarek recorded The Golden Scarab (Mercury, 1974) and The Whole Thing Started With R'n'R (Mercury, 1975). Brought back by New Wave, he formed The Nite City and recorded two more albums. Krieger and Densmore formed The Butts Band and also recorded two albums. Of all the surviving Doors, Krieger made the most interesting recordings: Robbie Krieger And Friends (Blue Note, 1977), Panic Station (Rhino, 1982) credited to The Acid Casualties, Versions (Passport, 1983), Robbie Krieger (Cafe', 1985) and No Habla (IRS, 1988).

The dilemma of individual merits remains unsolved. Did Morrison take advantage of an excellent trio of musicians or did The Doors owe it all to the temperament of their front man? Surely The Doors has had few rivals in the annals of rock's history: only the Stones and the Jefferson Airplane had as much heterogeneous talent and such a spontaneous fusion of innovative elements. Did The Doors really create Light My Fire, The End, When The Music's Over or were they Morrison's improvisations that demanded the emergence of techniques both individual and collective? Who's to blame for the crisis, Morrison, who was out of control or The Doors who became too commercial? Who is the real owner of their music?

The Doors Biography

The Doors were among the most intense and revolutionary bands of the Sixties (or any decade, for that matter). The impact of their meteoric career has resonated far beyond their brief half-decade as a recording and performing entity. Their words and music captured the Sixties zeitgeist with undeniable power. A cult of personality continues to surround Jim Morrison, their tempestuous lead singer. Morrison was a brooding, charismatic frontman in the classic mold of Elvis Presley and Mick Jagger. Yet he was given to more extreme and confrontational forms of behavior than those icons. Morrison pushed himself to the limit with drugs, alcohol and hard living, becoming one of rock’s most celebrated martyrs when his body gave out at the age of 27. Only six years passed from the Doors’ formation in 1966 to Morrison’s death in 1971. During that time, the group released six studio albums and left a smoldering trail of memorable and often controversial concert performances that cemented Morrison’s legend.

The Doors comprised vocalist Jim Morrison, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore. Their music combined classical elocution with jazzy improvisation and infused heady psychedelic rock with the earthiness of the blues. As Manzarek put it in a 1997 interview: “We just combined the Apollonian and the Dionysian. The Dionysian side is the blues, and the Apollonian side is classical music. The proper artist combines Apollonian rigor and correctness with Dionysian frenzy, passion and excitement. You blend those two together, and you have the complete, whole artist.” Quite obviously, the Doors were no ordinary group. Thirty years earlier, in the group’s original bio, Manzarek had listed his “hobbies” as “projecting the feel of the future.”

Morrison’s lyrics, sung in a resonant baritone, evinced the sophistication of a schooled poet and the street-level immediacy of a rock lyricist. Especially on the classic albums The Doors and Strange Days, the group epitomized the sound of “acid rock,” which took psychedelia to its limits.

Morrison’s charged theatricality and the band’s challenging musical flights were suffused with unpredictability and genuine danger. On several occasions, the singer’s erratic behavior, which included baiting audiences and authorities from the stage, put him in legal jeopardy and physical risk. He fearlessly approached Doors performances as a kind of experiment in mass provocation, resulting in scenes of illumination and chaos. It was his way of externalizing a personal philosophy. As he stated in the Doors’ original Elektra Records bio: “I’ve always been attracted to ideas that were about revolt against authority. I like ideas about the breaking away or overthrowing of established order. I am interested in anything about revolt, disorder, chaos – especially activity that seems to have no meaning. It seems to be to be the road toward freedom...”

What the Doors offered listeners was not just entertainment but an exhortation to “break on through to the other side.” That was, in fact, the title of the Doors’ first single and the opening track of their self-titled debut album from 1967. In addition to “Break On Through (To the Other Side),” The Doors included “Light My Fire.” Penned by guitarist Krieger in his first songwriting attempt, the song catapulted the group to stardom, topping the charts for three weeks during the Summer of Love. (For purposes of AM airplay, the single version of “Light My Fire” was edited from its nearly seven-minute album length to just under three minutes.) Then there was “The End,” a harrowing epic that ambitiously recast elements of the Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex in a disturbing, acid-rock frenzy. “The End” ran for more than 11 minutes, making it one of rock’s first long-form compositions.

