Music & Book Reviews: The Doors’ ‘Waiting for the Sun’ Turns 50, plus Granville Automatic, Linda Thompson, and a Bruce Springsteen Biography

Waiting for the Sun by the Doors box set

The original Doors released six studio LPs and one concert album during their brief existence, and all of them reached the Top 10 in Billboard. As the liner notes on this 50th anniversary deluxe edition of Waiting for the Sun remind us, however, it is the only one of their albums that made it all the way to the top of the charts. That doesn’t make it their best release—some of Jim Morrison’s vocals are actually below par here, as are a few of the compositions. Still, there’s a lot to like on this third Doors LP, and it’s not difficult to see why it did so well commercially.

It opens with the infectious—and licentious—“Hello, I Love You,” which as a single also topped the charts, and it includes two memorable apparent responses to the Vietnam War: “The Unknown Soldier,” where Morrison sings, “Bullet strikes the helmet’s head, and it’s all over for the unknown soldier”; and “Five to One,” where he proclaims that “they got the guns but we got the numbers!” Also here are “We Could Be So Good Together,” a holdover from sessions for Strange Days, the previous album; “Not to Touch the Earth,” which sounds as if it could also have appeared on that LP; and the atypical, a cappella “My Wild Love.” Perhaps most notably, the record features an unusually large number of songs that lean more toward gentle folk than hard rock: “Spanish Caravan,” which spotlights Robbie Krieger’s flamenco guitar; the melancholy “Summer’s Almost Gone,” “Wintertime Love,” and “Yes, the River Knows”; and the bouncy, piano-flavored “Love Street.”

This 50th-anniversary edition offers an excellent remaster of the original stereo mix on both vinyl and CD by original studio engineer Bruce Botnick; a second CD with rough mixes of nine of the album’s 11 songs as well as five live tracks, all of which have not been previously available; and an oversized booklet with extensive liner notes by both Botnick and Rolling Stone’s David Fricke plus the text of Morrison’s “Celebration of the Lizard, which was originally supposed to fill a side of the album but wound up being omitted.

According to Botnick, the rough mixes allow you to “get the intent without the effects and hear things that were in the final mixes but buried in the perspective.” Well, maybe, but the differences are relatively slight, and many listeners might not even realize they’re not hearing the released versions. Remember, these are just early mixes, not alternate versions.

A bonus CD offers rough mixes of nine of the album’s 11 songs as well as five live tracks, all of which have not been previously available.

The bonus CD’s live tracks, which have a total playing time of 16 minutes, come from a September 1968 concert in Copenhagen, Denmark. They include versions of Waiting for the Sun’s “Hello, I Love You,” “Five to One,” and “The Unknown Soldier,” plus the Willie Dixon blues classic “Back Door Man,” a song that also appears on the Doors’ debut LP; and “The W.A.S.P (Texas Radio & the Big Beat),” which originally surfaced on L.A. Woman.

First, the bad news: these tracks were recorded in mono with a single microphone that was 30 or 40 feet from the stage, and the sound quality isn’t great. The good news? I agree with Botnick’s assertion that these are some of the best live Doors performances on record. The reading of “Hello, I Love You,” for example, is much more intense and hard-rocking than the poppy one that rode up the charts.

A headline in the booklet poses a query that some fans may be asking: “Why in hell should I buy another version of Waiting for the Sun when I own so many other versions already?” It’s a good question, and some people—especially anyone who already does own “many other versions”—may indeed find insufficient reason to upgrade again. But this is a worthwhile purchase for anyone who has only the original LP or CD (not to mention those who don’t even have one of those). As noted, the rough mixes are no big deal. But the Copenhagen material, while primitively recorded, should interest serious fans; and thanks to Botnick’s remaster, the original album has never sounded better.

Also Noteworthy

Radio Hymns by Granville Automatic

Granville Automatic, Radio Hymns. Everything clicks on this folk/Americana concept album from Elizabeth Elkins and Vanessa Olivarez (aka Granville Automatic), who penned all the material, in some cases with cowriters. The subject is Nashville’s past, with songs examining such varied topics as the city’s last legal hanging (“Black Avenue Gallows”), the year Jimi Hendrix spent in Nashville (“Marbles”), and the successful effort to save Ryman Auditorium (the title cut). The vignettes are colorfully and imaginatively told but I was coming back for more of the melodic and well-produced Radio Hymns even before I started paying attention to the lyrics. Olivarez’s passionate lead vocals are compelling and so is the instrumentation, which features fiddle, mandolin, electric and acoustic guitars, pedal steel, piano, bass, and drums.

Linda Thompson_My-Mother-Doesnt-Know

Various artists, Linda Thompson Presents My Mother Doesn’t Know I’m on the Stage. Linda Thompson, best known for her superlative work with ex-husband Richard Thompson, recorded most of this live album with a variety of guest artists in May 2005. So why has it taken more than 13 years for it to see the light of day? First guess: limited commercial potential. The set features dance hall (aka vaudeville) music of the 18th and 19th centuries—not exactly the sort of stuff that leads to platinum certification. Still, those who appreciate this genre will certainly enjoy this 14-track album, especially Martha Wainwright’s reading of Stephen Foster’s “Beautiful Dreamer”; “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” and two other selections by Linda Thompson’s son Teddy; and Linda’s own two contributions.

On the Bookshelf

Bruce Springsteen--An Illustrated Biography

Bruce Springsteen: An Illustrated Biography, by Meredith Ochs. This previously published book has been reissued with a new chapter that covers recent and current events such as Springsteen’s Broadway show. It’s well written, lavishly illustrated, and attractively assembled but—inevitably at this point—not particularly fresh: at least some of the photos have appeared elsewhere and, as author Meredith Ochs’s bibliography suggests, the basic storyline will be as familiar to many fans as any of those images: it lists more than a dozen books (including my own Springsteen on Springsteen), and there are many more out there.

If you’re new to the subject and want a crash course in the world of Bruce, this relatively brief text should do the trick, but if you’re a longtime fan, you’re not likely to read much here that you don’t already know. One carrot that anyone might enjoy: an envelope in the back of the book that’s filled with 10 pieces of memorabilia, including Springsteen’s draft card, concert posters and ads for several of his pre-E Street bands, and a Rolling Stone magazine cover. Of course, these are all facsimiles (hey, what do you expect for $29.95?), but they’re fun to look at, and some fans might consider a few of them worthy of framing.

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