Posts Tagged ‘Jim Morrison’

Buried Treasure: An American Prayer

12 February 2011

[Today: Ghost songs…]

Jim Morrison was a bad poet with some interesting ideas, a big league death wish, and a dump truck full of symbolism. But he was a first-rate rock star, a bluesman at heart, and possessed a genuinely compelling speaking voice. An American Prayer was released in November of 1978, seven full years after his death. Morrison recorded himself reading his poetry in 1969 and 1970, but thankfully this isn’t just a spoken word album, and instead is rounded out with musical punctuation by the surviving members of The Doors. Those musical bits, along with sound effects like car doors slamming and children playing, are laid behind Morrison’s words and give dimension to his imagery.

The most obvious themes of this album are sex and death, with generous helpings of Indians, religion (with its prayers and invocations), murder, ghosts, the desert, freaks and loners, and mongrel dogs. It’s also filled with enough ethnic slurs and “cocks” and “cunts” to keep an auditorium of 6th grade boys entertained for a month. But even if strands of this album make absolutely no sense lyrically, Morrison still describes a number of interesting scenes of conflict and sensuality. He almost achieves something poetic when he speaks of angels and sailors, and what they’re out to get. And he often touches the deep decay behind the bright shiny facade of America.

Morrison explained that “If my poetry aims to achieve anything, it’s to deliver people from the limited ways in which they see and feel.” To that end, I believe that An American Prayer is set on the hottest day of the summer, in the southwest corner of the United States. An eagle flies high up in the sky, taking in scenes of rape and lust and death, floating above the penny arcades and lustful fuck salesmen and war merchants. His eagle eye scans the deserts and cities, trying to make sense of all the humans and their odd human behaviors. Sometimes his words don’t make sense, because, well, sometimes humans don’t make sense, and some of the scenes he sees defy mere words. And as he floats around up there, he mockingly tells us of ourselves, and he sounds a lot like the bluesman, the joker, the drunken rock star gone astray…

Listen: Ghost Song

Listen: Newborn Awakening

Listen: Stoned Immaculate

Listen: Lament

Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

19 July 2010

When I was in high school, I had a regular column
in the sports section of the school newspaper (The
Sentinel
) called ‘Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down’. It was
easy to write and people liked it, so I recreate it here
for you now, as a quick guide of some of my likes
and dislikes in the world of music…


THUMBS UP: Disco (^)

THUMBS DOWN: Prog


THUMBS UP: The Flying Burrito Brothers

THUMBS DOWN: The Eagles (^)


THUMBS UP: The Beatles (^)

THUMBS DOWN: Oasis


THUMBS UP: PJ Harvey

THUMBS DOWN: Joanna Newsom (^)


THUMBS UP: Iggy Pop (^)

THUMBS DOWN: G.G. Allin


THUMBS UP: Off The Wall

THUMBS DOWN: Thriller (^)


THUMBS UP: Jungle Brothers

THUMBS DOWN: NWA (^)


THUMBS UP: Gregg Allman (^)

THUMBS DOWN: Cher (^)


THUMBS UP: The Fillmore (^)

THUMBS DOWN: Slim’s


THUMBS UP: Bluegrass In The Park

THUMBS DOWN: Ticketmaster (^)


THUMBS UP: The Doors

THUMBS DOWN: Jim Morrison, poet (^)


THUMBS UP: ‘Fire On The Mountain’

THUMBS DOWN: ‘Dark Star’


THUMBS UP: Blue Note (^)

THUMBS DOWN: Free Jazz


THUMBS UP: Cold Fact (^)

THUMBS DOWN: Coldplay


THUMBS UP: Keith Richards (^)

THUMBS DOWN: Toby Keith


THUMBS UP: Canned Heat

THUMBS DOWN: Canned ham (^)


THUMBS UP: Lester Bangs (^)

THUMBS DOWN: Richard Meltzer


THUMBS UP: Willie Nelson in concert

THUMBS DOWN: Shuggie Otis in concert (^)


THUMBS UP: LPs (^)

THUMBS DOWN: CDs


THUMBS UP: Rick Rubin

THUMBS DOWN: Phil Spector (^)


THUMBS UP: Nigel Tufnel (^)

