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L.A. Woman

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L.A. Woman
The Doors - L.A. Woman.jpg
Studio album by the Doors
Released April 19, 1971 (1971-04-19)
Recorded December 1970 – January 1971
Studio The Doors' Workshop, Los Angeles, California
Genre Blues rock
Length 48:24
Label Elektra
Producer The Doors, Bruce Botnick
the Doors chronology
13
(1970)
L.A. Woman
(1971)
Other Voices
(1971)
Singles from L.A. Woman
  1. "Love Her Madly"
    Released: March 1971
  2. "Riders on the Storm"
    Released: June 1971

L.A. Woman is the sixth studio album by the American rock band the Doors, released on April 19, 1971, on Elektra Records. It is the last to feature the group's lead singer, Jim Morrison, who died three months after the album's release. It saw the band continue to integrate elements of blues back into their music, a direction begun with their previous album, Morrison Hotel. It was also recorded without long-time record producer Paul A. Rothchild, after he fell out over the band's studio performance. Subsequently, the band co-produced the album with sound engineer, Bruce Botnick.[1]

"Love Her Madly" was released as a single in March 1971, preceding the album's release, and it reached the Top 20 in the Billboard Hot 100. Upon release, the album peaked at number nine on the Billboard 200[2] and reached number 28 on the UK Albums Charts.[3] An additional single in support of the album, "Riders on the Storm", also achieved chart success on Billboard and in the UK. Critics Richie Unterberger and David Quantick have both called L.A. Woman one of the Doors' best albums, citing Morrison's unwavering enthusiasm in his vocal performance, and the band's stripped-down return to their blues rock roots.[4][5]

Background[edit]

Jim Morrison on the day of his conviction in Miami for profanity and indecent exposure

The Doors had achieved commercial and critical success by 1969, but for much of that year, they were blacklisted from radio playlists and their concert bookings dwindled, after singer Jim Morrison had been charged with profanity and indecent exposure stemming from a concert in Miami, Florida, on March 1.[6] Promoters feared another episode like this. Morrison, who craved recognition as a serious poet and had also begun dabbling in film, had mentioned leaving the group at the end of 1968, only to be convinced by keyboardist Ray Manzarek to stay on another six months.[7] On September 20, 1970, Morrison was convicted for the Miami incident.[6] In a 1971 interview with Ben Fong-Torres, Morrison said of Miami, "I think subconsciously I was trying to get across in that concert, I was trying to reduce it to absurdity. And it worked too well."[8]

In November 1970, shortly after Morrison's trial ended, the Doors entered Sunset Sound Recorders in Los Angeles to record early versions of "L.A. Woman", "Riders on the Storm", and "Love Her Madly", three songs they had recently written.[6] The new songs were a departure from the heavily orchestrated pieces on the earlier album The Soft Parade that burdened the group with long, drawn-out recording sessions.[9] The simplified and straightforward style, progressing from Morrison Hotel, was well-received, noted by Jazz & Pop magazine as "A return to the tight fury of early Doors' music".[10][11] The band conflicted with their record company, Elektra Records, who released the Doors' first compilation album, 13, to have a product for the Christmas market. It was released without the band's input, and featured a large image of a younger Morrison, upsetting him enough to threaten signing with another label. As their contract required one more album, the group were unable to follow through with the threat, so they continued rehearsing the new material.[12][13]

Record producer Paul A. Rothchild, who worked with the band on their first five albums, attended the early sessions but quit following friction with the band. This included his dissatisfaction with the song "Love Her Madly", which he recalled "drove [him] out of the studio". He felt that recording the composition was a step backwards artistically, calling it "cocktail music".[12] Rothchild has said that the remark was directed toward "Riders on the Storm", although he maintains that he said it to "make [the group] angry enough to do something good".[14] Rothchild also left because the group were slow in developing new material, especially as the band contained three songwriters. His enthusiasm with the band deteriorated further after he was unable to persuade Morrison to consistently attend rehearsals.[14][15] As Botnick revealed in the book Love Becomes a Funeral Pyre, another issue that led to Rothchild's leaving was the emotional devastation he felt after the death of Janis Joplin, who he had worked with on her second solo effort, Pearl.[16] Rothchild left before any master takes were complete, recommending that the Doors co-produce L.A. Woman with sound engineer Bruce Botnick.[17]

