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2017

Playlist: The Doors

Playlists—a phrase ("play list") that seems to warrant its new non-hyphenated status—in this age of ubiquitous D.J's and streaming services likely shape our collective listening experience and understanding of music to a greater extent than sequences of album tracks as determined by artists, producers, and executives. Online playlists that streaming sites try to ram through our ears tend toward personalization: a theme, a state of mind, or a set of experiences, in addition to being limited to certain genres and methods (even if not ostensibly so); the individual compositions lose their distinct identity, comparable perhaps to a club D.J's mix in electronic dance genres.

Me, on the other hand... I want nothing to do with this. Granted, especially when I'm listening to music requiring closer, focused listening (Free Jazz, modern Classical, experimental, what-have-you), a random selection of tracks sometimes helps me stay more interested than when listening to whole albums—sometimes. Anyway, that approach is closer to what a radio D.J strives to do. For popular music, though, nearly always I listen to whole albums plus tracks originally released as singles and still not connected with a particular album; only rarely do tracks drawn out from albums ("deep cuts"), listened to on their own, or various-artists compilations appeal to me. I never listened to much radio, even when I D.J'ed at a college radio station, Georgia Tech's WREK. In short, albums, not tracks, comprise the listening experience. That said, I have a contrary tendency to consider albums as being forever in a state of falling apart and coming together. Indeed, those who prefer to listen to whole albums may be especially annoyed by the tracks that do not seem to fit. Then a rabbit hole is opened up: listening to songs that could have been included instead, devising new arrangements of tracks and testing them—always going back to the illusion of a cohesive album, each track an integral part.

Compilations, both single-artist and various-artists, prove to be especially useful, even essential, for musicians who never made much in the way of albums... all those pre-1965, and especially pre-1955, acts whose focus remained singles. Compilations, if conceptualized and sequenced well, can be a fun way to learn about these artists, and others that one either neglected or never previously heard of. For example, the Streetsounds comps of the 1980s, offering exciting variations on electronic pop, early Hip Hop, post-Disco, etc. Thankfully digitized by a certain Omar Hash, whose blog unfortunately seems to be on hiatus, if not defunct [older version at the Internet Archive], these compilations are as fresh now as when they first came out.

Another area where compilations can be fun; or, more precisely, making one's own compilations.... When pondering the deficiencies of most "greatest hits" compilations, I cannot help but conceive of my own versions. The problem with those comps is they often only include hits, plus maybe some album tracks that could have been singles, maybe got played frequently on F.M stations during the hey day of "Album Oriented Rock." Either way, superior album tracks that the casual listener might find weird or annoying are ignored, even if those tracks are highly significant to the artists' body of work. The funny thing about how this works out: for artists who mostly released singles (say, early-Rock Rhythm-and-Blues-ers like Amos Milburn) while a compilation of what the compiler considers to be that artist's best work could be a fine album, I would still want a singles compilation with every A-side and B-side track. Getting into the "Album Oriented" era... for artists who for the most part did not release tracks exclusively on singles, a compilation of some of the singles, or of the singles mixed with album tracks, may appeal when one does not want to listen to the albums as a whole. In other words, when an artist's discography does not seem to require compilations, one can be more creative in crafting them.

Moreover, high-selling album-era artists with extensive archival operations are not only likely to have more "greatest hits" compilations. More archival concert releases, collections of B.B.C sessions, alternate versions of albums, and singles compilations rush to greet any interested customer. Obscure artists do not leave behind such massive recorded legacies. A telling example of this is the compilation, The Singles, by the Doors, released in 2017. The Doors? Singles? Were they not in fact pioneers of "Album-Oriented Rock," releasing hardly any original material on singles? Yes, they were, even as in 1967, when they started, plenty of artists, even in the U.S, were still releasing unique material on singles. There are mono versions of the early singles, even after the band stopped making mono mixes of their albums. Beyond that, though, the Doors' singles offer little original material. The mono versions and the few non-L.P tracks should serve as bonus tracks on album reissues. In many cases, they have. Nonetheless we still have this compilation.

