How integral was 1967 to the future of contemporary pop and rock music? To start with, consider the number of keystone bands and artists who issued debut albums that year: Leonard Cohen, Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, The Velvet Underground, Van Morrison, Sly and the Family Stone, Procol Harum, Traffic, Cat Stevens, The Nice, Ten Years After, Tangerine Dream, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Captain Beefheart and Arlo Guthrie.
And The Doors. Four days into 1967, the self-titled debut by Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore surfaced, the product of a Los Angeles-based movement to counter the psychedelic invention that was emanating out of San Franscisco.
It has been re-issued several times since then, but “The Doors” has been spruced up once more in a spiffy boxed-set package. The components are a disc of the album’s original stereo mix (previously available), its original mono mix (previously unavailable, save for a limited vinyl edition issued in 2010), a new vinyl pressing (of the mono mix) and a new, truncated version of “Live at the Matrix” (more on that in a moment).
Audiophiles will probably argue until the next millennium about the specific virtues of the stereo-vs.-mono mixes. To my ears, mono always wins out. But listening to both, one after the other, affirmed what a masterfully produced record “The Doors” was. You can hear that in the way Manzarek’s jazzy organ intro and Morrison’s near-baritone vocal suggest cool before the hullabaloo explodes on the opening “Break on Through.” But the effect is as much a credit to the precision of producer Paul Rothchild and engineers Bruce Botnick and Doug Sax. Ditto for the way the band and the production crew team to capture the 12-minute psyche-fest finale, “The End,” a descent into the pop maelstrom that probably scared the daylights out of every unsuspecting parent who heard it blaring from their kids’ stereos.
The “Live at the Matrix” disc is the curiosity. Rhino first issued it in a more complete form in 2008, with audio quality barely above bootleg level. This version, although limited to eight songs (performed in the order they appear on “The Doors”) boasts considerably sharper quality. Still, hearing Morrison and company perform rampaging groove-a-thons like “Soul Kitchen” and the unnerving meditations “The Crystal Ship” as an unknown act before an audience that offered little more then perfunctory applause is peculiar indeed.
If “The Doors” was the sound of a raging tempest, this cleaned-up “Live at the Matrix” presents us with the gathering storm. A half-century later, both stand as documents of a juggernaut band whose vitality, influence and importance have only grown more brilliant.