Saturday, July 3, 2010

July 3: The Doors, "Riders On The Storm"

Artist: The Doors
Song: "Riders On The Storm"
Album: L.A. Woman
Year: 1970

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While making a poppy, upbeat song is not the easiest thing a band can attempt, history has proven that it is far less of a challenge than trying to create the opposite mood on record.  Though most bands take a few shots at making a dark, eerie, perhaps introspective song in their career, most fall short, and this is why most bands go for this approach so sparingly.  Yet the bands that are able to create rich, complex songs around more somber, often haunting moods on a consistent basis stand among the finest in music history, and nearly all of them remain the massively influential groups, regardless of genre.  Taking this idea into account, there is perhaps no band that was able to create music with as much depth and complexity, filled with unique, often unsettling moods than one finds within the records of The Doors.  Though they found great commercial success with more fast paced songs like "Light My Fire" and "Touch Me," it was the bands' knack for injecting a slow, creeping malice into their music, and the dark themes ran through nearly every song they wrote.  As the years passed, the musical arrangements of The Doors became more and more complex, as the band found new ways to create their bluesy jazz rock, and nearly every one of their records can be seen as "perfect," as they contain no "filler" tracks.  In reality, due to the odd tension and other circumstances behind it, one can make the case that it is the bands' final album, 1970's L.A. Woman, that stands as their most unique work, and everything that makes The Doors so uniquely fantastic can be found within the final song recorded for the album, the legendary track, "Riders On The Storm."

When it comes to creating a sense of the dramatic and original musical arrangements, The Doors were able to do so on a truly unparalleled level throughout their brief existence as a band.  Setting themselves instantly apart from nearly every other band in history, they are one of the few rock or blues bands to forge ahead without a bass player, and in its place, one finds the amazing keyboard work of Ray Manzarek.  On "Riders On The Storm," it is largely his contributions that set the mood, as the interplay between his playing and the guitar of Robby Krieger here remains one of the finest in the bands' entire catalog.  The duo create an amazingly deep groove with their playing, and the solo that Manzarek takes halfway through the song remains one of the most iconic musical progressions in music history.  Accentuating The Doors' love for jazz and heavy mood, drummer John Densmore is nothing short of perfect on "Riders On The Storm," as his light playing works as an extraordinary compliment to the overall "stormy" mood that the band is pushing toward for the the entire song.  Yet it is also this aspect that led to the entire L.A. Woman album being produced by the band themselves.  After hearing some of the tracks, longtime producer, Paul Rothchild, felt the songs were too much like "cocktail music," and stated that he wanted no part in this album.  One can therefore make the case that one of the key reasons the songs on this album are so different from the rest of the bands' catalog is due to his absence, and "Riders On The Storm" serves as a testament to what can happen when a band refuses to compromise their own musical vision.

Along with the theme of brilliantly complex musical arrangements, the other consistent aspect of the music of The Doors is the captivating vocal performances of Jim Morrison.  Truth be told, "Riders On The Storm" was the final song he ever recorded with The Doors, as he passed away under strange circumstances on July 3, 1971.  It is a massive understatement to say that Morrison had a flare for the dramatic; and it is perhaps more fitting to argue that nearly every vocalist that followed him took at least some aspect of their stage presence from "The Lizard King."  In reality, "Riders On The Storm" is a rather unique piece of vocal work from Morrison, and the second vocal track one can hear was Morrison whispering in hopes of creating an echo on the vocals.  Though the echo effect did not really work, the second vocal track instead gives the song a far more haunting mood, and it remains one of the "trademark" aspects of the song.  This also shows that on "Riders On The Storm," Morrison is clearly feeling very much at home, as the dark, almost menacing mood that the band creates allows him to spin his amazing tale with all the suspense and mystery that he wishes.  The lyrics speak of isolation and loneliness, and this is perhaps the "true" meaning behind the songs' title, as Morrison shows off his knack for fantastic comparisons and spinning uncanny creepiness into his words.  The combination of the almost ominous mood of the music and words, along with the almost noir-style lyrics makes "Riders On The Storm" stand as what one can argue as the "ultimate" Doors track, as without any producer to alter their vision, they achieve a sound to which everything they'd previously recorded had alluded.

"Riders On The Storm" made a strange appearance a few years later, when the surviving members of the band created new music behind poetry that Morrison had recorded and called the album An American Prayer.  The track "The Hitchhiker" presents "Riders On The Storm" fading in and out as the background music to Morrison spinning a tale of a man who picks up a hitchhiker and kills him.  The nonchalant way in which Morrison spins the tale and the use of "Riders On The Storm" takes the song to an entirely new level, and it highlights the dark, mysterious mood of the song.  The fact that the song was so easily able to be transitioned into an almost "film" setting furthers the idea of it having film-noir characteristics, and it also highlights the "movie quality" of the thunderstorm that runs throughout the entire track.  In reality, this theory is made into fact when one finds out that "The Hitchhiker" was, in fact, part of a film that Morrison had been writing at the time, and one is left to wonder if the film piece led to "Riders On The Storm."  Regardless, the mood found on the song is nothing short of stunning, and even The Doors rarely achieved sonic creation at this level.  The entire band is clearly "in the groove" throughout the entire song, and their unique musical approach rarely sounded as masterful as it does on this track.  In many ways fitting, as it was the last song the band ever recorded with Morrison, one can easily make the case that it is their crowning achievement, as the ominous, dusky mood and stellar performances from all four members makes The Doors' 1970 song, "Riders On The Storm" nothing short of a musical masterpiece.

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