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Waiting For The Sun: How The Doors’ Third Album Offered A New Dawn
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Waiting For The Sun: How The Doors’ Third Album Offered A New Dawn

Though challenged by personal demons and the pressures of fame, ‘Waiting For The Sun’ proved The Doors weren’t ready to close just yet.

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First released in July 1968, The Doors’ third album, Waiting For The Sun, topped the US charts for four weeks and eventually moved over seven million copies worldwide. Yet, while the record was an unqualified success, it also epitomised the notion of the “difficult third album”, with the LA-based quartet enduring gruelling studio sessions in order to get it over the line.

Listen to ‘Waiting For The Sun’ here.

“Jim would get really bored”

In a sense, The Doors had become victims of their own success. They’d enjoyed a phenomenal year in 1967, with their first US No.1 single, Light My Fire, and the releases of their self-titled debut album and its equally revered successor, Strange Days, transforming them into one of the world’s premier rock groups. Meanwhile, Jim Morrison’s natural charisma and photogenic looks ensured he was now very public property, but The Doors’ frontman also picked up an entourage of new friends demanding his attention – and his newly acquired taste for alcohol began to interfere with his artistic endeavours.

“By the time we got to Waiting For The Sun, we had enough money to spend a lot of time in the studio recording, so Jim would get really bored,” guitarist Robbie Krieger told Classic Rock in 2018. “We’d be spending six hours on the snare drum sound, and the vocal is always the last thing to be recorded. He would end up going to the bar and getting wasted, and was useless after that.”

Morrison’s apparently laissez-faire attitude to the sessions irked his bandmates, with drummer John Densmore even quitting the band – though he returned within 24 hours. However, other pressures also played their part, not least because The Doors embarked upon the sessions with a lack of new material at their disposal. The group had initially intended for their 18-minute epic, The Celebration Of The Lizard, to take up one side of Waiting For The Sun, but after several attempts to nail it failed, the band reluctantly started again from scratch.

“You’re kind of out of songs”

“We had enough songs for two albums before we ever went in to record the first album, but by the time the third album rolled around, you’re kind of out of songs,” Krieger reflected in a Billboard interview. “So I ended up writing more of the songs… I got to do stuff like Spanish Caravan and Yes, The River Knows.”

Krieger’s songs remain among Waiting For The Sun’s highlights. One of The Doors’ most dramatic set-pieces, the Andalusian-flavoured Spanish Caravan was underpinned by Krieger’s fluid flamenco guitar playing, while Yes, The River Knows was a poetic ballad akin to The Crystal Ship, from the band’s self-titled debut album. Also featuring a tender Morrison vocal, Yes, The River Knows ranks among The Doors’ most overlooked songs, though the band always believed in its quality.

“The piano and guitar interplay is absolutely beautiful,” keyboardist Ray Manzarek reflected in the sleevenotes for 1997’s The Doors Box Set. “I don’t think Robby and I ever played so sensitively together. It was the closest we ever came to being [jazz musicians] Bill Evans and Jim Hall.”

“I am The Lizard King, I can do anything”

Elsewhere, The Doors either wrote new material in the studio or drew upon whatever remained from their earliest days as a band. The a cappella work song My Wild Love and the urgent, proto-metal anthem Five To One sprang from spontaneous studio jams, while both Love Street and Hello, I Love You were early songs afforded upgrades.

The lilting, baroque-flavoured Love Street originated as a poem Morrison wrote about the street he lived on in Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon with his girlfriend Pamela Courson, while Hello, I Love You – which featured on The Doors’ earliest demo in 1965 – was transformed into a slice of infectious, Nuggets-style garage-pop with Krieger’s fuzzbox-fuelled guitar playing a starring role.

A part of Celebration Of The Lizard also eventually found its way on to Waiting For The Sun. Its most cohesive section, Not To Touch The Earth, appeared as a standalone track and sounded especially ominous sequenced between the delicate Love Street and the wistful, resigned Summer’s Almost Gone. Celebration Of The Lizard’s entire lyric was also published inside the gatefold jacket of the album’s original pressing, and its most-quoted line (“I am The Lizard King, I can do anything”) has since become synonymous with Jim Morrison.

“Never more lucid”

Waiting For The Sun was trailered by The Doors’ most overtly political song, The Unknown Solider. A strident commentary on the increasingly apocalyptic Vietnam War, it came accompanied with a promotional film depicting Morrison’s mock execution – something the group continued to re-enact during live performances of the song.

