When The Doors started recording their second album “Strange Days” in May of 1967 the band was riding the critical and popular success of their first album “The Doors”, especially the single “Light My Fire”. When they released “Strange Days” September 25, 1967 they released an album that pushed their artistic boundaries and those of their audience.
Even though the songs on “Strange Days” were recorded almost a full year after the first album, most of the songs on the first two albums were written in the same time period when Jim Morrison was listening to that rock concert in his head on the Venice rooftop. A lot of the songs on “Strange Days” date to the earliest songs performed and recorded by The Doors (“Moonlight Drive” was on the demo The Doors made in August 1965). Still, the two albums sound drastically different from each other. The debut album, eponymously named “The Doors”, is more like a traditional record of the generation before, a loose assemblage of songs the record company hopes one or two of the tracks would be a radio hit.
“Strange Days” is also drastically different from its predecessor in that it is self-consciously experimental in its approach. “The Doors” was recorded in a week or so and captured The Doors in almost a “live” context as if The Doors had been recorded at The Whisky a go-go. The first and simplest innovation was moving up from a four to eight track recording (The Beatles were still using four tracks). The title track is one of the first examples of a Moog synthesizer on a rock album. Songs like “Horse Latitudes” utilizes, for the rhythm of the song, the band and visiting members of Jefferson Airplane yelling into and dropping coke bottles in a wastepaper basket.
On “Unhappy Girl” Ray Manzarek played the song backwards on a piano, but when added to the song and played forward gives the song a sense of unease. For the song “You’re Lost Little Girl” in which guitarist Robby Krieger ably mimics Morrison’s poetic style, they tried a bit of method acting for Morrison’s vocals. Producer Paul Rothchild thought Morrison didn’t sound relaxed enough in the delivery of the lyrics so it was suggested that Morrison’s girlfriend Pam Courson perform oral sex on him in the vocal booth to try and get the right feel for a song.
“Strange Days” was a more psychedelically influenced and dangerous sounding album. The best example would be the poetic/theatrical tour de’ force “When The Music’s Over” starting with Morrison’s scream with the psychedelic roar of Robby Krieger’s guitar that accompanies Morrison. The LSD influenced lyrics made other bands’ “acid rock” seem tame and safe by comparison (except for maybe Hendrix).
One benefit “Strange Days” had over the first album is Morrison had more time to work out the theatrics of the songs and to test them out in front of more and larger audiences. When the first album was recorded The Doors had only been performing in front of audiences at The London Fog and The Whisky a go-go. By the time The Doors went into the studio to record “Strange Days” they had been playing the songs in front of ever larger audiences for almost a year, which may be one reason “Strange Days” sounds more cohesive than the first album.
“Strange Days,” is arguably one of rock ‘n’ roll’s first concept albums. Listening to the album one has the sense it has its own internal logic and coherence. It seems like it is a novel unfolding, each song a new chapter. There is the feeling of the album having a beginning and an end point that isn’t consistent with the end of a song or the end of a side. This might have been what Jim Morrison had in mind when he said, “You might buy a book of our lyrics the same way you might buy a volume of William Blake’s poetry.”
Recorded at the beginning of the “Summer of Love” and the rise of Flower Power, “Strange Days” is an album that dared to examine the dark side, the alienation felt in a crowded society with more people surrounding us the more isolated we become, isolated by the very things that are supposed to free us, sex, death, and ourselves. It is also a rare personal look inside an artist who seemed to have all the gifts the gods could offer. A facility for words and poetry at a young age that would make older poets envious and beauty that all but guaranteed the success of the band by fan and photo magazines of the day. Yet Morrison felt a sense of alienation from the world. The Doors, as conceived by Manzarek and Morrison, was supposed to be a merging of the music, poetry and theatre. While the concept of “Strange Days” isn’t explicitly articulated, it comes closest to achieving the artistic vision of Morrison and Manzarek.
Upon its release, “Strange Days” hit the top twenty in albums, and “People Are Strange” made it into the top ten. “Strange Days” is arguably the most artistically successful album by The Doors.
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