Life at 33⅓: The abdication of the Lizard King


The Doors: Waiting For The Sun (Elektra)

After two brilliant albums in 1967 world domination was next.  But Jim Morrison blew it.  Got himself into trouble with the police right before a concert in New Haven in December 1967, was arrested on stage, caused riots in the streets.  He was stoned out of his head or drunk or both most of the time as he spun into 1968.

There was friction in the band, of course, they didn’t like his behavior.  Jim was cracking up.  And when his epic, “Celebration Of The Lizard”, supposed to cover an entire side on the next album, was rejected (not commercial enough, according to the producer) one can safely assume that working conditions were not optimal when The Doors recorded their all important third album.

It ended up as a rushed compromise, short on playing time as the “Lizard”-epic was cut down to just a snippet, “Not To Touch The Earth”, and its replacements were two old and not very adventurous left-overs: The Kinks-plagiarism “Hello I Love You” and the brief, but pleasant “Summer’s Almost Gone”.

This tilted the balance of the album.  The previous two had both signed off with strong, epic tracks:  “The End” and “When The Music’s Over”, respectively.  “Waiting For The Sun” had none of this and was thus robbed of a powerful finale.  Instead they settled for the looming and busy, but terribly monotonous “Five To One”.  The title track was not even included but appeared two years later on “Morrison Hotel”.

The sleeve was promising though, their first gatefold.  The Doors at dawn on the front, the Doors at sunset on the back (that’s how I interpreted it, anyway) – and inside the complete lyrics to “Celebration Of the Lizard”.  That backfired, as it made no sense to the listener that they printed the lyrics to what was not on the album, and none of the lyrics that was.

The music didn’t help much.  It sounded like a pale imitation of the softer spots on “Strange Days”.  Neat, laid back, harmonious and feeble.  The tracks that probably were meant to grab your attention and give the album some edge were simply not strong enough.

The theatrical “The Unknown Soldier” worked well on stage, but poorly on record.  The hollow “Spanish Caravan” had nothing else to it than some show-off from Robby Krieger, first playing the main theme flawlessly on Spanish guitar, and then equally impressive on a distorted electric guitar.  “Five To One” is fierce and menacing enough to shake some sorely needed life into the proceedings, but it is way too weak for a finale, it just makes the album fizzle out.  And die.

There are however enough nice tracks on both sides to justify a spin on a summer’s day.  The album plays just fine and the lyrics are quite intriguing. But “Waiting For The Sun” lacks the nerve, the enigmatic grandeur and sense of danger that made The Doors so fascinating in 1967.  “Nice” being the key word.  Definitely a step down the ladder for a band that was so good they felt scary some six months earlier.

The first two albums were made up of songs written over a youthful and enthusiastic period of two years.  The songwriting had slowed down, they literally had to scrape the bottom of the barrel to get enough tracks for a full album when Jim’s disturbed masterpiece “Celebration Of The Lizatd” was axed.

Would “The Lizard” have saved the album?  Hard to say as the only officially released complete version of the epic is to be found on the uneven live-album “Absolutely Live” (1970).  They do struggle with it, and the 14 minutes mix of unfamiliar songs, poetry and plain storytelling is a tall order for an audience so stoned out of their minds they have the attention span of a goldfish.

Actually The Doors did attempt to record the full piece several times but abandoned the idea as both they and their lukewarm producer Paul A. Rothchild were dissatisfied with the results.  One of these abandoned takes – all 17 minutes of it – was included on the compilation “Legacy: The Absolute Best” in 2003.  What is clear is that the inclusion of “Celebration Of The Lizard” would have made “Waiting For The Sun” a tough challenge.  The epic is not exactly easy listening.

Maybe Rothchild was right after all.  He wanted a hit-album and “Waiting For The Sun” sold considerably better than its predecessors.  The second single from the album, “Hello, I Love You” (a blatant Kinks rip-off, it’s “All Day And All Of The Night” with a new set of lyrics that Morrison hated so much that Manzarek sometimes had to sing it live), hit #1 in the US that summer.

This would never have happened if “The Lizard” had been included as “Hello I Love You” was one of its replacements.  I wonder what The Doors themselves thought about the huge sales figures as they must have known perfectly well that they had put out an inferior album.

“Soft Parade” is considered by many to be The Doors’ weakest album.  I think “Waiting For The Sun” is the hands down winner of that competition.

Released: July 1968

(All songs written by The Doors)

Side One

1. “Hello, I Love You” – 2:14
2. “Love Street” – 2:53
3. “Not to Touch the Earth” – 3:56
4. “Summer’s Almost Gone” – 3:22
5. “Wintertime Love” – 1:54
6. “The Unknown Soldier” – 3:23

Side Two

1. “Spanish Caravan” – 3:03
2. “My Wild Love” – 3:01
3. “We Could Be So Good Together” – 2:26
4. “Yes, the River Knows” – 2:36
5. “Five to One” – 4:26

The Doors
Jim Morrison – lead vocals, percussion
Ray Manzarek – keyboards, backing vocals, percussion on “My Wild Love”
Robby Krieger – guitars, backing vocals, percussion on “My Wild Love”
John Densmore – drums, backing vocals and percussion on “My Wild Love”

Additional musicians:
Douglas Lubahn – bass guitar on tracks A 1-5, B 1, 3, 4
Kerry Magness – bass guitar on track A 6
Leroy Vinnegar – acoustic bass on track B 1

Technical staff and artwork:
Bruce Botnick – engineer
Paul Ferrara – front cover photograph
William S. Harvey – art direction & design
Jac Holzman – production supervisor
Paul A. Rothchild – producer
Guy Webster – back cover photograph

First Published in Pattaya Mail on July 11, 2013