Despite being one of the best Doors songs, The Unknown Soldier’s controversial subject matter spooked radio DJs away from playing it, but its successor – the eminently catchy Hello, I Love You – shot to No.1 in the US and Canada just as Waiting For The Sun was released on 3 July 1968. With the album also topping the US charts, the concerts The Doors performed at the prestigious Hollywood Bowl and The Singer Bowl in New York’s Flushing Meadow in the summer of 1968 elevated them to the height of their fame.

“A band at its most dextrous, creative and musically diverse”

In the years since, Waiting For The Sun has became something of an underground favourite, with retrospective reappraisals rightly asserting that it was well worth the toil The Doors put in to see the record through to completion.

“Despite the fact Jim Morrison was becoming more self-destructive, Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek and John Densmore were never more lucid,” Slant wrote in their 2007 retrospective. “Waiting For The Sun represents a band at its most dexterous, creative and musically diverse.”

‘Waiting For The Sun’ Track-By-Track: A Guide To Every Song On The Album

Hello, I Love You

Released as a single in the summer of 1968, Waiting For The Sun’s opening track became The Doors’ first No.1 since Light My Fire, topping the Billboard Hot 100 the same week as its parent album topped the album chart. One of six songs The Doors demoed before Robby Krieger joined the group, its lyrics were written as early as 1965, in tribute to a woman that captivated Jim Morrison as she walked along Los Angeles’ Venice Beach. Writing in his memoir, Riders On The Storm: My Life With Jim Morrison And The Doors, John Densmore recalled that producer Paul Rothchild had been pushing the group to come up with another hit, and felt that that Hello, I Love You “with a tight arrangement, could fit the bill”.

Rothchild’s instinct proved correct. The song was helped on its way by Ray Manzarek’s descending keyboard lines and a dose of fuzz-box distortion added to Krieger’s guitar; perhaps record-buyers were also drawn by its similarity to The Kinks’ recent hit All Day And All Of The Night. Manzarek later told Musician magazine that that The Doors had heard a resemblance between the two at the time of recording their song (“It’s all rock’n’roll, we’re all family, we’re not stealing anything from them,” be said, before apologising to The Kinks’ frontman and main songwriter, Ray Davies), though in his memoir, Set The Night On Fire: Living, Dying And Playing Guitar With The Doors, Krieger copped to a more deliberate steal, admitting that the group “ripped off Cream”. “The song’s feel comes from me telling John to emulate Ginger Baker’s rumbling tom-tom pattern from Sunshine Of Your Love,” the guitarist wrote. “I knew it was catchy,” Densmore has said of the results, “but I was shocked when it became a No.1 record.”

Love Street

Love Street was the nickname Morrison and his long-term girlfriend, Pamela Courson, gave to Rothdell Trail, the street on which they lived together in LA’s Laurel Canyon neighbourhood. From their balcony, the couple would watch hippies hanging out at the local Canyon Country Store – immortalised in the song as “the store where the creatures meet” – while living what Manzarek and Krieger’s interweaving piano and guitar lines make sound like a life of contentment. However, Morrison’s usual ambivalence isn’t far away: “I guess I like it fine, so far,” he summarises.

“Jim Morrison had a proper sexy, manly voice,” said Ian McCulloch, frontman of Echo And The Bunnymen and a lifelong Doors fan. “It was the sexuality as soon as you heard him sing… ‘She lives on Love Street’: he just sounds so natural.”

Not To Touch The Earth

The Doors’ first two albums had closed with the signature epics The End and When The Music’s Over, and when they came to record Waiting For The Sun the group initially sought to outdo themselves by devoting the whole second half of the album to The Celebration Of The Lizard, an 18-minute epic they’d been trying out live. In the event, only one section of Morrison’s lengthy poem translated onto record: the doomy Not To Touch The Earth, which builds from paranoid scene-setting to hazardous road trip, its tensions heightened by some particularly frenzied organ work from Manzarek. “I am the Lizard King. I can do anything,” Morrison intones at the end, placing the weighty crown of self-mythology on his head.

“Celebration Of The Lizard was tongue in cheek but it also made me a little nervous,” Densmore would reflect, drawing attention to the often-overlooked humour in Morrison’s writings. “Jim got himself a snakeskin suit. Was he building his own myth here or was he kidding? It was a combination of the two… he had to be careful with the notoriety.”

