Life at 33 1/3: The mystery album

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The Doors: The Soft Parade (Elektra)

The album that made both fans and critics wonder: Was this the end of the journey?  Two eventful years, three hit albums, The Doors had gone from cult-heroes to mega stars, conjuring magic from the basic, but unusual set-up of keyboards, guitar, drums and vocals.  They didn’t even bother to hire a permanent bass player. 

“The Soft Parade” broadens the canvas by incorporating horns and strings.  This mix changes the mood of their music, it appears less dangerous and a little out of focus.  The songs are not credited The Doors-collective but rather Robbie Krieger or Jim Morrison.  Krieger’s songs are, in The Doors-context, disappointingly ordinary, even if they do possess charm.  They are slight and lack the expected nerve.  “Touch Me” might have its moments, but it’s still a limping piece of lightweight dross.

Morrison, who at this time drank with both hands and did not always know where he was, delivers uneven stuff.  It has always annoyed me that he wasted the powerful riff that kicks off “Wild Child”.  That track could have been a classic given a little more thought and effort, but he was too lazy and stoned and lost the plot.  On the other hand the album does include “Shaman’s Blues” and the enigmatic, long title track that evolves through some fascinating musical transformations before it finally lands on a growing but controlled groove, while Morrison’s cryptic words suck the listener into a dark, down-spiralling psychosis, the track fading after these rejuvenated words:

When all else fails

We can whip the horse’s eyes

And make them sleep

And cry

The first encounter with the album is both confusing and frustrating.  Over time, however, you will find that this is the one The Doors-album that it’s impossible to nail down.  It’s so different from anything they ever did before and after, and you are drawn towards it at regular intervals, preferably on hot summer days, and the mystery remains a mystery.  It even plays damned good.  And that is a mystery in itself.

Released:  June 1969

Produced by: Paul Rothchild

Side One:

1. “Tell All the People” (Krieger)  3:21

2. “Touch Me” (Krieger)  3:12

3. “Shaman’s Blues” (Morrison)  4:49

4. “Do It” (Morrison, Krieger)  3:08

5. “Easy Ride” (Morrison)  2:43

Side Two:

1. “Wild Child” (Morrison)  2:36

2. “Runnin’ Blue” (Krieger)  2:27

3. “Wishful Sinful” (Krieger)  2:58

4. “The Soft Parade” (Morrison)  8:36

Personnel:

(The Doors):

Jim Morrison – lead vocals, maracas, tambourine

Ray Manzarek – piano, Gibson G-101 organ, RMI Electra Piano on “Shaman’s Blues”, Hammond organ on “Wild Child”, “The Soft Parade” and “Do It”, Harpsichord on “Touch Me” and “The Soft Parade”

Robby Krieger – guitar, chorus vocal on “Runnin’ Blue”

John Densmore – drums

Additional musicians:

Curtis Amy – sax solos on “Touch Me”

Reinol Andino – conga

George Bohanan – trombone solo

Harvey Brooks – bass (tracks 1, 2, 6, 8)

Jimmy Buchanan – fiddle on “Running Blue”

Doug Lubahn – bass

Jesse McReynolds – mandolin

Champ Webb – English horn solo

Paul Harris – orchestral arrangements (tracks 1, 2, 7, 8)