9. Other Voices – 1971
The band’s first release as a three piece, there is something so clearly missing here that many Doors fans find this album and its successor almost unlistenable, and that’s a shame. The instrumentation on this project is nothing if not enjoyable. Tracks like “Ships w/Sails,” and “Wandering Musicians,” remind fans that Jim Morrison wasn’t the only member of The Doors, and that the trio of Manzarek, Densmore, and Krieger can be quite impressive.
As one would expect, however, the lead vocals are a sore spot throughout. Kreiger turns in a few respectable performances, though few are memorable. Manzarek, on the other hand, is woefully out of his element, and while his vocal is heartfelt, he tends to drag down any track he leads. It’s a chaotic, jazz-influenced jam, but it severely lacks direction, and feels like a strong downgrade from one of the best blues-rock bands to ever live to an average jazz fusion trio.
8. Full Circle – 1972
The second post-Morrison release in The Doors’ discography is certainly more competent, and the trio is finally able to find their own unique sound. They take a strong turn toward the spacier, jazz-fusion hints that were riddled throughout the previous release, and while there are far less stand out instrumental passages for each member, the sum of the parts is much more impressive.
Tracks like “The Mosquito,” and “The Peking King and The New York Queen,” are extremely enjoyable, with the former being, by far, the best known non-Morrison single. The vocal work is far less distracting, and the decision to shift the focus toward instrumental work was certainly a good one. Overall, it’s an interesting jam, but feels the furthest from the true Doors sound of any of their releases.
7. Strange Days – 1967
Released just eight months after their self-titled debut, Strange Days hits many of the same highlights, while also falling for many of the same pitfalls. As a whole, the record is a bit more cohesive, branching out into more progressive material in “Horse Latitudes,” and of course in one of the best long form songs in the group’s collection, “When the Music’s Over.”
The album is noticeably lacking, however, in hits. “People are Strange,” is likely the only recognizable name in the track listing, aside from “You’re Lost Little Girl,” which may ring a bell for a slightly more avid Doors listener. Later releases would master the full album format while still producing several hits, but Strange Days seems to fall short on both of those goals.
6. An American Prayer – 1978
One of the least known, and certainly most underrated albums in The Doors’ strong discography, An American Prayer is unique in that Morrison’s vocals are composed of poems which he had written and recorded on his own, before his death in ‘71. The instrumentation was recorded by the other, surviving members of the group in order to accompany the poems for a release seven years after Morrison’s passing. While this posthumous approach to reimagining his work divides fans and critics, I find it fascinating and endlessly compelling.
The record itself is one of my favorites. Jim gives one hypnotic performance after another, adding another layer to his wonderfully visual writing. The rest of the band turns in inspired work, considering the circumstances, and the live performance of “Roadhouse Blues,” is simply electrifying. This album is many things: a touching goodbye from one of history’s greatest writers, a trippy late-night jam, and a truly unique piece of art. It is not, however, a true Doors album, and this is precisely why it doesn’t land higher on the list.
5. Waiting for the Sun – 1968
Coming on the heals of a tremendously successful 1967, the group kicked off the summer of ’68 with their third installation, Waiting for the Sun. In many ways, this is something of a transitional record, as much of the more progressive elements that come to fruition Soft Parade can be heard in their infancy here, but the project is far from half baked.
The most recognizable hit, “Hello, I Love You,” kicks off the track list, but it almost feels out of place among the languid sweetness that fills the bulk of the runtime. Tracks like “Spanish Caravan,” and “Yes, The River Knows,” are unique and experimental, while the closer, “Five to One,” is a rocking blues number that sees Morrison truly come into his own as a frontman. There are very few hits to be found here, but its quite good when taken in as a whole.
4. The Soft Parade – 1969
While this album doesn’t exactly have a stelar reputation with fans, I actually consider it criminally underrated. While many of the charges brought against it may stand, most notably that it is a bit soulless, lacks the dark tone associated with the band, and that Morrison’s songwriting input is drastically scaled back, some part of me just can’t seem to dislike it.
For starters, the addition of the horn section on tracks like “Touch Me,” is fantastic, and the turn toward a more orchestral arrangement on “Tell All The People,” is extremely unique and interesting. Morrison was notably different and often drunk during the recording sessions, and as such he is virtually absent from the writing credits. The closing title track, however, bares his stamp tremendously, and is, without a doubt, my favorite Doors track of all time.
3. Morrison Hotel – 1970
Following the lukewarm reception of The Soft Parade, The Doors chose to take things back to basics. They added a bass player, and set to work to create their bluesiest record since their debut just three years prior. For the most part, they succeeded. Morrison Hotel flows well and feels like a complete thought, and yet nearly every track is infinitely listenable on its own.
“Roadhouse Blues,” was, of course, a highlight, not only for this record, but for the band’s career as a whole, setting a perfect tone for the return to form that was to follow. Tracks like “Peace Frog,” and “You Make Me Real,” are upbeat and fun throughout. If there is a complaint to be had, however, it would be the lack of The Doors’ signature long-form closing track, a gap that is far from filled by “Maggie McGill.”
2. The Doors – 1967
One of the best debuts in music history, it’s hard to overstate the importance of this record. Many of the groups best known tracks, most notably “Break On Through,” “Back Door Man,” and “Light My Fire,” can be found on this self-titled first effort. Certainly the highlight of the project comes in the closing track, the eleven minute opus that is “The End.” For the first time, the world was introduced to the creative mind of Jim Morrison, unbridled and powerful.
The band, as a whole, is in classic form throughout. Ray Manzarek’s organ work is not only excellent, but virtually unprecedented in the mainstream music world thus far. Robby Krieger’s guitar carries its signature tone from the first note. Densmore’s drums show their heavy jazz influence, and Morrison delivers every vocal melody with power and soul. While it can suffer a bit from lack of direction, it is, overall, a fantastic first outings for one of rock music’s greatest outfits.
1. L.A. Woman – 1971
Vulgarly American, fearlessly experimental, and constantly unpredictable, it’s just impossible to deny the energy and dark atmosphere surrounding this album, which was the group’s final release before Morrison’s untimely passing later that year. Tracks like “L.A. Woman,” “The Changeling,” and “Love Her Madly,” made the record the most hit stacked release since the debut, while “The WASP,” and “Riders on the Storm,” are instant classics of progressive rock.
Manzarek turns in the best performance of his career, particularly on the closing track, and places himself firmly on the Mount Rushmore of rock keyboardists. The guitar and drum work is similarly inspired throughout. It’s Jim Morrison, however who steals the spotlight at every single opportunity. His performance is at once creative and belligerent, expressive yet etherial. Hearing one of the greatest artists of our time being completely consumed by his art is tragically beautiful.