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Reviewed by Jason Thompson
e all know the story of the Doors by now, right? You’ve either heard it straight, gleaned some facts from the nonsensical Oliver Stone flick, read an over-the-top biography on the band and/or Jim Morrison, or have done a mixture of all the above. There’s no need to repeat any of this, as we’re here to discuss the DVD edition of the VH1 series “Classic Albums” highlighting the Doors’ debut album and all the work and sweat that went into it. Whether or not you ultimately “like” the band makes no real difference; the rock history enthusiast will find enough here to file into the music trivia knowledge section of his brain.
Like other episodes in this series, this one features new interviews with surviving band members, people who worked the control decks during the recording of the album, label honchos, and assorted people who have absolutely nothing to do with any of this but are simply fans. This time around we’re treated to Henry Rollins and Perry Ferrell. As usual, Rollins can be counted on to add some enthusiasm to the proceedings as far as his own experience with the album goes. Also as usual, Ferrell can be counted on to be a complete flake and add zero to the overall viewing experience. How anyone could care that Perry is going to suggest that his kids listen to the Doors’ debut is beyond me.
That said, perhaps I should change my long-standing notion that Jim Morrison was the big bozo of the group (before anyone gets irate, I do own all the band’s albums with Jim and have always thought L.A. Woman belonged in anyone’s music collection). Having viewed this DVD, I’m more tempted to give that award to Ray Manzarek. Perhaps Ray has nothing but his good old days in the band on which to hang his hat, but I’ll be damned if the guy isn’t one of those annoying dudes who wants to be the center of attention at all times. During each of Manzarek’s interview portions in the program, the guy never hesitates to overemphasize every bit of his rock and roll tales, or to act like everything is sooooo groovy, man, with ridiculous asides and facial expressions. You really get the feeling that Ray always wanted to be a thespian and never made it.
Thankfully, the same can’t be said for John Densmore, who always has a well-balanced and thoughtful thing to say about his days in the band, and Robby Krieger, whose own personal opinions of Morrison and some of his antics make for a refreshing break from the usual “Jim is a poet God” and all that nonsense. Watching both Densmore and Krieger show how they came up with some of the musical ideas for the songs on the first album is the best part of the show here. The same could have been said for Manzarek, if only he had turned down the drama by about three notches.
Most of the songs on the debut are given a once-over, with the biggies such as “Break on Through (to the Other Side),” “The End,” “Back Door Man,” “Alabama Song,” and “Light My Fire” getting the most attention. And hearing Krieger talk about how he came up with the original idea for “Light My Fire” with Jim then coming up with the second verse about the funeral pyre will certainly open up all the kiddies’ eyes who have bought into the Oliver Stone version of the story. Sure, Morrison had his own goofy sense of bravado early on, but on the debut album, it hadn’t fully sunk into overkill as it did during the middle of the band’s career.
Fans will also get to see how Columbia originally passed on the group, as well as get to hear original demos from an acetate the band recorded when Kreiger wasn’t a member of the group, which instead featured Manzarek’s brother on harmonica, as well as a couple other odd personnel. For what it’s worth, the demos sound quite good, and it’s almost hard to understand why labels were passing up the band at the time. But so it went until the Doors were finally scooped up by Elektra Records -- the rest being the proverbial history.
Special Features: There’s a lot of stuff here, from getting to hear how “Moonlight Mile” evolved from early takes for the debut album (plus its original demo) up to the finished version recorded for Strange Days to Robby Krieger showing off some of his guitar techniques used on a couple of the album’s songs, while Manzarek spins tales of Jim Morrison high on LSD, going into the studio one night to put out a hallucinated fire. Yeah, Ray, get all wide-eyed for us just one more time. It never gets old, seriously.