THUMBS DOWN: David Coverdale


THUMBS UP: Joy Division (^)

THUMBS DOWN: Throbbing Gristle


THUMBS UP: Saxophone

THUMBS DOWN: Bagpipes (^)


THUMBS UP: Ice Cube, rapper (^)

THUMBS DOWN: Ice Cube, actor


THUMBS UP: Johnny Rotten

THUMBS DOWN: Sid Vicious (^)


THUMBS UP: Freedom Rock (^)

THUMBS DOWN: Jam bands


THUMBS UP: Willy Wonka (^)

THUMBS DOWN: Christopher Cross


THUMBS UP: Roky Erickson’s comeback

THUMBS DOWN: Sly Stone’s comeback (^)


THUMBS UP: The Rat Pack (^)

THUMBS DOWN: The Brat Pack


THUMBS UP: Jimi Hendrix

THUMBS DOWN: Jimmy Buffett (^)


THUMBS UP: Dave Davies (^)

THUMBS DOWN: Dave Matthews


THUMBS UP: Beastie Boys (^)

THUMBS DOWN: Eminem


THUMBS UP: Al Green

THUMBS DOWN: Weird Al (^)


THUMBS UP: Pearl Jam’s first 3 albums (^)

THUMBS DOWN: Pearl Jam’s last 3 albums


THUMBS UP: AC/DC (^)

THUMBS DOWN: R.E.M.


THUMBS UP: New wave Bono

THUMBS DOWN: Statesman Bono (^)

Bad Apple: Other Voices

20 February 2010

[Today: When the music’s over…]

There isn’t much in the way of liner notes with this album, and no mention of the man in the leather pants. No We miss you Lizard King! or Goodbye Mr. Mojo Risin’ or Sorry Jim, we needed to make the rent, so we decided to record an album under The Doors’ name even though it bears little resemblance to the music that made us famous. This was released in October of 1971, just three months after Jim Morrison died in a Paris bathtub at age 27, felled by internal organs that had lived in dog years. Predictably, the vocals here are thin, if sometimes passable. Musically, Other Voices isn’t bad (it’s easily the best album featured in this category, and the only one I can imagine listening to again voluntarily), but it’s a tough sell as Doors product.

It’s admirable that Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek and John Densmore soldiered on after losing one of the most charismatic frontmen in rock history, but it was foolhardy to release this album under The Doors name. Sure, it has three-quarters of the original band, but no matter how good the music (and in places it’s surprisingly good), without Jim Morrison this just isn’t the same group, and to continue under that name is a form of fraud. Admittedly I’m a hard-liner on this point, and annoyed by bands who play off a brand name by surrounding one or two original members with hired guns while passing themselves off as the real deal. My college roommate Tim and I have enjoyed lengthy debates about whether Pink Floyd sans Roger Waters is really Pink Floyd (I say absolutely not, he says yes). Anyway, had this band re-christened themselves The Windows or some other non-Doors handle, I might be able to get behind this album.

That said, about half of it is un-redeemable junk that Morrison would have laughed out of the studio (here’s looking at you ‘Variety Is The Spice Of Life’ and ‘I’m Horny, I’m Stoned’). Album opener ‘In The Eye Of The Sun’ has thin vocals, little substance and the kind of tacked-on ending that screams We didn’t know how to end this one, so we just kind of added a vaudeville, ba-doomp-boomp finish. ‘Wandering Musician’ feels both amateur and meandering, although it’s highly unlikely that it was conceived as a literal concept piece.

On the good side of the ledger, ‘Ships With Sails’ is a fantastic piece of music that features some tasty flamenco-style guitar, decent vocals, and a nice analogy about love’s trials (“Well you ask how much I love you/Why do ships with sails love the wind?” are two good lines in this one). ‘Hang On To Your Life’ is suitably far out, and ‘Tightrope Ride’ isn’t great, but at least nods to the tilted actuarial tables for unhinged rock stars, calling out Brian Jones and alluding to a certain Dionysian Drunkard who used to sing about lighting fires and riding on the storm. The name of his band is on the tip of my tongue…

Doubleshot Tuesday: Love/The Doors

10 November 2009

[Today: Battle of the bands…]

