The late sixties were, of course, well noted for the predominance of anti-heroes in the music of the time. There was revolution in the air, there was LSD in the Kool-Aid and the music reflected all of it. Even for all that, The Doors were a pretty unique breed of anti-heroes. Their music was a revolution of its own; there wasn't really a lead instrument in the band, but if you had to name one, most would say they were a keyboard-driven band. Furthermore, they had no bass player, a rarity for any band, much less one who counted blues as among their many influences. Their compositions were an incredible mish-mash of stylistic influences - at various times, you could hear blues, touches of jazz, nods to hard rock and even classical stylings. Their lyrics had the uncanny ability to fluctuate between pop-culture common and writings that carried allegory and deep philosophical and literary references.
Then there was Jim Morrison himself, perhaps the ultimate anti-hero. When he made the decision to live his life as an artist, everything I've ever read indicates that he was classic in every sense of the lifestyle - intelligent, extremely literate, a seeker's mentality, a man filled with equal combinations of self-loating and soaring ego, a self-destructive performer who hated his art as much as he appreciated it and was forever torn between wanting to elevate and destroy the foundations of his own music. Add to all that his iconic looks, his early sense of "rebel style" and a voice that could question, berate, educate and mystify and you have probably the only frontman who could have taken The Doors to the heights they reached.
Morrison was a hero to me for his words, his performances and his attitude, and all three are evident with L.A. Woman. The band roared into the '70s with Morrison Hotel, which won great praise for it's rawness and intensity. By then, Morrison's exploits (both within and outside of The Doors) were legendary; in 1970 alone, he toured with the band in support of Morrison Hotel, faced trial in Miami for "profanity and indecent exposure" during a 1969 concert (convicted, $500 fine, six months in jail, remained free on $50,000 bond), played the Isle Of Wight Festival (along with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Miles Davis, ELP and Sly... dayam!!)... and recorded L.A. Woman. The band went back on the road to begin showcasing the album even before its release, but played only two dates. In December of 1970, Morrison had an apparent breakdown on stage in New Orleans, slamming his mic stand into the stage numerous times until both were severely damaged, then sitting down and refusing to perform for the rest of the show. It was his last public performance; the band, by "mutual agreement," decided that Morrison needed to retire from performing. In March of '71, Morrison took a leave of absence from The Doors; in April, L.A. Woman was released, and on July 3 of that year, I lost my hero.
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What a swan song! If Morrison Hotel was lauded for its grit and ballsiness, L.A. Woman took it to a level not even the diehards could have expected. Easily their most blues-influenced album, the album (almost 49 minutes long, by the way - pretty lengthy by 1971 standards) kicks off with the in-your-face "The Changling," and by song's end, it's obvious that the band is feeling this one as much as they ever had. The vocal becomes more impassioned as the track progresses, and by the time it fades has become a classic Morrison scream-growl. "Love Her Madly" was, to my ears, the only blatantly commercial nod on the release; while the feel of the track doesn't necessarily fit the rest of the demeanor here, it's still a great single... and how good is an album when this is a (koff koff) "weaker" track?
"Been Down So Long" and "Cars Hiss By My Window" were a one-two punch that hit me hard the first time I ever heard them and still do to this day. These two songs were my realization that Morrison was possibly on his way to becoming one of the greatest white blues singers currently recording. I'd always been a casual blues fan, but it's not too much of a stretch to say that these two tracks are in a large way responsible for my diving into blues as a genre. "Down" is an aggressive and combative blues, a classic approach of confronting sadness with anger and resolve, and it almost immediately became one of my favorite vocal performances ever from Morrison. "Hiss" is a perfect follow, only cementing the blues legacy so obvious here, a slow blues, melodic and approaching steamy in its delivery.