Over the next four years, The Doors released five more studio albums – Strange Days (1967), Waiting for the Sun (1968), The Soft Parade (1969), Morrison Hotel (1970) and L.A. Woman (1971) – and the concert compendium Absolutely Live (1970). In the 40 years since Morrison’s death, there have been numerous compilations, live releases and box sets. The surviving members even recorded two albums (Other Voices and Full Circle) as a trio. Still, the original studio albums remain the core of the Doors’ still-viable catalog.

More than any other band, the Doors reflected the turbulence of the Sixties and the clash between generations. “We want the world and we want it now,” Morrison screamed in “When the Music’s Over” (from Strange Days). This album-closing masterpiece warned of ecological apocalypse well before the rise of an organized environmental movement that would sound similar alarms. “The Unknown Soldier,” an unlikely Top 40 hit, was the most potent antiwar song of the Vietnam era. Drawing upon Morrison’s and Manzarek’s background in film studies, the Doors further recast the song as a dramatic rock video – one of the first.

The Doors’ outsized personality came largely from Morrison, who projected sexuality (he once described the Doors as “erotic politicians”), a deep interest in shamanism and ritual, and an unsettling preoccupation with death. The source of Morrison’s intensity was addressed early in the group’s existence. “It’s the feeling of a bowstring being pulled back for 22 years and suddenly let go,” he explained.

Much as Bob Dylan raised the bar for lyric-writing in the folk realm, Morrison brought a heightened poetical sensibility to rock lyrics. As keyboardist Manzarek stated in a 2006 interview, “Jim Morrison was a great young American poet working in the genre of rock and roll.” He was well-read and had a keen intellect. His principal literary influences ranged from Beat Generation writers (notably Jack Kerouac) to French symbolist poets (especially Arthur Rimbaud) and English poet-savants including John Keats and William Blake. He derived the Doors’ name from a passage in Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”: “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” That same passage inspired the title of Aldous Huxley’s 1954 essay on his first psychedelic experience, "The Doors of Perception," which Morrison had read.

The origins of the Doors date back to the summer of 1965, when Morrison and Manzarek – who’d met as students at UCLA’s film school – first broached the idea of forming a rock band that would marry words and music in provocative new ways. Morrison had come to Southern California after an itinerant childhood. (His father, George Morrison, was a naval officer who attained the rank of admiral.) Young “Jimmy” Morrison lived in Clearwater and Tallahassee, Florida; Alexandria, Virginia; and Alameda, California, among other places. Manzarek hailed from Chicago, growing up in proximity to the blues scene on the city’s Southside.

During a chance meeting between the two on Venice Beach, Morrison sang a few of his songs to Manzarek, including “Moonlight Drive” (which would appear on Strange Days, their second album). Manzarek responded by saying: “Jim, those are the best songs I’ve ever heard... Man, we’ve got to get a band together. We’re going to make a million dollars!” Morrison responded, “Ray, that’s exactly what I had in mind.” Morrison even had the band’s name picked out: The Doors.

Early Doors lineups evolved out of Rick and the Ravens, Manzarek’s bar band, which included his brothers Rick and Jim. Guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore, both of whom were in a meditation group with Manzarek, joined as others fell away, and the group solidified as a four-piece. Krieger could play a variety of styles, including flamenco, blues and psychedelia, and his skill as a slide guitarist became a core ingredient in the group’s sound. As a drummer, Densmore had a creative, dynamic flair that lent itself to the Doors’ surreal, kaleidoscopic music. Notably, the Doors had no bass player. Manzarek filled that role at live shows and on early recordings by playing a Fender keyboard bass with his left hand while playing conventional keyboards (organ and piano) with his right hand. In the studio, they’d occasionally recruit other musicians to play bass. The list of bassists who played on Doors albums included sessionmen Larry Knechtel and Jerry Scheff, Clear Light’s Douglas Lubahn and old-school rocker Lonnie Mack.

Much of the Doors’ original repertoire came together during a series of extended club residencies on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip. For much of 1966 and 1967, the Doors were the house band at the London Fog and then the more prestigious and popular Whisky a Go Go. Their six-song demo, recorded in 1965, had been turned down by nearly every other label. Based largely on their burgeoning popularity as a live band, the Doors were offered a contract by Elektra Records. Among their champions on the local scene was Love, a band of similarly anarchic spirits who were on Elektra.

