Do The Doors still light your fire?

Few bands divide opinion like Jim Morrison's seminal Sixties outfit. As a commemorative DVD and album are released, two of our music critics offer opposing views

YES - Andy Gill

The abrupt curtailment of their career by Jim Morrison's death at the age of 27 both bestowed a certain dark cachet upon The Doors, and also prevented them from embarking upon the long, slow decline into which most of their peers subsequently sank. Ignoring the live albums and the posthumous efforts cobbled together from Morrison's poetry recitations, they left just six albums of surprisingly high quality, whatever one's views on the depth of the singer's poems, a knee-jerk target for detractors ever since.

Ironically, it's in his poetry's pretensions that much of the band's greatness resides. The Doors had an underlying attraction to the dark side that gave their best songs a multi-faceted appeal and ambivalence denied to the more starry-eyed hippies up the coast in San Francisco. Not that Morrison's pretensions weren't matched by his fellow band members, who leapt at any chance to bring jazz and classical elements into the pop realm – fairly commonplace now, but extremely rare back then. The result was a flexible musical weave that could take sudden left-turns when least expected, and was particularly well suited to the sort of extended narratives that interested Morrison. It's worth remembering, in this regard, that the band was born out of the attraction of two film students (Morrison and keyboardist Ray Manzarek) to the new blues and rock music: their songs never lost that narrative edge, not just lyrically, but also musically – the backdrops created by a band of just three musicians for pieces like "The End" and "Five to One" are startlingly visual representations of their themes, yet still imbued with muscular rock power.

Morrison's artistic pretensions were balanced by an instinctual feeling for the blues. He was always striving to reconcile his attraction to the atavism of the blues with his need for intellectual fulfilment, an alliance of id and superego that only Captain Beefheart ever equalled. Not for nothing did The Doors' debut album contain covers of both Howlin' Wolf and Brecht/Weill. But unlike most contemporary British adherents of the blues, the band's music was never stifled by any overweening claims on "authenticity"; instead, there was a blend of looseness and tightness that seemed to come more naturally to American musicians: albums such as Morrison Hotel and L.A. Woman present a straight-up great blues-boogie unit.

Yet for all Morrison's desire to be "an old blues man" – as per his anagrammatical alter-ego, Mr Mojo Risin' – there was always an awareness, in his delivery, of the absurdity of his position. At their best, in songs from "Roadhouse Blues" to "Riders on the Storm", "Not To Touch The Earth" to "L.A. Woman", The Doors created a mixture of the ridiculous and the sexy, the pretentious and the bullishly direct that was as compelling as any music of their era, a quixotic blend perfectly summarised in the grandiose promise to "tell you about the heartache and the loss of God".

NO - Fiona Sturges

You'll have to take my word for it when I tell you that I've tried to like The Doors. In my teens I convinced myself, along with many of my schoolgirl peers, that I had fallen for Jim Morrison's preening rock star cool. I borrowed (though thankfully never purchased) their first two albums, I read the Morrison biography No One Here Gets Out Alive (in which he is presented as a right pain in the backside) and sat dutifully through Oliver Stone's interminable biopic – though in fairness we can't blame Jim for that particular monstrosity. During a month-long stay in Paris, I even went to Père Lachaise and visited Morrison's grave. This was not a pilgrimage, you understand, but because it was a well-known hippy hangout and I hoped that someone might pass me a joint.

A couple of years later, old enough not to worry about the critical consensus, I revisited The Doors' work and came to the conclusion that Lester Bangs was right when he described Morrison, the son of a US rear admiral, as "a drunken buffoon masquerading as a poet". Around the same time, a friend introduced me to The Velvet Underground. The Doors may have had the hits, I realised, but the Velvets had the songs.

The Doors were the most overrated band of their era, if not of all time. They were self-regarding, overblown pseudo-hippies that appeared interesting largely because their singer was either drunk or on acid, or both. Their lyrics were as clunking and humourless as their music was overwrought and longwinded, hamstrung by endless keyboard noodling that probably added to the buzz if you were stalking the corridors of your mind on LSD but if you weren't was like the longest guitar solo on the dreariest album by the worst prog-rock band in the world. It is also a mystery to me how anyone could prostrate themselves at the feet of a middle-class boy who styled himself as some sort of shaman, possessed with the Native American spirit, or worse still a Lizard King. Then again, perhaps they were just humouring the silly plank.

The Doors were successful partly due to their timing – their music had a darkness to it that chimed with the beginning of the end of the hippy dream – and also because of their very distinct, and to a teenager very compelling, image. In the same way that James Dean embodied danger and romance by donning a leather jacket and acting all stroppy in Rebel without a Cause, Morrison pulled off the same trick with a pair of leather trousers, a bottle of Jack Daniels and a rock band. It was, inevitably, Morrison's premature death in his Parisian bathtub at the age of 27 more than his back catalogue that sealed his place in rock mythology. I don't dispute the band's influence on some terrific performers, from Iggy Pop to Patti Smith. But where others hear magic and mystery in The Doors, I only hear mediocrity.

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

film
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment

film
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...