The album's title track (along with the closing "Riders On The Storm") re-established the epic storytelling abilities of the band. The songwriting in both cases ranks with the best efforts of The Doors and, not surprisingly, both have become classic tracks. To this day, they fascinate and enthrall in their ability to take a solid melody and combine that with words that tell a story and paint a picture. Both are tracks I've heard a thousand times in my life, and I doubt I'll tire of either after having heard them a thousand times more. It's worth noting that "Riders" has been inducted into the Grammys Hall of Fame for special significance to recorded music; while I don't put a lot of creedence in the Academy's judgement during their yearly awards, their lifetime achievement citations are generally solid, and it's good to have this piece so honored.
"L'america," opening side two, is an almost surreal photograph, an eerie look into Morrison's perception. This is my favorite lyrical piece on the album - when read, the words simple enough, but when presented against the contrasting musical backdrop (alternating between musical images of haunted houses and carousel horses) they most remind me of the near-mystical Doors that I fell in love with. "Hyacinth House" is a wonderful piece that balances beautifully between classic Doors vague imagery and the blues foundations of the record, enjoyable via interpretation or just simple listening. "L'america" and "Hyacinth" are another one-two punch, and do an incredible job of cementing The Doors' legacy as an insanely talented band not terribly restricted by style.
I've always considered "Crawling King Snake" to be the clearest view into what Morrison wanted to be as a performer by the time L.A. Woman was recorded - it sounds to me like a man in love with the blues, giving his heart and soul in a classic performance. If you listen close, you can even hear his voice almost failing towards the end of the song, and I think that only adds to the effectiveness. "The Wasp (Texas Radio And The Big Beat)" is another piece of seminal Doors lyrical mysticism, full of stoned, immaculate images and probably my favorite pure poetry on the album. I've always loved how Morrison chose to narrate most of the track; his speaking voice had so much power and authority to it that it made the words all the more credible; his speak-sung lyrics always sounded to me like the ones he most believed in.
Over the course of years, I've had little arguments with myself, sometimes thinking the order of the last three tracks should be rearranged to "Wasp," "Riders" then "King Snake." The album still plays well that way, and I thought it was a nice analogy for the band's mindset of the time, highlighting some of their finest ever image poems one right after another and then closing with a strong blues...
...but in the long run, I think The Doors got it right, and that may well be the understatement of the century.
Jim Morrison was my first ever rock 'n roll hero; when he died, it was the only time in my life that I sat and cried over the death of someone I hadn't actually ever met. 1969 was pretty much my year of discovery for music; 1968's Waiting For The Sun was my first Doors album (which I discovered just before the 1969 release of The Soft Parade; it was like getting two brand new albums almost at once) and I rapidly made my way backwards through Strange Days and The Doors. In high school, I toted Morrison's published book of poetry (The Lords And The New Creatures) with me like the religious kids carried their bibles, and my best friend in high school was the only other kid I ever met who had even heard of the book. We'd sit at break times and scour the pages, discussing passages in the writing and doing what we could to work Morrison's imagery and attitude into our own writing. As a senior in high school, my English and writing instructor was a very cool lady; she was quite aware of Morrison's work as a writer. I thought at first this worked against me in a big way - the only "C" I ever got on a writing project in my life was from her. I was trying so hard to mimic Morrison's style that I went overboard, and the "C" came with a note that said, "Morrison has already been published. If you ever want to be recognized as a writer, you better learn how to be you." Typically, I was mad as hell at her for a little bit... until I realized she was right. In that regard, I'm as grateful to Jim Morrison as to any writer I've ever admired; I got called out for trying to copy him (though I'm almost sure Morrison was unaware of that).
The original cover for L.A. Woman (vinyl, of course) was an excellent bit of packaging. The corners were die cut rounded and the yellow part of the cover was actually a piece of yellow plastic film. The picture of the band was printed on that yellow piece of film, which was glued behind a cut-out in the red part of the cover. I don't know for how long the original cover was manufactured, but later, the expense of producing the cover forced the record company to change it to a standard style printed cover, no cellophane. When I had my record store ('80s and '90s; we sold mainly used records), I used to get a pretty significant amount of money for pressings of the album with the original cover, often $25 or more - a "regular" copy went for $4...