The Doors’ ‘Soft Parade’ Turns 50

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Soft ParadeAsked to name a favorite Doors album, many fans would pick the group’s eponymous 1967 debut, 1970’s Morrison Hotel, or 1971’s L.A. Woman. Some might vote for 1967’s Strange Days or 1968’s Waiting for the Sun. Few, I suspect, would point to 1969’s The Soft Parade, the group’s fourth album, which is widely seen as a bit of a misstep because it frequently eschews the Doors’ trademark hard rock for pop-flavored numbers that feature lots of horns and strings. That said, the album wasn’t exactly unpopular in its time. It rose to No. 6 on the charts, achieved Platinum sales status, and produced a No. 3 hit single (“Touch Me”).

Now, The Soft Parade is the latest Doors album to get 50th anniversary–box treatment, giving listeners an opportunity to take another look and reassess. The first of the three CDs in this numbered, limited edition features the original album plus a single’s B-side (“Who Scared You”), both of which have been newly remastered by Bruce Botnick, the engineer for the original release. (This material also appears on an included vinyl LP.) The second CD presents previously unreleased Doors-only mixes (no horns or strings) of most of the album’s tracks and “Who Scared You,” some with new guitar overdubs by the group’s Robby Krieger. Also here and previously unreleased: versions of Morrison Hotel’s “Roadhouse Blues” and two other blues songs with vocals by Ray Manzarek, the late Doors organist. An often-bootlegged 64-minute studio jam known as “Rock Is Dead,” which has not previously been officially released in full, dominates the final disc.

The excellent remastering doesn’t change the fact that the original album is a relatively lesser effort, but it does serve as a reminder that The Soft Parade had its high points. There’s filler here, including “Do It,” much of the 10-minute title cut, and the out-of-character bluegrass-inflected “Runnin’ Blue,” all of which sound like tracks that should have been labeled outtakes.

But “Shaman’s Blues” and “Wild Child” are strong; and while “Touch Me” is no “Break On Through,” it packs a punch and contains an excellent sax solo by session musician Curtis Amy. It is also notable as what must be the only rock song to end—strangely enough—with a quote from an Ajax TV commercial (“Stronger than dirt!”), though the Grateful Dead did reference the ad in a song title and riff.

Moreover, the Doors-only mixes—which differ significantly from the previously released versions—are interesting. In some cases, such as the melancholy “Wishful Sinful,” they suffer from the lack of embellishments; in others, such as “Touch Me” and “Runnin’ Blue,” they make the material sound better and much less like a departure from earlier work.

As for the third disc’s “Rock Is Dead,” which was recorded only weeks after the Soft Parade sessions, it’s meandering and uneven but frequently rewarding and sprinkled with fascinating experiments. Here’s your chance, for example, to hear Jim Morrison deliver an impassioned version of Junior Parker’s “Mystery Train” (later recorded by Elvis Presley) and turn Presley’s “Love Me Tender” into something you might hear at a funeral eulogy. If nothing else, the jam belies its title and suggests that The Soft Parade’s pop leanings notwithstanding, the Doors were still very much a rock and roll band at the time of its release.

BRIEFLY NOTED

Time Out for TomorrowJerry Leger, Time Out for Tomorrow. Longtime Toronto-based folk/rocker Jerry Leger shines on his latest Americana album, which, like his two most recent prior CDs, was produced by Cowboy Junkies’ Michael Timmins. The tunes feature excellent, guitar-based instrumentation and compelling vocal work by Leger, who sounds reminiscent of Willie Nile. The all-originals program, which mixes ballads and up-tempo numbers, includes well-articulated social commentary, such as in “Canvas of Gold,” which was reportedly inspired by gentrification in Toronto neighborhoods. Another standout is “Read Between the Lines,” an organ-spiced ballad that hearkens back to early rock and finds Leger singing his heart out.

Leaving MeaningSwans, leaving meaning. Don’t hold your breath waiting for this 15th Swans album to produce a Top 40 hit single. The experimental rock band, which has been around since 1993, is led by singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Michael Gira, who seems much more interested in following his own muse than in commercial success. (In fact, Gira appears to now be the group’s only permanent member; he says he selects “a revolving cast of musicians…chosen according to what I intuit best suits the atmosphere in which I’d like to see the songs I’ve written presented.”) On leaving meaning, a two-CD, 94-minute set, Gira’s muse results in music that’s demanding, hypnotic, and intense. He employs everything from folksy guitar to nightmarish yelps to heavenly choirs to build his enveloping, otherworldly soundscapes. It’s not for all tastes, so listen before you buy, but to my ears it’s first rate.

ON THE BOOKSHELF

Specialty Recordsy StoryRip It Up: The Specialty Records Story, by Billy Vera. The latest volume in a series of books about influential record companies focuses on the label best known for Little Richard’s classic hits but also for material by Lloyd Price, Sam Cooke’s Soul Stirrers, Percy Mayfield, and others. Singer/songwriter/producer Billy Vera, who worked at the company, researched and authored the book, which does a good job of chronicling Specialty’s rise and successes. Art Rupe, who founded the label in 1946, when he was 29, contributes a foreword and numerous other quotes. (Yup, he’s still around at age 102.)

Perhaps the most revealing of these quotes comes in the first chapter, when Rupe describes the simultaneously methodical and passionate approach to music that undoubtedly contributed to his success. “I made an analysis of what went into a record, technically and musically, and I dissected them,” Rupe recalls. “I used a stopwatch, counted the number of bars, the balance, the tempo. I used a metronome. I established a set of rules or principles which I felt would enable me to make commercial records. Some of this music moved me so much, it brought tears to my eyes.”

 

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