Having heard you ‘loud and clear’ about liking the Doors, I thought we’d fill out your Doors collection and take a closer look at some albums from the US West Coast around the 1967-70 period.
Obviously two centres of population, both very different, were of crucial importance: Los Angeles and San Francisco. Both cities had their pop booms in the early sixties of course, but there was a difference in the atmosphere between them. San Francisco has historically been associated with liberalism and forward thinking while Los Angeles has always been a corporate sprawl with more of an edgy atmosphere, charged by the economic gulf between the haves and the have-nots. San Francisco went on to be the home of the hippy phenomenon with its peace and love mantra, while LA did what it does best and concentrated on feeding the money-go-round. Those differences find their way into the music that comes out of each place, it seems to me…
We’ll start with Los Angeles because Jim Morrison has grabbed your attention!
LA pop was sunny, summery stuff in the main. Think about the Beach Boys with their surfing songs, for example, or groups like the Lovin’ Spoonful, The Young Rascals, Sonny & Cher, The Mamas & Papas or the Byrds. Then, in 1966, a band called Love issued their eponymously titled first LP and something stirred in the depths of a murky pond. This was a refreshing blast of garage ‘pop’ interspersed with surprisingly melodic songs and, though not quite worthy of the ‘classic’ tag, it was a cornerstone for what would come.
Love broke the mould because Arthur Lee, the mainspring of the group, was black, as was fellow band-mate John Echols and here they were, strutting around the white areas of town fronting a pop / rock band that were getting very favourable receptions amongst the white kids on Sunset Strip. His new found celebrity, set against his ‘ghetto’ background, probably made Arthur acutely aware of the rumbling, underlying tensions in LA society and his songs and music reflect them.
1967 brought the follow up, Da Capo, where the melodies were more complex and the garage elements had been brought to heel. The album suffered though from a fairly turgid ‘jam’ that occupied the whole of side two and spoiled what could have been fantastic. Nevertheless, Arthur was the toast of the town and a lucrative record deal had been secured, though tensions and personnel changes in the band suggested that he was a mercurial band leader and that trouble would never be far away. Unfortunately for Arthur, something else was stirring in the depths of the same pond.
You have the results of that activity in your collection: the first album by the Doors. That took LA by storm and Arthur’s star was, partially at least, eclipsed. He had made the transition from the ghetto to an enviable Canyon home looking down over the city but his world was dissolving into a mishmash of disappointment, disaffection and drugs. But, in Forever Changes, he did have one major card left to play.
In 1968 the Doors put out their ‘difficult’ second album (which is patchy but commendable) while Arthur launched Forever Changes upon the world. To this day I don’t think I’ve heard anything else quite like it – I’m haunted by the image of a man who has escaped his chains and is looking down from his newly-comfortable high-canyon viewpoint at the place he’s escape, trying to articulate why he feels like destroying himself.
Of course, Forever Changes was largely ignored on its release, for the Doors had stolen everyone else’s thunder, though Arthur did outlive Jim Morrison long enough (through terrible years of anguish, trouble and pain it has to be said) to see his creation acclaimed as the classic it certainly was.