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L.A. Woman
The Doors

Elektra 75011
Released: April 1971
Chart Peak: #9
Weeks Charted: 34
Certified Double Platinum: 6/10/87

John DensmoreRobby KriegerRay ManzarekJim MorrisonBesides being heavy in their early days the Doors were funny too. Funnier than a fish. Who can ever forget those great Morrison ad libs like the one he once did during a lull in "Gloria" ("Little girl how old are you, little girl what school do you go to, little girl s--- my c---")? He was an earnest drinker, which of course helped. Now he's drinking more than ever, hence there's some material basis for all the laughs. And since heaviness has been kicked in the ass of late all the kickers owe it to themselves to sit down with this one. There isn't one serious cut on the entire album.

Just consider the extent to which Jimbo's snake and lizard obsessions contributed to the wanton slaughter of zillions of members of the earth's reptile population for the sake of boots and belts. His influence on that and other fashion trends has to be considerable, an absurd fact considering how the man himself has been literally abandoned by the hippos of rock fandom during his darkest hours. Well now he's taking no chances about being taken seriously or with universal import. In fact he's not even writing his own snake lyrics anymore. Instead there's John Lee Hooker's "Crawling King Snake," a whopper of a readymade and proof positive that he and his boys are still listening to the roots, even after the death of Al Wilson (don't forget that Canned Heat was once L.A.'s number one comedy band). On it Morrison demonstrates his final grasp of all the vocal chicanery only hinted at in flashes on "Love Street." Which means he's finally found complete security in caution-to-the-winds Hollywood lemonade singing, the mid-point between bubble gum and a good chance at being invited to sing an Oscar nomination at the 1972 Academy Awards.

And he's even a fair-to-middlin' blues gomper because for the first time he honestly doesn't give a donut about how authentic or any of that the whole thing sounds. He was never actually Eric Burdon but his trans-racial bravado at least hinted at some intent in that direction. Now all the cards are on the table. Just check out "Cars Hiss by My Window" and compare it to the halfassed blues attempts of fellow Southern Californian Captain Beefheart and see who's got the greater vestige of potentially galling pretentiously indulgent self-esteem. (If you don't admit it's the noble Captain then you can't have much of a sense of either humor or fair play).

And what's more Jim's backup band has finally reduced its approach to one of ping-ponging the essential free-as-air spirit the man's been toying with ever since he abandoned Howlin' Wolf for Mel Torme. In other words the Doors have never been more together, more like the Beach Boys, more like Love (the band they originally played second fiddle to at the Whiskey or the Troubador or wherever it was). So when it's Morrison setting the tone with lines like "Why did you throw the jack of hearts away?" on "Hyacinth House," it's Manzarek, Robbie and Densmore keeping the second-to-second ridiculousness going on and on with merry-go-round tirades of utter mere pleasantness straight out of Derek and the Dominoes with even some Kokomo-classical fancy stepping thrown in for good measure. In terms of what they're after here the Doors as a band never falter and there isn't one bummer cut on the entire album -- obviously a first for them.

It's also the first time since "The End" and "When the Music's Over" that they've been able to pull off anything interesting in the way of long cuts. And there are two of them here, "L.A. Woman" (with maybe the best Chuck Berry riffs since the Stones and a hell of a lot more Sixties/Seventies American flavor) and "Riders On The Storm" (signaling the return to Dell Shannon from whence the Doors' mysterioso-hood was largely derived to begin with), both of them minor monsters. And I'll be a monkey's uncle if "The WASP (Texas Radio & The Big Beat)" doesn't showcase Morrison's finest command of spoken jive to date, far superior to "Horse Latitudes" and a demonstration of lyric-supporting timing at least the equal of George Burns in his prime.

You can kick me in the ass for saying this (I don't mind): this is the Doors' greatest album and (including their first) the best album so far this year. A landmark worthy of dancing in the streets.

- R. Meltzer, Rolling Stone, 5/27/71.

Bonus Reviews!