The following Doors singles were mono. They come mostly from the first and second albums, both of which were relased with mono mixes distinct from the stero (as compared to "fold down" mono mixes), those mono mixes also having been included on recent fiftieth-anniversary reissues of the albums. Debate still ensues regarding which, if any, tracks on the third album, Waiting for the Sun, had unique mono mixes. One of the mono singles included in this Singles compilation, ‘The Unknown Soldier’ backed with ‘We Could Be So Good Together’, is drawn from Waiting for the Sun; another, ‘You Make Real’ b/w ‘Roadhouse Blues’, comes from Morrison Hotel. In addition to the mono singles, four additional mono mixes made for promotional 45s sent to radio stations are included at the end of disc two of the Singles comp: ‘Hello, I Love You’, ‘Touch Me’, ‘Wishful Sinful’, and ‘Tell All the People’. One of the tracks from the two albums made after Jim Morrison's death, entitled ‘The Mosquito’, was at least in its single version, if not on the album, Full Circle, mixed in mono and is included on Singles as well. This amounts to 17 mono tracks out of 44 tracks total on the compilation. Unfortunately, another mono mix originally released as the B-side of ‘Hello, I Love You’ on a promotional 45, ‘Love Street’, was not included on Singles, instead released as a B side of a pointless reissue of the ‘Hello, I Love You’ single promoting the compilation. [Scattered other mono versions were available only on those promotional 45s; however, they may have been "fold down" mixes. Again, unanswered questions about this matter remain.]

‘Break On Through (To the Other Side)’ b/w ‘End of the Night’
‘Light My Fire’ b/w ‘The Crystal Ship’
‘People Are Strange’ b/w ‘Unhappy Girl’
‘Love Me Two Times’ b/w ‘Moonlight Drive’
‘The Unknown Soldier’ b/w ‘We Could Be So Good Together’
‘You Make Real’ b/w ‘Roadhouse Blues’

Putting aside ‘The Mosquito’, these six singles and four additional mono tracks (or five, with ‘Love Street’ included) could comprise a long-ish album that would not overlap with the stereophonic studio albums and provide a selection of materials comparable to the major Doors "greatest hits" releases, the only problem being the lack of tracks from the band's final album, L.A Woman. Perhaps a new mono mix of a few tracks from that album could have been commissioned. A mono-centric version of this Singles compilation would eliminate the duplicated stereo tracks. To complicate matters further, the mono version of ‘Wishful Sinful’ on Singles turned out to be a previously-unreleased mix, not the original. This apparent mistake was rectified by the label making the original mono mix available for free as a download. Perhaps the alternate ‘Wishful’ could be a bonus track on this proposed mono-only comp, alongside the mono ‘Mosquito’.

Again, given their extraordinary popularity and cultural ubiquity, there have been plenty of Doors "greatest hits" compilations over the years, none of which have been limited to singles. The first "greatest hits" came in 1970 while Morrison was alive, before L.A Woman. Named 13 for the number of featured tracks, the compilation ran as such:

A:
Light My Fire [The Doors]
People Are Strange [Strange Days]
Back Door Man [The Doors]
Moonlight Drive [Strange Days]
The Crystal Ship [The Doors]
Roadhouse Blues
B:
Touch Me [The Soft Parade]
Love Me Two Times [Strange Days]
You're Lost Little Girl [Strange Days]
Hello, I Love You [Waiting for the Sun]
Land Ho [Morrison Hotel]
Wild Child [The Soft Parade]
The Unknown Soldier [Waiting for the Sun]

For an "Album Oriented" act, a high percentage of singles, A side and B, comprise this album. Only ‘Back Door Man’, ‘You're Lost Little Girl’, and ‘Land Ho’ are "deep cuts," at least insofar as we restrict our attention to U.S releases. ‘Back Door Man’ was a favorite at Doors concerts, but the other two tracks do not belong on a "greatest hits"; neither do album/ B-side tracks like ‘You're Lost Little Girl’ and ‘Wild Child’.

Only two years later came Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mine:

A:
Break On Through (To the Other Side) [The Doors]
Strange Days [Strange Days]
Shaman's Blues [The Soft Parade]
Love Street [Waiting for the Sun]
Peace Frog [Morrison Hotel]
Blue Sunday [Morrison Hotel]
The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat) [L.A Woman]
End of the Night [The Doors]
B:
Love Her Madly [L.A Woman]
Spanish Caravan [Waiting for the Sun]
Ship of Fools [Morrison Hotel]
The Spy [Morrison Hotel]
The End [The Doors]
C:
Take It as It Comes [The Doors]
Runnin' Blue [The Soft Parade]
L A Woman [L.A Woman]
Five to One [Waiting for the Sun]
Who Scared You [non-L.P track]
(You Need Meat) Don't Go No Further [non-L.P track]
D:
Riders on the Storm [L.A Woman]
Maggie McGill [Morrison Hotel]
Horse Latitudes [Strange Days]
When the Music's Over [Strange Days]

For all its good traits, this comp hardly suffices as a good introduction to the band's entire work. Two non-L.P studio tracks (‘Who Scared You’ and ‘(You Need Meat) Don't Go No Further’) needed to be made easily available but hardly deserve such pride of place. And while several important album track were featured, several others that then and now are ranked highly among Doors songs were excluded, namely ‘Light My Fire’ and ‘Roadhouse Blues’. It achieves a good balance between singles or similar pop-oriented songs and album tracks, but the selection of tracks from The Soft Parade and Morrison Hotel seems peculiar, with too many from the latter album.