Having conquered the L.A. club scene, the Doors achieved national success and critical acclaim soon after the release of The Doors, their 1967 debut. Produced by Paul Rothchild – as was every one of the original Doors albums except L.A. Woman – The Doors was a tour de force of literate, visionary acid-rock and one of the major releases of 1967. Its followup, Strange Days, appeared later the same year and drew from the same impressive wellspring of material. Notable tracks included “When the Music’s Over,” “Love Me Two Times” (a raunchy, riff-driven hit) and the haunting title song. For the last of these, Morrison’s vocal received an eerie electronic treatment from Moog synthesizer pioneer Paul Beaver. If any album ever captured the disorienting aura of those conflicted times, steeped in violence-, political- and drug-induced paranoia, it was Strange Days. The album was strange right down to its Fellini-esque cover rendering of a back-street carnival freak show.

Waiting for the Sun - the Doors’ third album, released in 1968 - was their first (and only) album to hit Number One, a position it held for four weeks. Despite its chart success, it had been a difficult album to make, as the group had nearly exhausted its reserve of original material and “hit the third album wall,” in producer Paul Rothchild’s words. Moreover, Morrison’s hedonistic lifestyle was wearing him out and wearying his bandmates as well. The group failed to cut a satisfactory take of Morrison’s magnum opus, a suite of poetic songs and snippets entitled “Celebration of the Lizard,” although lyrics from it were printed inside the album. Still, it had some exceptional moments, including “The Unknown Soldier,” “Hello, I Love You” and “Five to One.” The last of these, a bluesy rant about generational conflict and youthful revolt, contained the often-quoted line “No one here gets out alive.”

The most problematic of the Doors’ albums, The Soft Parade, followed a year later. It was made with relatively less enthusiasm and involvement from Morrison, and the inclusion of strings and horns on many tracks took it far afield from the Doors’ previous work. Tellingly, he insisted that the shared group songwriting credit be abandoned and that each song’s primary writer – either Krieger or Morrison – be identified. The album reached Number Six and spawned four Krieger-penned singles, including the Number Three hit “Touch Me,” which included a jazzy sax solo by hornman Curtis Amy. The eight-minute title track, largely a Morrison creation, was the most notable track and the Doors’ last epic composition.

Morrison reasserted himself on Morrison Hotel, their fifth album, which took a bluesier, more down-to-earth approach. It kicked off with “Roadhouse Blues,” their hardest-charging song and a bonafide anthem on par with Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild.” It also included “Waiting for the Sun” (a song left off the album of the same name), the sublime, jazzy “Queen of the Highway” and “Peace Frog,” an apocalyptic slice of psychedelia revisited.

Away from the studio, Morrison’s ongoing issues with drugs and alcohol – combined with his antiauthoritarian mindset - resulted in ever-unpredictable behavior. He was arrested onstage in New Haven in December 1967. His performances at Doors concerts during the difficult year of 1968 were erratic – often brilliant, sometimes problematic. The tumult engendered by Morrison culminated in Florida. During an infamous concert at Miami’s Dinner Key Auditorium on March 1, 1969, he was alleged to have exposed himself onstage and was subsequently charged with indecent exposure and public profanity.

With the specter and distraction of a court trial – and possible jail time - hanging over his head, Morrison found himself in real trouble. Interestingly, no photographic evidence affirming his exposure has ever surfaced. Prior to the Miami show, Morrison had been attending and even participating in performances by the provocative Living Theatre troupe. While he no doubt meant to challenge the audience in Miami in much the same way, it would appear that he employed suggestion and illusion to do so, stopping short of exposure. Nevertheless, he was found guilty on both charges and sentenced to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. Those convictions were under appeal when Morrison died in 1971. In 2010 he was officially pardoned by the Florida Clemency Board, led by Governor Charlie Crist. 

In the wake of the Miami incident and pending trial, Morrison and the Doors rebounded from adversity with renewed focus. They undertook a U.S. concert tour that found them delivering some of the strongest shows of their career. Many were taped for the double album Absolutely Live, which culled the best takes from along the tour. By this point, the Doors were working more bluesy and roots-oriented material – both originals and covers – into their sets. (“The Doors were basically a roadhouse blues band with intellectual pretensions,” Manzarek noted in Keyboard magazine.) Decades later, beginning in 2001, a number of these concerts were released in their entirety on Bright Midnight, the surviving Doors’ label for archival releases. The Doors’ final performance took place in New Orleans, on December 12, 1970, where Morrison appeared creatively spent and mentally and physically exhausted.

