The music of The Doors beats in the heart of the mythology of the American counter-culture. Jim Morrison in particular is a mythological figure on a par with the likes of Ronald Reagan, Jackson Pollack and Charlie Manson. You could say Jim is the counter-culture Elvis. Just like the King of Rock & Roll, the Lizard King vanished, under shadowy circumstances, before his time was due.
My buddies and I caught up with The Doors in their second wave, which broke in 1980 around the publication of the book No One Here Gets Out Alive by Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugerman. (Oliver Stone’s biopic of the band, starring Val Kilmer would come along some ten years later.) We loved the twisted tale of Jim’s life and we were also conducting mind experiments that opened portals into this trippy head music.
Beyond the legends and Jim’s Pere Lachaise grave site in Paris are these 62 studio recordings, conceived and performed by Ray Manzarek, Robbie Krieger, John Densmore and Jim. It is in the spirit of those four brilliant dudes, that we four dudes — Jofu, Stonehenge, Moe and me (Beese in this context) — offer our rankings. (The same crew also compiled our Van Halen list.) We each have an intensely personal relationship with these songs and our individual rankings reflected that. Following are the final combined results:
1 “When the Music’s Over” (from the album Strange Days)
Many of the tunes from the first three records were songs the band had honed for years in their live sets. The ensemble cohesion this exploration fostered is never more evident than on this 11-minute epic. So many amazing Morrison lyrics: “Dance on fire is it intense;” “A feast of friends/Alive she cried;” “We want the world and we want it now!” This live clip from the Hollywood Bowl in 1968 illustrates the dramatic interplay between Morrison and Densmore on this track. (Check out Jim’s burp at 9:40)
2 “Peace Frog” (from the album Morrison Hotel)
The funk/soul brothers right about now! Krieger’s wah-wah pedal riff is relentless and irresistible (especially to us air-guitar gods). The lyrics seem to reflect the violence and unrest across America (and in Jim’s own life) during the tumultuous late 60s, but Krieger has also stated that the blood imagery is inspired by Morrison’s poem “Abortion Stories.”
3 “L.A. Woman” (from the album L.A. Woman)
Mr. Mojo Risin’ delivers the quintessential Morrison vocal. Jim is the feral human at this point, escaped from a domestic life and living wild, the “Indians scattered on dawn’s highway bleeding” from “Peace Frog” inhabiting his “fragile egg-shell mind.” L.A. Woman was his last recording with the band; by all reports he was found dead in Paris three months after the album’s release (some fans beg to differ). This classic album cut feels like Jim’s kiss-off to the City of Angels.
4 “Moonlight Drive” (from the album Strange Days)
“I’ve been writing some songs. Oh really? Why don’t you sing me one of the songs that you’ve written? And he sang…” Moonlight Drive! This is where it all began, with Jim and Ray on Venice Beach back in 1965. The accompanying lip-sync video clip was pre-recorded for the Jonathan Winters variety TV show. According to legend, the band stopped playing during a performance some weeks later to watch themselves on the broadcast on a small set brought out on stage. (:FunFact:) Every song title on Strange Days is the first line of the song 🙂
5 “Waiting for the Sun” (from the album Morrison Hotel)
Pretty sure this is the greatest song ever to not appear on the album it entitles. The poetic imagery and dramatic distortion give this track an earnestness and gravitas that few bands could muster. It’s the stock in trade of this group! Ray’s eerie keys and Robbie’s slide noodling define the sound, but Jim creates the blueprint for all rock baritone bellowers who came after.
6 “Light My Fire” (from the album The Doors)
Buick couldn’t kill it. Amsterdam saved it for me, as it wafted from an upper-floor window on a beautiful hot summer day. This is the band’s signature track from one of the greatest debut albums ever issued in rock. The accompanying clip is taken from their appearance at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, during which time Jim was under arrest for the Coconut Grove indecency incident in Miami. He (allegedly) died before he could be convicted.
7 “Five to One” (from the album Waiting for the Sun)
“No one here gets out alive.” A sage line, and perhaps a bit of foreshadowing. Jim got out, didn’t he…?
8 “Back Door Man” (from the album The Doors)
This song embodies the soul of the Doors. Great ensemble musicianship and Morrison’s busker rebellion. This clip gives us a glimpse of what it was like to experience The Doors in person.
9 “The End” (from the album The Doors)
This epic psychological exploration, enhanced by its connection to Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, was as essential a rite of passage for a new stoner as Dark Side of the Moon. The accompanying clip, from a truly transcendent performance at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970, extends almost 17 tripped-out minutes. Priceless footage of Jim in a particularly contemplative mood.
10 “The Soft Parade” (from the album The Soft Parade)
My number one and my personal favorite. The music was more experimental on this record and never more so than on this track. The many movements of the song incorporate a variety of musical styles. Great live clip from a TV show of the day known as Soundstage Performances.
11 Break on Through (to the Other Side)
12 Roadhouse Blues
13 Soul Kitchen
14 Touch Me
15 Not to Touch the Earth
16 Riders on the Storm
17 The Unknown Soldier
18 Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)
19 Wild Child
20 The WASP (Texas Radio & the Big Beat)
21 Strange Days
22 The Crystal Ship
23 Spanish Caravan
24 The Changeling
25 Take It As It Comes
27 Been Down So Long
28 Blue Sunday
29 Love Street
30 My Eyes Have Seen You
31 Runnin’ Blue
32 Maggie M’gill
33 Wishful Sinful
34 Love Her Madly
35 You Make Me Real
36 You’re Lost Little Girl
37 Shaman’s Blues
38 Ship of Fools
39 End of the Night
40 Twentieth Century Fox
41 Love Me Two Times
42 People are Strange
43 Tell All the People
44 Hello, I Love You
45 Hyacinth House
46 I Looked at You
47 Indian Summer
48 Land Ho!
49 The Spy
50 Crawling King Snake
51 Cars Hiss by My Window
52 We Could Be So Good Together
53 Yes, the River Knows
54 Summer’s Almost Gone
55 Horse Latitudes
56 Wintertime Love
57 Do It
58 Unhappy Girl
59 I Can’t See Your Face in My Mind
60 Queen of the Highway
61 My Wild Love
62 Easy Ride
There you have our take on one of the greatest catalogs in any genre of music. As Stonehenge said, “You could just draw titles out of a hat and you’d have a legitimate ranking of these tunes.” I think he’s right. I wonder what the Lizard King would think? If I bump into him at the donut shop in Kalamazoo with the other King, I’ll ask him.