Recording[edit]

The group and Botnick organized a makeshift recording studio at their private rehearsal space, The Doors' Workshop, in a two-story building at 8512 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles[18] They could then record in a more comfortable and relaxed setting while avoiding the expenses of a professional studio.[19] A mixing console, previously owned by Elektra, was installed in upstairs in the Workshop, while studio monitors, microphones, and keyboards were set downstairs. To compensate for the lack of an isolated vocal booth, Morrison recorded in the bathroom doorway, singing into the same microphone as used on the Doors' final tour.[20][21]

For recording, the Doors hired Elvis Presley's bassist Jerry Scheff and rhythm guitarist Marc Benno to round out their sound, with Scheff, in particular, contributing on every track except "L'America".[22] Densmore characterized Scheff as "an in-the-pocket man" and praised how he "allowed me to communicate rhythmically with Morrison, and he slowed Ray down, when his right hand on the keyboards got too darn fast".[23] By all accounts, Morrison – a huge Presley fan – was excited by Scheff's participation. In addition, Benno was asked to participate as a result of his recent notoriety from working with Leon Russell.[24] The songs were completed in a few takes on a professional-quality 8-channel recorder, and the album was finished in six days.[23] Morrison was a blues enthusiast and proclaimed the final recording session as "blues day", recording "Crawling King Snake", "Cars Hiss By My Window", and "L.A. Woman". The album had a raw, live sound with overdubs mostly limited to additional keyboards.[23] Botnick explained, "The overall concept for the recording session was to go back to our early roots and try to get everything live in the studio with as few overdubs as possible".[11][25] Mixing was completed at Poppy Studios between February and March 1971, by which time Morrison had moved to Paris, France.[26]

Music[edit]

The band began recording without much material and needed to compose songs on the spot, either by jamming or talking through ideas. Morrison enjoyed not having multiple takes, as on The Soft Parade, and showed up to the sessions on time and sober, unlike sessions for that album.[27] The absence of Rothchild helped as he was a perfectionist who insisted on many takes. In 1994, guitarist Robby Krieger stated, "Rothchild was gone, which is one reason why we had so much fun. The warden was gone." Despite its troubled beginnings, L.A. Woman contains some of the Doors' most critically acclaimed songs, as well as some of their most blues-oriented.[28] Lyrically, it deals with contemporary topics such as love, life in Los Angeles, and complex aspects of the human experience.[29] Manzarek explained the band did not "approach the album with one vision, but after we started working on the songs, we realized that they're talking about L.A. They're about men, women, boys, girls, love, loss, lovers-lost, and lovers-found in Los Angeles".[29] The album, as a whole, demonstrated Morrison's songwriting abilities, combined with his poetic phrasing and enthusiasm for Los Angeles, and a desire to leave the city with his partner, Pamela Courson.[30] Artistically, L.A. Woman saw the band mixing blues, psychedelia, and jazz, often within a single song.[31] For the first time since the "The End" and "When the Music's Over", the group incorporated longer songs, including "L.A. Woman" and "Riders on the Storm".[27]

L.A. Woman opens with the Morrison-penned track "The Changeling", which the Doors wanted to be the album's first single. Taken from one of Morrison's notebooks written in 1968, Holtzman overruled the group's decision in favor of "Love Her Madly" and the non-album B-side "(You Need Meat) Don't Go No Further".[23] Author James Riordan has noted the song's mention of the "changeling", or spirit child, may be another reference to Morrison's difficult childhood.[32] The funky James Brown-esque composition also appears to anticipate the singer's departure from Los Angeles with the line "I'm leavin' town on the midnight train".[33]