All the while, much like such kindred spirits and guiding lights as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsburg, Morrison nurtured a growing fascination with America in his later song lyrics and the poems he was writing outside the group. Some of Morrison’s readings of his poetry – recorded in a Los Angeles studio on his 27th (and last) birthday - were posthumously issued in 1978, with music overdubbed by the surviving Doors, as An American Prayer.

The Doors sixth and final studio album - L.A. Woman, released in 1971 - harked back to their early years, when they collectively worked out new material in a more casual, workshop-type setting. After Paul Rothchild, the Doors’ long-time producer, walked out in frustration early in the sessions, the Doors decided to self-produce the album with engineer Bruce Botnik. The group rose to the challenge – especially Morrison, who tempered his excesses as best he could during the sessions. Despite all the controversy, including blacklisting by radio stations and concert promoters, the Doors still proved capable of cracking the Top 40, as both “Love Her Madly” and “Riders On the Storm” were sizable hits in 1971. The propulsive, seven-minute title track acutely captured the alluring yin and alienating yang of the City of Angels, becoming one of the group’s best-loved songs.

Before the release of L.A. Woman, Morrison took an open-ended hiatus from the Doors and moved to Paris. There was talk of him returning to tour with the group, based on the resurgent momentum generated by the album’s success, but it was not to be. Jim Morrison died of a heart attack in the Paris apartment he shared with longtime girlfriend Pamela Courson on July 3, 1971.

Morrison’s death at age 27 closed the door on the original group, although the surviving members released two albums as a trio – Other Voices (1971) and Full Circle (1972) – before disbanding and moving on to other projects. Both Krieger and Manzarek have issued solo albums. Manzarek also produced the first four albums by the celebrated L.A. punk-rock group X; briefly belonged to Nite City, an L.A. rock group; and collaborated with Beat Generation poet Michael McClure. Drummer Densmore and keyboardist Manzarek published autobiographies of their lives with the Doors in 1990 and 1998, respectively.

Meanwhile, the continuing interest surrounding the Doors periodically erupted into a phenomenon whenever a fresh young audience discovered them. The first such wave occurred in 1980. It was triggered by three things: the use of “The End” in a scene from director Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War film, Apocalypse Now; the publication of the first in-depth Doors biography (No One Here Gets Out Alive, by Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugarman); and Elektra Records’ release of Greatest Hits (which has sold more than 3 million copies in the U.S.). In 1981 Rolling Stone ran a feature on the Doors’ resurgence with a cover shot of Morrison alongside the unforgettable line, “He’s hot, he’s sexy and he’s dead.”

Oliver Stone’s 1990 film biography of the band, which ran for more than two hours, triggered another wave of Doors-mania. Another newsworthy event was the 2000 release of Stoned Immaculate: The Music of the Doors. This 17-track CD found a variety of artists – ranging from John Lee Hooker and Aerosmith to Creed and Stone Temple Pilots – covering Doors songs, often joined by one or more original band members. The release of several Doors box sets - especially 1997’s The Doors Box Set, with its wealth of unreleased material, and the 2006 leviathan Perception - also provided ways for new and old fans to approach or rediscover the legacy. Meanwhile The Best of the Doors, a double-disc compilation released in 1987, has quietly become the top-selling album of their career, having been certified nine times platinum (the equivalent of nine million copies sold).

In 2002 Krieger and Manzarek formed the Doors of the 21st Century with vocalist Ian Astbury (of the Cult) and other musicians, touring under that name in 2003 and 2004. Drummer Densmore sued his former bandmates over their use of that name, and in 2005 a California court decreed that no permutation of the Doors’ name could be used without the consent of all members of the Doors’ partnership. (That decision was upheld by the California Supreme Court in 2008.) Krieger and Manzarek have subsequently performed as Riders on the Storm and Manzarek-Krieger.

Densmore has also refused to allow the Doors’ songs to be used for commercial purposes, despite offers of millions of dollars. In a partnership proposed by Morrison back in 1965, each group-related decision requires unanimity. In 1969, Morrison strongly disapproved when the others approved the use of “Light My Fire” for a Chrysler commercial without his consent, threatening to take a sledgehammer to the car in question on national TV if the deal weren’t rescinded. By honoring Morrison’s refusal to license the Doors’ songs, Densmore has allowed their music – almost alone among rock acts of any significance – to remain uncompromised by such associations.