By Brian Ives
This week (January 4) marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Doors’ self-titled album, which heralded the birth of one of the wildest, most explosive and most enduring rock bands ever (and that’s despite the fact that their career lasted for less than five years).
The Doors is a classic album, start to finish, and much has been written about it over the years. But we thought we’d take this moment to look at the band’s entire career, not just their debut. The Doors boasted an impressive amount of hit singles— “Light My Fire” and “Hello, I Love You” were both chart toppers, and “People Are Strange,” “Love Me Two Times,” “The Unknown Soldier,” “Touch Me,” “Love Her Madly” and “Riders on the Storm” all made the top 40. But the album tracks were often as important to the band’s legend—and often more so—than the hits.
So, here’s a look at some of their greatest non-hits. The criteria for this list is simple: a song could not have hit the top 40 (unless it was as a B-side), and could not be included on the band’s two main posthumous collections, 1973’s The Best of the Doors or 1980’s Greatest Hits. Although many of them are classic rock radio mainstays, and will likely get played on that format for decades to come.
1. “The End” from The Doors (1967) – “The End” brought The Doors to a stunning conclusion; it was wilder than any psychedelic music. It was heavy before there was heavy metal; it was punk before that genre existed. It was theatrical, uncompromising and it made you feel more than a bit uncomfortable. It was as confrontational as music could get. Jim Morrison reportedly wrote it about the end of a relationship, and that’s how the song began; by the end of the song, over ten minutes later, the song’s meaning had morphed quite a bit. The song got a new life – and new gravitas – when Francis Ford Coppola used it to score the opening scene of his 1979 masterpiece, Apocalypse Now.
2. “When The Music’s Over” from Strange Days (1967) – Similar to “The End,” the eleven minute “When The Music’s Over” closed the band’s second album, Strange Days, on an explosive note. Robby Krieger played two of his best guitar solos (which were layered on top of each other) over one of Ray Manzarek and John Densmore’s most hypnotic grooves. The music was so powerful it made Morrison’s lyrics “The face in the mirror won’t stop/The girl in the window won’t drop/A feast of friends, ‘Alive!’ she cried//Waitin’ for me outside” sound way deeper than they would have.
3. “Five to One” from Waiting for the Sun (1968) – “Five to One” provided a Doors album with yet another powerful finish, but did so much more economically than “The End” and “When the Music’s Over,” as it clocked in at less than four and a half minutes. It’s surprising that this one never was a hit, but while top 40 radio may have passed on the song, classic rock surely didn’t. The song’s influence has popped up in some surprising places in recent decades: Mike McCready has said that his guitar solo in Pearl Jam’s “Alive” was based on Ace Frehley’s guitar solo on the KISS classic “She,” which in turn nodded towards Robby Krieger’s “Five to One” solo. Jay Z later sampled the song on his song “The Takeover” and Beyonce sampled it in her live version of her song “Ring the Alarm.”
4. “Peace Frog” from Morrison Hotel (1970) – It’s tough to be too funky when you don’t have a bass player, but this song had one of the best grooves of the early ’70s, in any genre.
5. “Wishful Sinful” from The Soft Parade (1969) – The Soft Parade saw the Doors moving towards a more adult contemporary sound, with strings and horns, but Jim Morrison still manages to sound threatening and creepy. The song was released as a single, but failed to crack the top 40.
6. “The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)” from L.A. Woman (1971) – An eerie merging of Morrison’s spoken word (which he double tracked, to give him a “godly” sound) over a rocking Doors jam.
7. “Gloria (live)” from Alive, She Cried (1983, but recorded from 1968-1970) – The original version, written by Van Morrison for his band Them, inferred sex. Jim Morrison, however, took the guesswork out in his ad-libbed and very NSFW lyrics.
8. “The Crystal Ship” from The Doors (1967) – Is it about a lover? Or about drugs? The debate raged among black-light poster loving high schoolers at basement parties, and in college dorms by students with too much time on their hands. Regardless of the meaning of the lyrics, the song featured some of Ray Manzarek’s most evocative piano playing.
9. “Twentieth Century Fox” from The Doors (1967) – It’s not about a movie production company, in case you couldn’t figure that one out. Per the opening lyrics, “Well, she’s fashionably lean, And she’s fashionably late,” it’s not about a four legged mammal any more than Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” was.
10. “Little Red Rooster (live)” from Live in New York (2009, recorded in 1970) – In the late ’60s and early ’70s, there was no shortage of white rock bands covering blues classics, and “Little Red Rooster” was one of the most-covered songs. But while many artists from that era played the blues with the reverence of a museum curator, the Doors played the music with a real sense of menace, capturing the spirit of the genre’s original artists.