The Doors - Waiting for the Sun: 50th Anniversary Edition

by Steve Ricciutti Rating:8 Release Date:2018-09-14
The Doors - Waiting for the Sun: 50th Anniversary Edition
The Doors - Waiting for the Sun: 50th Anniversary Edition

If, as social historians like to claim, the Summer of Love was 1967, then the following year was perhaps the other side of that coin of the realm for the peace, love, and togetherness movement. Assassinations, riots, and widespread unrest blanketed the year 1968, the same year The Doors’ third album Waiting for the Sun was released. Not blanketed in warmth and comfort, mind you, but rather draped over it, like the flag over the coffins of soldiers, or the last of the Baby Boomer generation’s heroes who met their end via assassination, or carpet-bombed in deadly poison across South Vietnam, or even smothered with water cannons used to wash away protesters on the streets of Chicago.

Odd then, that this release, the third re-issue of their catalog, coming at the 50thanniversary, starts off not in the heretofore typical dour and foreboding fashion in which their first two albums closed, but rather in lilting, precious, and pop-centric fashion with the twin delights of “Hello, I Love You” and “Love Street.” The first, bouncing along with keyboardist Ray Manzarek’s beefy chord riff, and the second guided by the interplay between his delicate work and guitarist Robbie Krieger’s fingerpicking brilliance (more on that), also feature some of Jim Morrison’s more straight-forward, dare I say romantic lyrics, homages to his girlfriend Pamela Courson.

Yet, the radio-friendly opening didn’t last long. The remaining nine songs are at times ominous and even threatening in their message of uncertainty and death. On the finale, Morrison urges his fans and peers to push back against the powers-that-be, citing size advantages (“They got the guns, but we got the numbers”) backed with death’s inevitability (“No one here gets out alive”) to convince the younger generation that their strength will change the world; “Gonna win, yeah, we’re takin’ over…come on!” It’s one of the band’s more confrontational social commentaries, eschewing the inner philosophical musings and pushing for outright populist revolution. If there is a rallying cry for the year 1968, “Five to One” may well be it.

A Krieger primer, the brilliant “Spanish Caravan” mixes an exotic flamenco melody with a desperate tale of searching for gold, while the unique a cappella number “My Wild Love” taps into the mournfulness and sorrow of chain-gang chants and slave work songs. “The Unknown Soldier” is an eerie, visceral punch in the gut at the manner in which the media sought to assuage the public’s war fatigue: “Breakfast where the news is read, television children fed. Unborn living, living dead. Bullet strikes the helmet’s head.” The infamous firing squad section, reproduced for theatrical effect live, has Morrison collapsing after being “shot” by John Densmore’s percussive strike resembling the cracking of a gun. Grabbing the changing times by the throat, Waiting for the Sun is The Doors’ most in-your-face political record.

The darkness beneath the surface, a common thread in Morrison’s lyrics, weaves throughout. “Not to Touch the Earth,” a snippet of the band’s opus “The Celebration of the Lizard” (performed quite well on Absolutely Live, btw) speaks of death and chaos, and introduces Morrison’s alter ego, The Lizard King. The bittersweet and languorous “Summer’s Almost Gone,” driven by Krieger’s snaky slide work, speaks perhaps to the autumn of his generation’s notorious optimism: “When summer’s gone, where will we be?”

As for the extra tracks, producer Bruce Botnick discovered some “rough mixes” for a majority of the album’s tracks. The differences are generally mixing tweaks, but then again, such alternative versions are often little more than fodder for hardcore fans. The take on “Hello I Love You” has background vocals mixed up more evenly, while “Love Street” has a modified fade-out that gives Morrison’s “la-la-la” a more echoed twist. “Five to One” lives up to the “rough” adjective with Jim’s vocals a gravelly, more imposing resonance that befits the call-to-arms urgency more appropriately than the original version. It also reveals the inconsistent, oft-inebriated vocal prowess of Morrison, as he sounds like he’s stumbling on the precipice of control, as his live performances often demonstrated.

Speaking of, there are also five live cuts from a concert in Copenhagen that same year. The live performances aren’t the finest quality by a long shot, sounding compressed and more like a bootleg than you expect from a major label. Given that the band has been releasing a plethora of live recordings over the last decade, this seems like little more than treats for the ravenous fans. “Five to One” is the most inspired of the five with a fiery interplay between Robbie’s riffing and Jim’s impassioned pleas, but even the final crescendo comes across as distorted.

The band also performs “The Unknown Soldier” and "The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat),” the latter a song that would not appear on vinyl until their swan song three years later. Mashing up lyrics that would end up on “The Celebration of the Lizard” with the later L.A. Woman version, both offer a solid sampling of the artistic designs The Doors sought in trying to meld poetry, performance art, and a host of musical genres from cabaret to blues to pop. One last note, the title track to this album hadn't met the band's approval to be included herein and would not be released until 1970’s Morrison Hotel, yet it seems an obvious choice to unearth as part of the unreleased tracks, and thus a missed opportunity.

Whether or not it’s worth it may depend upon your level of fandom. There’s no doubt that long time friend, collaborator, and producer Botnick gave tender love and care to this project, and this 50th-anniversary release is a welcome addition to the inconsistent cannon of such releases. The Doors and their peers will continue to make available similar anniversary re-issues as the music of the 60s staggers across each new daunting milestone. While there are better Doors records, this may be one of the most retrospective collections on their all-too-short resume. Interestingly enough, this is their only Number One record. Representing the pop, the dark, the playful, and the angst-ridden, and showcasing the instrumental virtuosity of an underrated trio of musicians, Waiting for the Sun is that rare gem that is a candid representation of its time as well as a timeless work of musical art.

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