Even if the image of Jim Morrison as a brooding Byronic genius manqué is wearing a little thin with you, the Doors' latest album L.A. Woman, is worth a listen. Morrison is still hung up on snakes and blood and other things symbolically creepy, but the usual irritating pretensiousness that's part of any Doors album is kept to a minimum here, as bassist Jerry Scheff and rhythm guitar Marc Benno are added to the group. The eight-minute title track is one of their best hard pieces of poetic sociology yet; and it, along with "Riders on the Storm" -- featuring a tasty flutelike electric piano -- proves that the Doors can handle long songs if they want to. They also dip into tough soul on "The Changeling" and into low-down blues on "Cars Hiss by My Window" -- which the band manages to save in spite of some silly lyrics. If there's one clunker, it's "L'America," an unsuccessful apocalyptic mélange of Thirties German mock opera, Fifties rock and Seventies doom -- but then, Jim has to keep up his image.

- Playboy, 9/71.

The tip-off is when in the middle of a lyric about needing someone who doesn't need ect. etc. Jim intones the line "I see the bathroom is clear." That's how you know the "raaght awn's" in "Cars Hiss by My Window" (hiss, huh?) and the jungle talk in "The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)" (wasps, huh?) and even the cover of John Lee Hooker's "Crawling King Snake" (take that, lizard-haters) are jokes. Which is nice, because the band has never sounded better -- the blues licks are sharp, the organ fills are hypnotic, and they've even hired a bass player. But if "Been Down So Long" is also a takeoff, I prefer Randy Newman's. And Newman has better ideas about "L'America," too. A-

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

L.A. Woman, the Doors' last studio album with lead singer Jim Morrison, was highly regarded by critics. Its favorable reception surprised Morrison, who had already left for Paris. By the time "Riders on the Storm" became a hit in July 1971 he was dead. He was only 27.

"Love Her Madly" was the band's first and biggest hit in the States, but in Britain "Riders" became a standard, even returning to the hit parade five years after its initial release. Devotees of this sinister jazz-rock piece should note that L.A. Woman contains the full-length version, lasting over seven minutes.

In 1987, L.A. Woman was chosen by a panel of rock critics and music broadcasters as the #92 rock album of all time.

- Paul Gambaccini, The Top 100 Rock 'n' Roll Albums of All Time, Harmony Books, 1987.

The R&B based sound of Morrison Hotel had hardened off into raw rock'n'roll by the time this strutting album was recorded. Like the music, the sound has an intentionally harder edge, Morrison's wild vocalising ripping through the speakers in songs like the much imitated "The Changeling." For once Morrison's oblique and disturbing lyrics are ideally matched by the band's music -- all played to perfection and recorded to the highest standards of the time.

The inclusion of a dramatically dynamic "Riders On the Storm," more vivid and atmospheric than ever it was on LP, makes this disc an essential CD purchase.

- David Prakel, Rock 'n' Roll on Compact Disc, 1987.

Blues-based, often tongue-in-cheek, this was the group's last joint effort; prior to its release, Morrison, literate poet and pretender that he was, left for Paris. He never returned, dying of a heart attack there on July 3, 1971, at the age of twenty-seven. About half of this recording works; in part because the band seemed satisfied with simpler approaches, and Jim had apparently exhausted his overreaching stage persona (or maybe just his liver). Some cuts continue to hold up, "Love Her Madly," "L.A. Woman," "Hyacinth House," and "Riders on the Storm" among them. Remastered in 1988-89 from the original master tapes, the sonic improvement is striking -- it now has strong dynamics and excellent clarity. A-

- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.

Morrison's final testament shows him at the height of his ability to bring striking images to the lyrics of rock music, and the group produces some of its most trancelike music. * * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

The Doors' swan song, L.A. Woman is also a masterpiece, all the more poignant for the fact that Jim Morrison sounds distinctly tired throughout -- in a good way. It's looser, bluesier and more bare-bones than anything that preceded it. * * * *

- Alan Paul, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

Summing up the City of Angels as well as Didion, Chandler or Nathaniel West ever did, the title track screams out the pain of the times slathered with the excitement of LA -- there's nothing better for zooming up the 405 freeway. Bluesy and manic, the arrangements and singing fit together like some puzzle never completed in previous releases while revealing the Lizard King as a lyrical god. Released after Jimbo's flameout in Paris, the final chapter leaves us wanting more. * * * *

- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.

Jim Morrison said that the Doors wanted to "get back to what we did originally: just be very primitive in our approach, very relaxed." Recorded in their rehearsal room with Morrison's mike set up in the bathroom, this was a bluesier, confident Doors, including "Love Her Madly" and "Riders on the Storm." Morrison died soon after.