In addition to "The Changeling", the Doors chose to incorporate three other compositions written before 1971: "L' America", "Crawling King Snake", and "The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)". The former was originally recorded for the soundtrack of director Michelangelo Antonioni's 1970 counterculture film Zabriskie Point, but ultimately rejected. It was previously titled "Latin America", and the only work during the L.A. Woman sessions were a few drum overdubs.[23][34] The Doors' arrangement of the traditional "Crawling King Snake" dates back to their early tours, and was sometimes coupled with Morrison's poem "Celebration of the Lizard".[35] "The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)" is a reworking of Morrison's sample of poetry first appearing on the group's souvenir books in 1968.[36] Combining double-tracked spoken word, the song foreshadowed the poetic readings Morrison posthumously revealed on An American Prayer. To highlight the melancholy of "The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)", Densmore devised an early use of synthesized drums.[27]

Morrison's also contributed "Been Down So Long", a song inspired by folk singer Richard Fariña's book Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me and Furry Lewis's tune, "I Will Turn Your Money Green". A conventional blues song reminiscent of earlier Doors performances, the lyrics showed depression, liberation, and sexuality owing to Morrison's potential imprisonment.[33] He also contributed the blues number "Cars Hiss By My Window". Unlike most of the other tracks, it was composed in the studio.[36] Manzarek recalled that "Jim said it was about living in Venice [Beach], in a hot room, with a hot girlfriend, and an open window, and a bad time. It could have been about Pamela Courson".[36] L.A. Woman closes its first side with the title track, the lengthiest song on the album. Thought of as Morrison's final goodbye to Los Angeles, it communicated his mixed feelings of passion and disdain for "the city of night".[32] The lyrics feature an anagram for Morrison: "Mister Mojo Risin'".[29]

Of the remaining self-written material on L.A. Woman, Krieger wrote "Love Her Madly", which echoed his songs of romance and insecurity.[37] He wrote the song at home while being bored at waiting for Morrison's trial to finish.[38] L.A. Woman also features "Hyacinth House", with lyrics written by Morrison and music by Manzarek. The song shows Manzerak being influenced by the Polish composer Frédéric Chopin's Polonaise in A-flat major, Op. 53, during its organ solo.[33] The final track was "Riders on the Storm", a collective effort by the Doors and a sign of their increasing jazz interests, which they would have further explored with Morrison. Based on the arrangement "Ghost Riders in the Sky" and the line "delicate riders of the storm", taken from Hart Crane's poem "Praise for an Urn", the track melded Morrison's hitchhiker imagery from his own poetry projects. The faint, ghostly backdrop heard throughout the song was the last recording of Morrison with the Doors.[39]

Live performances[edit]

After Morrison recorded poetry at Village Recorders on December 8, 1970, he felt encouraged to play some L.A. Woman material on tour.[40] On December 11, the Doors performed in front of two sold-out audiences at the State Fair Music Hall in Dallas.[41][42] The band opened the first concert with an extended "Love Her Madly", but struggled on older material as they had not played live since the Isle of Wight FestivaI that August.[43] The set included "The Changeling" and "L.A. Woman" and closed with "When the Music's Over".[41] The concerts were well received, proving the Doors were still a capable live act and leading to an extra performance in Louisiana.[44] Audience recordings from the Doors' performances of "Love Her Madly", "The Changeling", "L.A. Woman", and the Morrison Hotel track "Ship of Fools" were included on the 2003 album Boot Yer Butt: The Doors Bootlegs.[45]