Love | Love
The Doors | The Doors

A few years back, I happened to find myself in one of my favorite (and now defunct) East Bay record stores one nice Saturday afternoon. This particular establishment resembled the store Championship Vinyl from the movie High Fidelity – a small, cramped place that was loaded with vinyl and had three employees for every paying customer. I made my final selections and stepped to the register, and right into the middle of an intense debate: “You don’t seriously think that The Doors are a better band than Love, do you?” The two employees debating were (on behalf of Love) a be-stubbled, cardigan and glasses wearing music geek who could have passed for Weezer’s lead singer, and (for The Doors) a t-shirt and jeans, jock sort of dude. Dude was obviously in over his head with this music geek hornet, and was hemming and hawing his way out of whatever positive words he had spilled on behalf of The Doors. Meanwhile, I was taking this all in with utter bemusement, when the third employee (a rather attractive female) turned to me and said: “So, what do you think – The Doors or Love??”

Both groups were from mid-60’s Los Angeles, both groups were on Elektra Records, and both groups featured charismatic, enigmatic, and self-destructive lead singers (Arthur Lee and Jim Morrison). When The Doors first started out, their dream was to be as big as Love – the local hot band. But aside from the obvious connections, these two groups are completely different in almost every way, and comparisons between them do a disservice to both. Love played a baroque, psychedelic strain of pop that was loaded with obtuse metaphors and bright colors. The Doors, meanwhile made tough, blues-inflected rock that was heavy on poetic and mythic allusions. The Doors were massively popular and helped define the sound of their generation, while Love slipped through the cracks (in part because Lee refused to tour) and made dense, sonically challenging albums that are manna for music geeks.

“But which one of them do you like better?” cardigan-employee asked me pointedly. And then it was my turn to hem and haw, saying they were both great in their own way, and trying to not piss anyone off until I got my new vinyl safely out of their store. But here’s my real answer and it’s not even close: Love is an interesting band who made some excellent music, but The Doors are one of the great American bands. It’s easy to bash The Doors, because they’re so popular and Jim Morrison was both a first-rate wanker and third-rate poet. Regardless, this group made some of the greatest songs of the 60’s – just off the top of my head, the trilogy of ‘The End’, ‘Riders On The Storm’ and ‘L.A. Woman’ are as monumental as any three songs by any group of that decade. Perhaps it’s true that Love is underappreciated and The Doors are overappreciated, but it’s also true that Love was merely good, while The Doors were mostly great.

Listen: My Little Red Book [Love]

Listen: Break On Through [The Doors]

Listen: Signed D.C. [Love]

Listen: The End [The Doors]

Buried Treasure: Youth Of America

29 October 2009

[Today: Driving through a dark country…]

Wipers | Youth Of America

Wipers are among the original indie heroes. Group mastermind Greg Sage was D.I.Y. before the term had been invented – he was cutting bootleg LPs for his grade school classmates when he was only 7 years old! He formed Wipers in 1977 with drummer Sam Henry and bassist Doug Koupal, and the group’s second album, Youth Of America, plays out like a blood-curdling scream at the outset of the Reagan years. But Sage claims that the record is actually a positive statement – a call-out to youth to take up arms and take matters into their own hands. “The youth of America are the people who really control the future, can control the future. It sounds really doom-laden in a sense, but it’s actually just the opposite,” he said in a 1983 interview.

The lyrical content of these songs back that contention, but while the message might be positive, the music is intense and ominous. Sage sings with paranoia in his voice, while raw, distorted licks flow from his guitar. Nearly every song on this album has a rhythmic propulsion that puts you behind the wheel of a powerful car, with dark open road ahead. But its edgy atmospherics make this an album most conducive to a night drive through either empty city streets or burned out, barren moonscapes. If one could travel fast enough, it would theoretically be possible to follow the night around the globe endlessly – this is the music for such a drive.

In that respect, Youth In America is the evil twin to The Doors’ 1971 album L.A. Woman. At the outset of the 70’s, Jim Morrison looked around and found America severely wanting, and his search for a lost country on that album was mirrored by the Wipers exactly a decade later. Like the song ‘L.A. Woman’, the title track here is an adrenaline-pumping ride into a cruel, unforgiving, and exhilarating night.

