WAS THIS ALBUM WEIRD? You bet yer snakeskin mitts it was.
For a start the cover.
Set in a deserted mews, a circus troupe perform, oblivious of each other, while on the reverse a crouching midget begs money for a pale androgynous figure trapped in a doorway.
Only sign of the band is an incongruous promotion bill peeling off a wall. William Harvey's finest hour.
After the critical accolades which The Doors received Strange Days was eagerly awaited.
When it came out it surprised a lot of people. Minus much of its predecessor's high energy quotient and without anything as cachectic as 'The End' it nevertheless saw the group pursuing a more distinctly esoteric role.
The song order made structural sense, without being in any way conceptual.
Paul Rothchild's production was saturated in sophistication (it had been distinctly raw on he first offering). Morrison sounded perfect He still had that youthful tone but had acquired a cutting edge of maturity.
Each song was individually polished yet the whole conveyed a collective atmosphere of mystery. It was obvious that you could be low-key and still retain the excitement.
While the Dead and Jefferson Airplane searched for musical anaesthetics, The Doors explored the avenues of rock, stopping off at all the right places.
The title track is a superb opener; slightly off-beat double voice phasing, chilling spatiality. Frozen images of amorality run through it like a Fellini silent sequence:
The hostess is grinning/guests sleep from sinning.
For 'You're Lost little Girl"' Jim dons his 'gentle but firm' guise to deal with a hesitant female. The melody quivers expectantly until Krieger hits a stunning vein of eerie notes and jells it into solidity.
'Love Me Two Times' and 'Unhappy Girl' complete a second-person trilogy.
The former, a hard blues with an adrenalin stampede ending, is about a satiated lover and the antithesis of inexperience; the latter, a far more relaxed, typically ethereal Doors song with Manzarek cranking barrel organ under a remote and mournful lyric.
So far, little indication of the monster, black dressed in leather, immortalised by his own legion exploits.
No macho Shaman, lighter of fires, loosest lizard in the Western Hemisphere. No sign yet of the demon who flicked burning ash at sycophantic groupies, who was busted for incitement and indecency (the first New Jersey episode tends to be eclipsed by the Miami extravaganza, but is a famous example of Morrison's relationship with the riot cops).
Could this have been the boozer supremo whose drinking habits would have persuaded Fitzgerald to join Alcoholics Anonymous?
The paradox between the legend and these new songs was obvious.
But Strange Days should clear up a few misconceptions. Morrison was far more than an average punk. For one he was too tall, for another he was too smart, like he could read, and not just Hunter S. Thompson.
Not that he shoved his literacy down your throat, he didn't, but his lyrics necessarily revealed much of himself.
'Horse Latitudes', the song poem is perhaps the best example of well-wrought style. Its original inspiration is fascinating: merchant ships, bound for the Americas, in earlier centuries often carried horses for trading or personal use. In bad weather they became a burden, animal ballast, and were unceremoniously jettisoned.
The track conveys human barbarism and equine grace with verses spoken over a Cage-like maelstrom:
When the still sea conspires an armor/And her sullen and aborted/Currents breed tiny monsters/True sailing is dead.
Manzarek supplies death throe discords in true Cec Taylor fashion, very odd and genuinely frightening. 'Moonlight Drive' includes the phrase with which Morrison first greeted Manzarek at U.C.L.A.
Let's swim to the moon, lets climb through the tide/Penetrate the evening that the city sleeps to hide.
The American fantasy of making it on a beach, sung by the most sinuously suggestive sex-symbol since Sinatra;
Come on baby, gonna take a little ride/Going down by the ocean side/Gonna get real close, get real tight/Baby, gonna drown tonight.
Morrison takes his voice through its matchless paces, and Nik Cohn said he was a lousy vocalist. Huh!
'People are Strange' made Top Forty AM as a single at a time when the group were attracting cerebrals, hippies and trainee rebels!
It could well have been autobiographical, as the outsider was a constantly recurring theme, which reached final fruition on 'Riders On The Storm'. Tinkling upright piano and Densmore's subtle percussion keep the aura detached and dangerous.
The next cuts again reflect differing facets of a common situation.
'My Eyes Have Seen You', rumoured to have been written for Nico, is blatantly erotic (that figures) coming complete with trans-maniacal blasts of ear-melting fade-out and rattle-snake marimba.
'I Can't See Your Face In My Mind' is altogether more restrained. Full of Oriental delicacy and glace tympani.
So far 'Strange Days' had been introvert and smooth, even slinky, when everybody expected aggression.
On 'When The Music's Over' they got it.
This mammoth work-out is where 'City Of Angels' really has its wings clipped. Perhaps the most controversial rock song ever. Apocalypse or nemesis for politico-rock?
My own view is that it was neither. Morrison had long been fascinated by the techniques of cinema, the peep-show and the history of photography from Daguerrotypes on. As a performer, he reversed the normal role of perception and looked out at his audience.
Both the kids and the media were beginning to catch on to his anarchistic quotes with Pavilovian eagerness:
Rock is out, dynamite is coming in – let's see/what Maidson Avenue does to that.
But in reality they were being teased.
Morrison had no wish to be a spear-head or a martyr, he despised the patently fraudulent slogans being force-fed to "a bunch of spoon-fed parasites". His affinities were with Norman Mailer, not the marauding hordes of White Panthers that the MC5 kicked jam for.
On the other hand, he knew what made good rock; he harnessed the potentially destructive forces in the concert-hall, exploiting emotions, but for a different purpose, to emphasise the song's crude sexuality. That was his forte. Here was the man that launched a thousand female dreams:
So when the music's over, turn out the lights.
When Manzarek hits staccato organ intro, Densmore smashes the crispest drum roll and Krieger ventures his guitar into uncharted territory, playing a solo of unsurpassed invention, who needs bullets?
Sure Jim threw in some ecology and even a mock religious plea for salvation:
Save us, Jesus, save us.
But to explicit sensuality. After all, what is the primeval scream at the end but climax?
We want the world and we want it... NOW.
What the Hell if some chose to treat it as dumb adolescent, revolutionary grasping? As the conclusion of the song's themes, it was superb theatrical melodrama, no pyrotechnics, just unbeatable powerhouse rock and roll.
For an introduction to their magic, Strange Day is ideal.
Remember the Ig and Blue Oyster Cult are lineal descendants of The Doors' artistic achievement and appeal (the former particularly owes a huge debt to Morrison – 'Death Trip' on Raw Power was definitely copped from 'Moonlight Drive'), though for sheer force of persona, there will never be another one like Jim, Rock's most extraordinary front man.
NME MAgazine