Sunday, December 4, 2011
L.A. Woman - The Doors
I love listening to the radio. It has been a big part of my life since I was a little kid and it remains my primary source for discovering new music. I used to enjoy checking out the radio stations in the different towns I passed through on road trips, but lately it seems like they are all the same, especially the classic rock ones. It is always Jack or Bob or the Hawk or some other stupid chain playing the same crappy Eagles or Frampton songs everywhere I go. Soulless corporate radio, no personality, no variety, how is that so successful? When I was a teen I listened to KSAN in San Francisco, which featured free-form progressive rock programming. The DJs had style and personality and I heard all sorts of interesting music. It broke my heart when they abandoned the format and went country. That sort of programming has disappeared from commercial radio which is why I generally only listen to college radio. There was one exception to that here in Southern California on a station called KLOS. They bill themselves as a hard rock station, but basically they are just another dumb classic rock station playing the same tired old songs that other classic rock stations play, so boring. But in the evening they let an old DJ named Jim Ladd abandon the playlist and play free form rock. I enjoyed his show even though his musical tastes are somewhat different from mine. The guy was basically a dinosaur and I would wince occasionally when he would go into his groovy hepcat schtick, but he was entertaining and played stuff that I had never heard before. Ladd got fired a couple of months ago when the giant radio corporation Cumulus Media bought KLOS (ironically they are also the current owners of KSAN.) Ladd recently took a job at a satellite radio station, but it makes me sad that there is no place for a guy like that on commercial terrestrial radio. I think the popularity of formatted classic rock radio is a sign of our cultural decline and I'll never understand why people want to hear the same old songs over and over. Ugh. So this post goes out to Jim Ladd, thanks for making radio interesting and good luck with the new gig. Ladd is a big fan of the Doors and would play stuff besides the five or six songs in heavy rotation on all the classic rock stations, he'd play stuff like "Peace Frog." I'm not as big a fan of the band as Ladd is, but I do really like this album which was their final album before Jim Morrison's untimely demise. Given Morrison's erratic behavior and mental instability around this time it is remarkable that it is so good, easily their best record since "Strange Days." Also its quality makes me wonder what might have happened if Morrison hadn't died. Side one is a flawless set of music beginning with the get down rock and roll of "The Changeling." Jimbo sounds more gravel-voiced, perhaps the substance abuse was taking its toll, but the grainy quality of his voice suits the song well. It is followed by "Love Her Madly" which is one of their most successful pop efforts, infinitely preferable to the sappy stuff on "The Soft Parade." I particularly like the keyboard work of Ray Manzarek on the song. "Been Down So Long" is one of several blues songs on the record with a nice gut-bucket vocal from Morrison. I'm assuming the key line in the song comes from Richard Fariña's novel "Been Down So Long, It Looks Like Up to Me" which I'm sure Morrison must have been familiar with although it may have been lifted from the Furry Lewis song "I Will Turn Your Money Green" that inspired Fariña and which is musically similar to this song. Given all of Morrison's personal and legal problems at the time it is tempting to read the lyrics as being perhaps more personal than they really are. "Cars Hiss By My Window" is a slow blues with a lethargic vocal from Jimbo. The side concludes with the classic rocker "L.A. Woman." It features one of Morrison's best vocals ever, you can practically hear his vocal chords shredding as he sings of love and desire against a backdrop of an apocalyptic vision of Los Angeles. It is an extraordinarily passionate performance that showcases the bands instrumental prowess, a truly great song. Side two kicks off with another rocker, the mildly creepy "L'America." It has a theatrical feeling reminiscent of the first two Doors albums. I like the way the song abruptly changes tone in the middle. "Hyacinth House" is a weird song which Morrison sings in a gloomy deep voice that almost sounds like a parody of himself. The song seems like a throwaway pieced together with seemingly inane lyrics until Morrison starts singing about needing a new friend. The earnestness of his vocal at that point does convey a sense of desperation in keeping with the dark tone of so much of the record. A cover of John Lee Hooker's "Crawling King Snake" provides the obligatory Doors reptilian reference on the album. It is a slow blues that features a strong Morrison vocal, he sounds very inspired. "The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat) is another bluesy song that is about border radio and rhythm and blues music although there is also a sense of despair and a search for meaning culminating in the great anti-religion line "no eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn." The band really cooks during the instrumental break. The album ends with the classic song "Riders On the Storm." The song is very atmospheric with a western feeling to it. The line "there's a killer on the road, his brain is squirming like a toad" is one of my favorite Doors lyrics. I frequently quote it when I encounter a person I consider crazy. Manzarek's piano playing on this song is among the best in the Doors' canon, his runs flow like water. The song is a terrific finish for the album and would have made a fitting epitaph for the Doors career if the surviving members hadn't decided to tarnish their legacy by recording two mediocre albums without Morrison. This is a great album for late night listening and even though it is not a concept album, its unity of tone and inspired flow demonstrate the value of the album format, the songs add resonance and depth to each other. Kind of like a good DJ spinning some free form radio. Recommended for people who think that the Jack in Jack Radio is short for jackass.