The legacy of the Doors may have been overshadowed by the death of their frontman, Jim Morrison, at the age of 27, but without them, classic rock would be a very different thing. Between 1967 and 1971, the Doors released six studio albums. Not all of them are masterpieces, but they each contain enough gems to be considered essential listening. Omitting the projects the group released following Morrison’s death and concentrating purely on the music made by the original quartet, here’s how we rank all six of the Doors albums.
6. The Soft Parade
Waiting for the Sun was a slightly strange but, ultimately, wholly satisfying album. It was also the band’s first (and only) number one record. Expectations for its follow-up were therefore riding high. Unfortunately, The Soft Parade didn’t wholly deliver. By 1969, Morrison’s behavior was becoming increasingly erratic, with the result that guitarist Robby Krieger was forced to take his place as the main lyricist, and on one song, even replace him as the lead vocalist. On top of that, the band seemed to have forgotten who they were. They were feeling restless, experimental, and not entirely sure what to do about either. So they threw everything but the kitchen sink at the album, resulting in a slightly messy affair with a ton of experimentation but not enough heart to hold it together. It’s not a terrible album, it’s just much less than they were capable of.
5. Waiting for the Sun
Waiting For the Sun has sometimes been criticized as sounding more like a loose collection of songs than an album. Perhaps it is. It doesn’t have the same prevailing mood that unites most of their other albums, resulting in a tracklist that jumps between styles and sounds to an almost dizzying degree. Hello, I Love You, the opening track of side one, is a straightforward piece of 60s pop, but just two tracks later, we land on the hard-driving rock of Not To Touch The Earth. Drummer John Densmore has described it as “third album syndrome,” blaming a lack of original material and the need to improvise. The fact that Jim Morrison was becoming ever more lost to his addictions didn’t help matters either. But to an extent, all of this is irrelevant. The songs might not come together as a whole, but individually, they’re almost flawless. Listening to them side by side might leave you confused, but that doesn’t detract from their greatness.
4. Morrison Hotel
As StereoGum notes, Morrison Hotel is a crucial album in the Doors’ career. After the relative disappointment of The Soft Parade, this was where they regrouped, regathered, and reinvigorated themselves enough to start moving forward. It’s more aggressive and muscular than its predecessor, with a return to the bluesy roots of their debut. The opening pairing of Roadhouse Blues and Waiting For the Ship is inspired, and even though a few of the songs at the halfway mast are slightly below par (Ship of Fools and Land Ho! in particular), it’s a minor criticism. Overall, it’s a superbly controlled, tightly assembled package which, while lacking any major hits, is still essential listening.
3. Strange Days
Described by Society of Frock as dark, haunting, but still impeccable, Strange Days, the band’s second album, came just eight months after their debut. Like many second albums, it consists largely of songs that didn’t make the cut the first time around. Unlike most second albums, it doesn’t suffer as a result of it. It doesn’t sound like a reheated dish of their first offering, and neither does it sound like they rushed it out in a mercenary attempt to capitalize on the success of its predecessor. There’s depth to the songs, richness to the sound, and enough danger to keep you hooked. Musically, it’s more varied than the band’s debut, displaying a wider range of influences and styles. Some music journalists have described it as “post-psychedelic pop.” Whatever it is, it’s wonderful, particularly on standout cuts like When the Music’s Over, Love Her Two Times, and People Are Strange. Released on September 25, 1967, it peaked at number three on the US Billboard 200, eventually earning platinum certification.
2. L.A. Woman
As Ultimate Classic Rock notes, by the time the Doors started recording their sixth and final album in the winter of 1970, Morrison was a bloated, booze-addled mess. His lifestyle and on-stage antics hadn’t just caught up with him, they were on the verge of destroying him. But somehow, he managed to put aside his personal issues for long enough to make what, by anyone’s reckoning, is a stupendously good album. L.A. Woman is a strutting, swaggering piece of rock gold. Powered by tracks like Love Her Madly and Riders on the Storm, its urgent potency is impossible to either deny or resist. Within three months of the album’s release, Morrison was dead. It was a tragic waste of life, but an exceptional swansong.
1. The Doors
The Doors was where it all started. Even if the band hadn’t made a single record again after their self-titled debut, they would still have gone down in history as one of the greatest bands of the sixties… actually, make that of any decade. How could they not, with a tracklist that opens with Break On Through (To the Other Side) and ends with (appropriately enough) The End? And then there’s the gold in between – Light My Fire, a brilliant breakthrough, an excellent song for a cremation, and one of the most crucial and extraordinary pieces of art ever to bear the psychedelic rock tagline; The Crystal Ship, the only love song that ever could (or would ever want to) borrow its title from the 12th-century Irish “Lebor na huidre” (Book of the Dun Cow) manuscript and get away with it; Alabama Song (Whisky Bar), a song that confirmed Jim Morrison as both a whisky-soaked drunk and a man that could combine carnival music with ska and still sound like a god – and so it goes on, one outstanding song after the next. Morrison comes off like Byron on a bad day, they’ve got no bassist to speak of, an organ player who doesn’t understand he’s not in church now, and the whole bunch of them have absolutely no idea if they’re a cabaret act or the next big thing in rock. Yet somehow, it works. It’s not just the Doors’ best album, it’s one of the best debuts of any band, ever.