This album has been released with several different running orders, but these songs all bomb along with roughly the same breakneck velocity and awesome intensity. No matter how you stack them, they add up to a great album, but the 2007 Jackpot Records LP re-issue deserves special mention. Its running order runs contrary to Sage’s stated sequencing preference, but it’s pressed on nice 180g vinyl, and features songs re-mastered by Sage himself. A post-punk essential.

Listen: Youth Of America

Listen: Taking Too Long

Masterpiece: The Complete Hank Williams

31 July 2009

[Today: Going down that lost highway…]

Hank Williams | The Complete Hank Williams [box set]

In the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 1953, Hank Williams died in the back of a long black Cadillac during an overnight drive from Knoxville, TN to a show in Canton, OH. His 17-year old chauffeur discovered his rigid body during a stop at a gas station in Oak Hill, WV – drawing the curtain on one of the most influential careers in all of music. Fittingly, his death at age 29 was as dark, epic, and legendary as the songs that made him famous.

The Complete Hank Williams collects 225 songs over 10 discs. 53 of these tracks were previously unreleased, and the wealth of great music included here is simply astounding. However, this set also proves that Williams wasn’t a bulletproof artist – his duets with his first wife Audrey are dreadful, and there are plenty of them. The woman couldn’t sing a lick and bullied her way into his act, but that doesn’t make it right. Also curious was his decision to release songs under the pseudonym ‘Luke The Drifter’ – a singing, story-telling cowboy who sounded a lot like… Hank Williams! But regardless of a few odd artistic moves, Hiram King Williams’ case for the title of World’s Greatest Songwriter is a good one, and all the evidence is compiled here.

Songs such as ‘Lost Highway’ ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’ and ‘(I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle’ drew upon the troubles of his own life. Unhappily married and in constant back pain, he abused alcohol and pills, and transmuted his experiences into the songs that formed the foundation of modern country music. Of his songwriting method, Williams famously said “If a song can’t be written in 20 minutes, it ain’t worth writing.” While his music was often haunted, Williams could also cut loose with good time, honky tonk boogie like ‘Settin’ The Woods On Fire’ or ‘Hey Good Lookin”. Even material like ‘Jambalaya’ – which might have been reduced to novelty in lesser hands – was a perfectly executed, three-minute slice of down-home fun.

But Williams’ signature tune might be the last song he ever recorded – ‘I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive’. Using his Jimmie Rodgers-influenced quaver, he lets loose a desperate cry from the edge of the grave. He may have inspired legions of country musicians, but in this one tune it’s easy to see his connection to others who have turned chaos and anguish into high art, and artists such as John Lennon, Johnny Rotten, Bob Dylan, Keith Richards and Jim Morrison owe more than a passing debt to this country legend.

Listen: Lost Highway

Listen: (I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle

Listen: Settin’ The Woods On Fire

Listen: I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive

Doubleshot Tuesday: Old School Vs. New School/Verve Remixed

14 April 2009

[Today: Everything old is new again…]

Various Artists | Old School Vs. New School
Various Artists | Verve Remixed

Music is an endlessly recyclable commodity, and the music industry has come up with innumerable ingenious ways to repackage the same songs and sell them over and over again. The cover song is the simplest form of musical recycling, but even this has taken on elaborate angles over the years. Witness Booker T. & The MGs’ McLemore Avenue, a funky re-vamping of The Beatles’ Abbey Road, or, more recently, Bossa n’ Stones, which re-cast a number of Rolling Stones classics as swinging Bossa grooves.

Beyond the cover (and beyond the grave), Biggie and 2Pac continue to churn out new releases at a rate that even living artists could envy. Natalie Cole cut a Grammy award-winning duet with her long-dead father Nat, and the Grateful Dead are embarking on a tour even though their lead guitarist is… erm, dead. Death used to slow musicians down, but even this has become a growth industry, as evidenced by the impressive sales behind Elvis Presley, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, et al. Even short-lived cult faves like Jeff Buckley and Nick Drake continue to turn out new product.

