“You know the day destroys the night/ Night divides the day,” Jim Morrison sings at the beginning of the Doors’ first album The Doors, released in 1967.
A simultaneously incendiary and jazzy intro to what would become known as the Doors’ best lp, the song, titled Break On Through (To The Other Side), is a perfect introduction to the album and the band. It also happens to be perfectly apropos to the nature of the Doors themselves: “Breaking on through,” smashing barriers, and getting to that other, darker, more dangerous and elusive side of the human experience.
But Break On Through is just one of many gems on the Doors’ first album: an instant classic that unexpectedly catapulted a group of California film school buddies and meditation enthusiasts/musicians into the apex of the American rock scene. Part of the appeal of the Doors’ first album is its multifaceted presentation. A reflection of the band at the time, the album combines endearing, dreamy, Californian tracks with broader ambitions. Morrison’s poetic talent bursts through the seams of his three bandmates’ stunning musical competence.
Break On Through is followed by Soul Kitchen, a delightful tune in which Morrison pays tribute to one of his favorite L.A. haunts. What follows are the trippy “Crystal Ship” and irresistible “Twentieth Century Fox.”
The real heavy hitter, of course, comes in the middle of the record with “Light My Fire,” a song written by guitarist Robby Krieger but including a brilliant intro by keyboardist Ray Manzarek and supported by a Latin beat from drummer John Densmore. Call it overplayed, the song is still irresistible, and not just because it features a four-minute jam session in the middle.
If you listen to the album and aren’t convinced, at least try to make it to the final track “The End,” a sprawling twelve-minute finale.
“Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain/ And all the children are insane,” Morrison sings.
Out of their entire catalogue, the Doors’ first album most readily demonstrates what made the band great. It showcases their breadth of potential and musical skill along with their greatest asset: a dark, Dionysian poet together with a trio of superb musical craftsmen.
Thinking of giving a listen to the Doors’ first album? My advice: “break on through” and give it a spin. You won’t want to go back.
***** (5 stars)
Key Tracks: Break On Through (To The Other Side), Light My Fire, The End