The Doors - L.A. Woman
By now, having seen reviews of most of The Doors' albums appear on this website, you're no doubt thinking that the band had seen their best days disappear far behind them. You wouldn't be the only one as even their long-time producer, Paul Rothchild, had walked out on the band's final sessions, leaving engineer Bruce Botnick to take over production. Fans had walked away from The Doors following Jim Morrison's exposure charge during the Miami concert and the release of patchy albums like Waiting For The Sun and The Soft Parade. Even the teenage girls who'd fallen for Morrison's looks had seen him grow fat, bearded and more interested in his poetry than the brooding pop of the band's first couple of albums. 1971, then, was the moment The Doors were to return.
Much is written about how L.A. Woman is a great return to the blues that Morrison loved, almost all of which is nonsense. According to the stories that surround him, Morrison did always want to write a blues album but given that he was responsible for much of the music throughout the band's career, there was very little to prevent him recording an album of blues covers or originals before 1971. Instead, Morrison, who was as commercially savvy with his music as he was not with his poetry and filmmaking, appeared to wait until The Doors were falling out of love with the public before working on L.A. Woman. It's likely that Morrison waited until the opportunity arose for him to record a more personal album without it affecting the commercial success of the band, which, given his leaving for Paris soon after the recording of this album, he was intent on leaving regardless. Of course, his death in Paris whilst L.A. Woman was still high in the charts left little clue as to what Morrison would do next but returning to the US to play Light My Fire every evening over cocktails in Las Vegas surely wouldn't have been high on his list.
The success of L.A. Woman as a blues/rock album is dependent not only on the writing but on the weariness of Morrison's voice, left ragged by years of drinking. Compare the singing on The Doors or Strange Days to the raw vocals of The Changeling and L'America or even to the weary sound of both Morrison and the band during Hyacinth House. However it ended and even had Morrison lived, it's doubtful that The Doors would have continued long after the release of L.A. Woman as it seems an end to something, which has long been interpreted as the end of the sixties, of the optimism of the hippie movement and even of the credibility of rock as the early seventies ushered in an era of no-nonsense pop. The Doors were not single handedly responsible for this but rather the cold, downbeat final minutes of L.A. Woman, during which Riders On The Storm batters the sixties with death, desire and torrential rain, was added to Altamont, Charles Manson, the deaths of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin and the massacres happening in Vietnam, meaning that the paisley shirts of the hippies looked out of place during the glare of the early seventies.
Had he lived to see it, such a turnaround from the late-sixties would probably have appealed to Morrison. Although legend has him appreciating the access to girls, drugs and booze afforded him by the success of psychedelic rock, not to mention his place as a poet being taken somewhat seriously by kids too far gone to see Morrison producing anything other than the worst kind of verse, there's never the feeling that Morrison had quite bought into peace and love. By those accounts written by those who knew him, Morrison could be physically violent and many of the concerts performed by The Doors ended in chaos as Morrison fought out of the role of a hippie Dionysus that he had been given, most notoriously during the Miami concert that led to Morrison's conviction for obscenity and indecent exposure in October 1970. Whether or not Morrison was guilty, he was clearly out of the hippie game, chanting at the crowd, "You're all a bunch of fuckin' idiots...what are you gonna do about it?" Where else could he go to but to record L.A. Woman, the most sober and sombre of The Doors' albums, and then to Paris to rest or even to die.
It's fitting then to say that L.A. Woman is quite easily the best of The Doors' albums and a leap between the hard rock and psychedelia of their previous albums to this. In storming fashion, The Changeling is a terrific opener with the band locked tight into a steady groove as Morrison's voice breaks up during the song's second chorus, screaming into the microphone, "You gotta see me change!" Second song, Love Her Madly, is rolling pop/rock from Robbie Krieger with Manzerak playing better than he had done since Strange Days and if Been Down So Long and Cars Hiss by My Window are traditional blues, one fired up, the other subdued, then the album's title track is the one that's worth the price of purchase alone.
Laid-back LA rock was doubtless in place before the recording of L.A. Woman but nothing did it as well as this. Beginning with a gentle, driving blues, the song is a day in Los Angeles tucked into an extended, multi-part rock song - quiet during its daylight hours, more subdued during dusk and exploding as the night comes in. Morrison's lyrics have rarely been better than they are here, telling the story of his arrival in Los Angeles and of his first impression of the city. Even his opening line is friendly, "Well, I just got into town about an hour ago / Took a look around, see which way the wind blow", soon noticing, "Cops in cars, the topless bars / Never saw a woman...so alone." But still the song's best moment is in his ordering of the song to slow, "Let's change the mood from glad to sadness!", which precedes the rightfully famous Mr. Mojo Risin' section before the song fades to a ride back out of town on the freeway, "You're my woman / Little L.A. Woman."
As L.A. Woman becomes a trip through the city and back out, so the CD pressing of the album carries that trip back out in America with the roots L'America, itself an opening entry in the two-parter that ends with The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat), both of which examine the murky American exterior so long as L.A. Woman is for the city. If Crawling King Snake is a good version of a John Lee Hooker song, then Hyacinth House has Morrison sounding tired and alone, singing, "I need a brand new friend who doesn't bother me / I need someone, yeah, who doesn't need me" as though life as a rock star in Los Angeles was becoming too much.
And, in all likelihood, it was. Morrison, at least according to Danny Sugarman's No One Here Gets Out Alive, led a relatively quiet life in Paris with a small group of friends, before dying on 3 July 1971 in his house at No. 17 Rue Beautreillis, with the burial in the Pere Lachaise cemetery following a day or two later before the arrival of the rest of The Doors. Morrison lived for as long as he needed to and his impact is still felt by him having left a handsome corpse, six great albums and a legacy that says rock music, poetry and moody good looks will go far. As Ray Manzarek and Robbie Krieger haul the ex-singer from The Cult about the world, appearing in front of audiences with the lights down low - squint and it looks just like him - and as daft kids light candles at Pere Lachaise, don't leave the house, get this and the other five studio albums and listen to The Doors as they ought to be heard.