Neil Young’s recent Chrome Dreams II was the sequel to an album Young didn’t release during the 70s, featuring songs he didn’t release during the 80s. Van Morrison is getting rave reviews for touring behind a 40 year old album, and Brian Wilson revived his career by dusting off and reassembling his unfinished, long-lost “masterpiece” Smile. Ozzy Osborne recently re-recorded the backing tracks on his 80’s albums with studio musicians to avoid having to pay further royalties on those recordings. Fleet Foxes channeled Handel’s Messiah to release the most celebrated album of 2008. Re-mastered Beatles anyone?

Greg Gillis (aka Girl Talk) figured out that 70s/80s pop tunes and 80s/90s hip-hop were meant to be together, and DJ Shadow created entirely new soundscapes out of records he pillaged from a record store basement. Danger Mouse combined The Beatles’ White Album and Jay Z’s Black Album, came up with the Grey Album, and made a name for himself. To stretch their late-60s dollar, Jamaican producers Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and King Tubby began manipulating and elongating the instrumental tracks to their artists’ tunes, creating new songs – and Dub – in the process. Dub begat re-mixing, which has become an industry unto itself.

The 1999 compilation Old School Vs. New School sees vintage hip-hop get the re-mix treatment. Whodini, A Tribe Called Quest, Boogie Down Productions, Kool Moe Dee and others get re-worked to fine effect by late-90s DJs. The Verve Remixed series pulls the same trick, with vintage Jazz and current DJ pairings such as Astrud Gilberto and Thievery Corporation, Billie Holiday and Dzihan & Kamien, and Willie Bobo and Richard Dorfmeister. These tastefully chilled out remixes should please several generations of fans. In spite of a fair bit of competition, the classics never sounded so contemporary.

Listen: I Go To Work (Kool Moe Dee Vs. Bad Boy Bill) [Old School Vs. New School]

Listen: Spanish Grease (Willie Bobo Vs. Richard Dorfmeister) [Verve Remixed]

Listen: 1nce Again (A Tribe Called Quest Vs. Aphrodite) [Old School Vs. New School]

Listen: Who Needs Forever? (Astrud Gilberto Vs. Thievery Corporation) [Verve Remixed]

Masterpiece: L.A. Woman

18 June 2008

[Today: The Doors go out on a high note…]

The Doors consistently served up an apocalyptic mixture of blues, booze, and scorched earth. In particular, lead singer Jim Morrison seemed hell-bent on taking the self-destructive, larger than life path of most resistance – fighting with police officers, agitating Ed Sullivan, drinking himself into vocal incompetence, and berating his audiences like an overbearing schoolmaster. On L.A. Woman he sounds like a fighter who’s gone ten rounds – slurring and bleary-eyed, surviving on guts and instinct and a swollen ego – and he never sang better. The best blues are lived-in, and by 1970, the self-anointed Lizard King had brawled and drank and jackassed his way to emeritus bluesman status.

On album opener ‘Changeling’ he belts out some of the toughest vocals of his rarely soft career. By all accounts Morrison was an inconsistent performer in the studio, and often relied on alcohol to help him get his vocal takes. But here he leaves nothing on the table, lashing into every syllable of every song. “Well, I’ve been down so Goddamn long/That it looks like up to me” he sings on ‘Been Down So Long’, and he doesn’t sound like he’s making it up. To prove the point, he turns in a near-definitive take of John Lee Hooker’s ‘Crawling King Snake’.

This album is filled with minor Doors classics – ‘L’America’ ‘The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)’ and ‘Love Her Madly’, to name but three. But it’s also home to two very major classics – the title track and ‘Riders On The Storm’. ‘L.A. Woman’ is perhaps the quintessential song about the City of Angels, a searing, majestic, venomous song that sounds three times better when played in a speeding convertible on a hot day. Meanwhile ‘Riders On The Storm’ has Morrison putting on the killer mask and imagining what it’s like to become unhinged, with a brain that’s “squirming like a toad”.

The title track contains the phrase “Mr Mojo Risin” which was an anagram for “Jim Morrison”. But Morrison was very much on a descending arc, and this album was released a mere four months before he died of a heart attack in a bathtub in Paris. On L.A. Woman he sings like a man who knows that time is running out, with minds still to be turned, and cities yet unburned.

Listen: L.A. Woman


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