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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
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.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album