The Doors - The Soft Parade
The problem with Oliver Stone’s biopic of The Doors is that the director is so preoccupied with Jim Morrison, in particular Morrison’s morbid obsession with death and excess, that it lead to an unbalanced representation which served to perpetrate the hellraiser myth as opposed to glorying the musicianship. If you watched the film The Doors before you listened to fourth album The Soft Parade, you’d struggle to agree that both featured the same band.
Whilst most would agree that The Soft Parade isn’t the best Doors album, it’s hard to disagree with the notion that it is the most undervalued. Upon its nineteen-sixty-nine release, the band were slated for their over-indulgent flirtations with orchestral rock and the implementation of brass and string sections on their songs. However, with a haze of hindsight surrounding the appreciation of The Soft Parade, it seems that releasing the record was a bolder move than the band were ever given credit for.
As Morrison was writing the ‘how-to-be-a-rock-and-roll-star’ book as he went along during his short life, it was fairly evident that a pre-conceived mould had formed around his iconic presence both on stage and on record, and that Morrison was faced with a no-win situation. He would have been slaughtered for staying the same, and changing would have brought accusations of selling-out from fans. The Doors were in trouble musically and amongst the ranks, and their decision to release The Soft Parade only served to corroborate the idea that they did, in fact, care about the music.
As an album, The Soft Parade is a delicious fusion of rock, jazz, blues, soul and even country, and this is not an exaggeration. It’s best viewed as an experimental collection, with no repetitive themes other than The Doors’ clear desire to try out new musical genres. Album opener Tell All The People actually sounds like Elvis singing with full band on a live-from-Vegas special, and takes a while for you to keep reminding yourself you are listening to the man who once screamed of oedipal impulses on The End. Yet, this is the true spirit of The Doors, a band who managed to break free of their own conventions on countless occasions, only to finally give in to death himself.
Hit single Touch Me garnered ferocious critical abuse from fans, and was so accessible as chart fodder that even treacle-indulgent arranger Hugo Montenegro covered it on his Moog Power album. Sure, the strings-orchestra rhythm and the pure poppy lyrics of “I’m gonna love you, till the stars fall from the sky for you and I” may have sent some stringent Doors fans insane with rage, but there’s no denying the song works as an inspired mix of pop, funk and jazz, with fiery keyboards from Manzarek and welcome saxophone solos from guest Curtis Amy.
Surprisingly, the third track, Shaman’s Blues is the first on the album composed by Morrison, as the two previous songs were Krieger-penned. It’s a Morrison-by-numbers track, full of repetitive bass-lines and rambling lyrics, whereas Do It is lyrically inept but has an infectious chorus. Easy Ride is a firm, upbeat number full of jingly-jangly bluegrass hints, and a strong country-rock emphasis, suggesting The Doors were aware of the revolutionary advances in country music pioneered by the likes of Gram Parsons and the later line-ups of The Byrds.
Wild Child is a sauntering blues number supposedly based around Morrison’s long-term infatuation for Linda Ashcroft. Runnin’ Blue is one of the better songs in the album, and one of the few to see Morrison and Krieger sharing lead vocal. The song, a homage to late soul singer Otis Redding, is a catchy mix of Morrison blues-rock and Krieger country-bluegrass, Wishful, Sinful doesn’t outstay its welcome, and the final, title track is a nine-minute anthology that sounds like a medley of smaller songs. Morrison’s random lyrics and initial mock-preacher character-embodiment fly headfirst through a barrage of musical soundscapes ranging from what can be described as a pre-cursor to disco or whimsical chart pop. It’s an interesting close to an interesting album, but certainly no The End or When The Music’s Over.
Whereas The Soft Parade isn’t as accessible as other Doors albums nor a good introduction for a casual newcomer, it certainly contains more benefits than drawbacks in the band’s discography. The experimental nature of the songs has served to heighten the unpredictable and wild side of the band’s persona, and with that in mind, it’s just as important as the debut album or L.A. Woman.