The next year, 1973, brought The Best of the Doors:

A:
Who Do You Love? [Absolutely Live]
Soul Kitchen [The Doors]
Hello, I Love You [Waiting for the Sun]
People Are Strange [Strange Days]
Riders on the Storm [L A Woman]
B:
Touch Me [The Soft Parade]
Love Her Madly [L.A Woman]
Love Me Two Times [Strange Days]
Take It as It Comes [The Doors]
Moonlight Drive [Strange Days]
Light My Fire [The Doors]

A skimpy collection. It became noteworthy, though, as a quadraphonic release. Even more noteworthy is that it became a rare vintage-Seventies quadraphonic mix to get an adequate digital remaster, released on its own as a Super Audio-C.D, then as a Blu-Ray as the third disc in a limited edition of The Singles.

The title, The Best of the Doors, has been used twice again, for compilations released in 1985 and 2000. The latter is one of numerous "greatest hits" Doors comps released in this new century, none distinguishing themselves, especially as not only the quadrophonic Best but also Weird Scenes and 13 have been reissued. The 1985 Best, on the other hand, became the go-to collection for many casual listeners for many years, especially with the revival of interest in the band that came with Oliver Stone's 1991 "bio pic" about Morrison. Originally a double L.P, then a double C.D first released in 1987 with the inclusion of an extra track, this compilation uses as its front cover Joel Brodsky's famous photograph of Morrison, bare-chested and arms outstretched.

A:
Break On Through (To the Other Side) [The Doors]
Light My Fire [The Doors]
The Crystal Ship [The Doors]
People Are Strange [Strange Days]
Strange Days [Strange Days]
Love Me Two Times [Strange Days]
B:
Five to One [Waiting for the Sun]
Waiting for the Sun [Morrison Hotel]
Spanish Caravan [Waiting for the Sun]
When the Music's Over [Strange Days]
C:
Hello, I Love You [Waiting for the Sun]
Roadhouse Blues [Morrison Hotel]
L A Woman [L.A Woman]
Riders on the Storm [L.A Woman]
D:
Touch Me [The Soft Parade]
Love Her Madly [L.A Woman]
Unknown Soldier [Waiting for the Sun]
The End [The Doors]

The C.D version added ‘Alabama Song’ after the sixth track.

Here is my own "greatest hits" of the Doors, divided into four L.P sides, remarkably similar to the 1985 Best, with only two tracks missing, one added. Perhaps that 1985 release influenced my tastes more than I knew; the C D version served as my introduction to the band around the time that Stone's movie came out. My version more effectively covers their entire recording output, making a sort of musical history of the band. ‘My Wild Love’, with its harmonizing vocals accompanied by minimal percussion, holds a unique place in the Doors oeuvre and gives the selection overall more eclecticism than a long track like ‘When the Music's Over‘. As for excising ‘Love Her Madly’... it simply does not stand out as well as similar singles ‘Love Me Two Times’ and ‘Hello, I Love You’.

A:
Break On Through (To the Other Side) [The Doors]
People Are Strange [Strange Days]
Love Me Two Times [Strange Days]
Light My Fire [The Doors]
The Crystal Ship [The Doors]
Alabama Song [The Doors]
B:
Spanish Caravan [Waiting for the Sun]
Unknown Soldier [Waiting for the Sun]
Five to One [Waiting for the Sun]
L A Woman [L.A Woman]
C:
Roadhouse Blues [Morrison Hotel]
Waiting for the Sun [Morrison Hotel]
Touch Me [The Soft Parade]
Hello, I Love You [Waiting for the Sun]
Strange Days [Strange Days]
D:
Riders on the Storm [L.A Woman]
My Wild Love [Waiting for the Sun]
The End [The Doors]

–Justin J Kaw, May 2021


[Information about the mistaken version of ‘Wishful Sinful’, including how to find the official download of the "correct" version, was attained at the following discussion at the Steve Hoffman Music Forums: Doors - "The Singes" 2 CD, 2 CD + Blu-Ray, & 7" Vinyl Box.]