Ironically, even though Morrison loved reptiles, snakes made him feel uneasy. “It’s hard for me to pick up a snake and play with it,” he once admitted. “I think that a snake just embodies everything we fear.”

Summer’s Almost Gone

Another song recorded for The Doors’ first demo, Summer’s Almost Gone dated back even further, to Morrison’s earliest writings, and was among the songs he sang to Ray Manzarek during their fated meeting on Venice Beach, when the keyboardist first became aware that his former UCLA film-school classmate had an inclination towards making music. Along with Moonlight Drive and My Eyes Have Seen You, the shy Morrison, yet to cultivate the rock-god persona that would make him one of the best frontmen of all time, sang what would become this pensive Waiting For The Sun highlight, instantly sparking inspiration in Manzarek. “I found it sad and melancholic. A song of the end of innocence. Perhaps of the end of love. Perhaps of the end itself,” Manzarek wrote in his memoir, Light My Fire: My Life With The Doors. The Doors would workshop the tune during their legendary residency at San Francisco’s Matrix Club, in March 1967; the Latin rhythm Manzarek heard from the start remains traceable in Densmore’s playing on the final recording, topped off by some fluid guitar work from Krieger which gives the song a lightly psychedelicised blues spin.

Wintertime Love

Taken in a gentle waltz time, Wintertime Love is one of the more straightforward love songs in The Doors’ catalogue, and, at 1.52, it is also one of the shortest. Manzarek’s florid parts, played on his organ’s harpsichord setting, give the tune a period flavour in keeping with Morrison’s faux-formal lyrics, though his final flourish is answered by a ghostly echo of sorts at the start of The Unknown Soldier.

The Unknown Soldier

With the Vietnam War raging overseas, Jim Morrison set out to write a protest song which, he assured Manzarek, wouldn’t be a cash-in. “This isn’t a Vietnam song,” he told the keyboardist. “This is just a song about war.” Juxtaposing the complacency of those for whom armed conflict is something that happens in other parts of the world (“Breakfast where the news is read/Television children fed”) with the stark brutality of the battlefield (“Unborn, living/Living, dead/Bullet strikes the helmet’s head”), Morrison never identified a specific war in his lyrics, ensuring that his ill-fated soldier could come from any place or time – past, present or future. Radio stations weren’t having any of it, however, with many deeming the song, which was released as a single three months ahead of Waiting For The Sun, too incendiary to air in the contemporary climate.

Worked up on the road in October 1967, The Unknown Soldier would provide a moment of theatrical release during Doors concerts, the band staging the song’s mock-execution section live each night. As Krieger wielded his guitar like a rifle, a reverb unit would be dropped to the floor, the crash signalling for Morrison to collapse as if shot. In the studio, the group fired real rifles loaded with blanks in order to create the sound of a firing squad. Though Densmore felt the session had been arduous (“I think we spent about two hours getting one gunshot. It seemed absurd,” he would write), Manzarek later noted that the rock journalists the group invited into the studio to actually fire the rifles had the time of their lives: “Writers with guns! And they were going to be a firing squad that kills Jim Morrison? Man, they loved it.”

Spanish Caravan

Robby Krieger’s lysergic slide-guitar skills may have helped define The Doors’ sound, but he was a wide-ranging guitarist who’d studied classical and flamenco guitar before joining the group. Writing in Riders On The Storm, John Densmore explained that Spanish Caravan – on which Krieger’s flamenco playing came to the fore – developed out of repeated requests for the guitarist to play in that style during rehearsals, “so I, too, could watch his picking. His right hand looked like a crab with many legs crawling over the strings.” For Krieger, Spanish Caravan fulfilled a long-held wish to use his prized Ramírez acoustic guitar in the studio, and he lifted the descending melody of his fantasy Spanish travelogue from a classical guitar piece called Leyenda, written in the 1800s by the composer Isaac Albéniz. Despite having “spent hours perfecting” a solo “where I finally got to showcase all my years of classical training”, the lengthy passage was cut for space. “I didn’t mind changing the song,” the guitarist later wrote, “but I was heartbroken when I found out the master tape of the outtake was lost forever.”