L.A. Woman was chosen as the 362nd greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.

- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.

The sheer creative quality of L.A. Woman is all the more remarkable given the point in the band's career in which it was recorded and released. Tensions between band members had been rising and frontman Jim Morrison's behaviour had become increasingly erratic, thanks to by-now well documented bouts of drinking, drug-taking and police arrests, and many could have been forgiven for thinking that The Doors were a spent force by the time L.A. Woman appeared.

Further reading on
Super Seventies RockSite!:

Album Review:
Morrison Hotel/
Hard Rock Cafe

Album Review:
Morrison Hotel
- Deluxe Edition

DVD Review:
When You're Strange

The Doors App

Doors FAQ

Doors Lyrics

Doors Videos

Jim Morrison Mugshots

Ray Manzarek Mugshots

This makes the undoubted power of the album even more notable. Songs such as "Love Her Madly," the epic "Riders On The Storm," the title track -- with its saloon-bar honky tonk piano -- and "L'America" are simply classic Doors songs.

Morrison's earthy and mature vocal performance is probably as good as any he gave during The Doors' lifetime, and the exemplary nature of the singer's contribution was given added poignancy when he died in Paris a month after the album's release, aged 27.

Upon its release the album reached Number Nine in the US, spending 34 weeks in the chart and only managed Number 24 in the UK, but has since become regarded as one of the band's best works. It was certified double-platinum in 1987. It was chosen by a panel of rock critics for Rolling Stone magazine as the 92nd rock album of all time in the same year.

As of 2004, L.A. Woman was the #100 best-selling album of the 70s.

- Hamish Champ, The 100 Best-Selling Albums of the 70s, 2004.

Just when everyone thought the Doors were going to disappear up the dark, claustrophobic tunnel of their own pretension, along came L.A. Woman.

Suddenly, their brooding, lysergic pomp morphed into garrulous comedy and low-key cool, Rolling Stone stated: "The Doors have never been more together, more like the Beach Boys, more like Love." Augmented by bassist Jerry Scheff and Marc Benno on rhythm guitar, their sound became fuller and tighter.

Jim Morrison had transformed from rake-thin acid rock shaman to a figure of boozy, boorish charisma. When he shouts the defiant chorus of "The Changeling," you sense that he has crossed a personal meridian and become a freer, less studied performer.

There is a new playfulness, too. "Love Her Madly," a salute to infatuation, capers with a cops-and-robbers energy, courtesy of Ray Manzarek's spirited keyboard work, while "Hyacinth House" is imbued with silent-movie melodrama. Crowning the album is the burning exuberance of the title track, a supercharged cruise through the City of Angels. Morrison cries triumphantly at the top of the climactic "mojo rising" section, the band's wheels leave the runway, and they really fly.

Contrasting with the boiler-room temperatures of "L.A. Woman" and "Crawling King Snake" are two iced-out downers. "Cars Hiss By My Window" is all cheap-motel langour, while "Riders On The Storm" takes us back to classic Doors territory -- a canyon landscape populated by ghosts and peyote visions.

- Jamie Dickson, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.

(2012 40th Anniversary Edition) Some artists create their most intense work when they hit rock bottom: See Vincent Van Gogh, Billie Holiday, Nick Drake and Jim Morrison, whose final album with the Doors is a Southern California death trip that matches anything in their catalog for beautifully spooked rock & roll urge-purging. Made amid professional train wrecks and personal downward spirals, it's a surprisingly focused set, in part a return to the Doors' blues-rock roots. Morrison's hot baritone killed, Robby Krieger's guitar is laser-guided, and "The Changeling" and "Been Down So Long" are garage-style classics. Even the sprawling set pieces, "Riders on the Storm" and "L.A. Woman," are formal masterpieces, bound by exacting grooves and precise solos. This reissue coincides with Greil Marcus' The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years, which is far more illuminating than the bonus tracks. "She Smells So Nice" is a forgettable bar-band boogie, "Rock Me" a generic slow blues that fiddles with Morrison's iconic "Mr. Mojo risin'" incantation. The alternate takes are all lesser versions interspersed with studio chatter and other audio vérité -- the sound of a band enjoying its work, unaware its time was nearly up. * * * * 1/2

- Will Hermes, Rolling Stone, 2/2/12.

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