My Wild Love

The Doors’ love of the blues is writ large throughout their music, but with My Wild Love the group went further back than Chicago’s electric blues, or even the Delta stylings preserved in some of the earliest blues recordings, and channelled the work songs sung by Black slaves forced into labour on Southern plantations in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. On top of a-cappella chants, handclaps and sparse percussion (including a snake-like rattle), Morrison unfolds a cryptic tale involving an encounter with the devil and a seemingly endless journey towards madness, as his “wild love” sets out in search of freedom.

We Could Be So Good Together

In Light My Fire, Manzarek acknowledged the debt he owed to some of the best jazz musicians in history, and revealed the sources of some of the licks he played on record. “I quote, verbatim, a Thelonious Monk line from Straight, No Chaser in The Doors’ song We Could Be So Good Together,” the keyboardist wrote. Shifting from a descending main keyboard riff to a time signature redolent of Alabama Song, the Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill show tune covered by The Doors on their debut album (and, later, recorded by David Bowie for a standalone single release), and then again into a brief shuffle, the song’s deceptive simplicity matches the seemingly straightforward lyrics; yet while Morrison, on the one hand, predicts a bright future with his companion, on the other he admits to deceit, his imagery of angels fighting, crying, dancing and dying indicating that even the most well-intentioned souls have their darker sides.

Yes, The River Knows

In the years since Jim Morrison’s death, his three bandmates all spoke openly about the tensions that arose during the Waiting For The Sun sessions, yet, with the right inspiration, The Doors could still astonish each other. Singling out the meditative ballad Yes, The River Knows as a highlight among the group’s entire body of work, Robby Krieger, who wrote the song, said that Krieger gave it “life by playing a grand piano instead of his Vox Continental. It’s my favourite thing Ray ever played.” In turn, The Doors’ celebrated poet/songwriter, Jim Morrison, “loved the line about ‘mystic heated wine’ even though I only squeezed it in there for rhyming purposes”. Having previously come up with the opening verse and the basic melody of Light My Fire, Krieger again turned to the four elements for inspiration when penning this song: “This time it was water instead of fire, comparing a breakup to a drowning death to once again keep up with Jim’s darkness,” he wrote. Yet it would be Jim’s darkness that had the final word on Waiting For The Sun.

Five To One

Morrison never explained what the five-to-one statistic represented, but there were plenty of theories, from a predicted population split via age (producer Paul Rothchild guessed it meant that, by the year 1975, under-25s would outnumber over-25s by five to one) to a suggestion that one in five people smoked pot in 1968. For Manzarek, meanwhile, it was simply one of The Doors’ “insane hard-on, over-the-top crunchers”. Though it very nearly wasn’t.

“Jim started bugging me to play something very basic, very primitive, on my drums,” the jazz-trained Densmore explained in Riders On The Storm. Initially resisting, he finally “gave in and started playing the dumbest 4/4 beat I know”, over which Morrison began to sing the song’s arresting opening lyrics: “Five to one, baby/One in five/No one here gets out alive.” Manzarek and Krieger soon worked their parts up, but the guitarist has since revealed that what sounds like “an iconic vocal take… classic Morrison, howling for a long-awaited revolution” was only captured after hours of “completely unusable” attempts from their inebriated singer.

Months later, Morrison’s drunkenness would get the better of him again while singing Five To One, as he veered away from the lyrics during a performance at Miami’s Dinner Key Auditorium, on 1 March 1969, in order to harangue the audience and eventually – allegedly – expose himself on stage. His antics would change the course of The Doors’ history, as a resulting legal battle cost the group an estimated $1 million in cancelled gigs and hung over them well into 1970, through the recording of their fifth album, Morrison Hotel.

Lyrics such as “They got the guns but we got the numbers/Gonna win, yeah, we’re takin’ over” have always encouraged listeners to interpretate Five To One as a countercultural protest song, but Morrison sneers at hippie idealism in a final verse that implies the revolution had failed (“You walk across the floor/With a flower in your hand/Trying to tell me no one understands”). Onstage in Miami that night, as he challenged The Doors’ audience members to think for themselves (“You’re all a bunch of slaves! Letting everybody push you around. What are you gonna do about it?”), Morrison’s revolution wasn’t political, it was personal. He may not have made it out alive, but he blazed a trail that others are still following.

Buy Doors vinyl, box sets and more at the Dig! store.

Original article: 3 July 2021

Updated: 3 July 2023. Extra words: Jason Draper

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