On December 12, the Doors played the Warehouse in New Orleans for what turned out to be their last live performance with Morrison.[46] Midway through the set, a drunk Morrison began slurring the lyrics to "Light My Fire", interrupted with speeches and jokes. He sat in front of the drum platform in between Krieger and Manzarek's solos, but did not stand up to finish the song.[47] After prompting by Densmore, he tried to sing, before bashing the mic stand into the stage until its wood splintered. The Doors agreed to stop touring and focus on completing L.A. Woman.[48][49]

For years, fans speculated over the possible recordings of the New Orleans concert. In 2011, George Friedman, a stage manager of the Warehouse, revealed he had a reel to reel recording of the gig secured in a safety deposit box.[50] He explained he discovered the tapes "when Beaver Productions moved its offices out of the Warehouse, Uptown into a building at the Riverbend. The Doors tape, along with a stack of other Warehouse show tapes, were cast off and left behind as debris during the move".[50] Despite the confirmation of their existence, there has yet to be an official release of the recordings.[50]

Release and reception[edit]

I'm glad that L.A. Woman was our last album ... It really captured what we were all about. The first record did, too, but L.A. Woman is more loose, it's live – it sounds almost like a rehearsal. It's pure Doors.

– Robby Krieger reflecting on the album during a 2012 interview[51]

L.A. Woman was released on April 19, 1971.[27] It reached number nine on the Billboard 200, remaining on the charts for 36 weeks, and reached number 28 in the UK, spending four weeks on the UK Albums Charts.[2][3] The first cover pressing had a burgundy-colored, curved-corner cardboard cutout sleeve, framing a clear embossed cellophane insert, glued in from behind.[52] Photography was credited to Wendell Hamick. According to Jac Holzman, chief executive officer of Elektra Records: "I wasn't sure there would be another album ever, so I had Bill Harvey create a collector's cover. The Doors' faces were printed on clear film. The backing color of the inner sleeve could be changed and would affect the mood of the package. This is the first album in which Jim is bearded [on the cover]. His photo is on the right, no bigger, no smaller than the others, just another guy in the band."[53]

Three months after release, on July 3, Morrison was found dead. There had been discussions between Morrison and the others for future recording after he returned from Paris.[54][55] The album was accompanied by the "Love Her Madly" single, which was released in March and charted at number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 for a stay of 11 weeks, but failed to chart in the UK. An additional single, "Riders on the Storm", was released in June, and reached number 14 on the Billboard chart, while managing to peak at number 22 in the UK chart.[2][3]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 4.5/5 stars[4]
Christgau's Record Guide A–[56]
Classic Rock 7/10 stars[57]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 4/5 stars[58]
MusicHound 4/5[59]
PopMatters 8/10 stars[60]
Q 3/5 stars[61]
Rolling Stone 4.5/5 stars[62]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 4/5 stars[63]
Slant Magazine 3.5/5 stars[64]

The album received mostly positive reviews. Rolling Stone's Robert Meltzer was impressed by the sense of fun and the togetherness of the band, saying it was "the Doors' greatest album" and the best album of the year.[65] Robert Christgau appreciated Morrison's sense of humor in some of the lyrics and believed "the band has never sounded better", although he was disappointed with "Been Down So Long" and "L'America".[56] More recently, Richie Unterberger, writing for AllMusic, described L.A. Woman as "uneven", but noted that the album contains compositions that "rate among their finest and most disturbing work".[4] Sal Cinquemani, reviewing the album for Slant Magazine, considers L.A. Woman to be "the sound of a band in perfect harmony". He describes the Doors' material as "disturbing and cynical over the years, and these songs were no exception".[64] Stephen Dalton of Classic Rock, reviewing the 40th Anniversary Edition of the album, remarks how "the original L.A. Woman still stands proud, an all-time classic journey into bright shining darkness."[57]

PopMatters's Nathan Wisnicki said Morrison's lyrics were less pretentious than previous work because of L.A. Woman's "more conventional blues".[60] David Quantick from BBC Music attributed the record's success to "a stripped-down yet full sound, a developed mysticism tied tightly to the band's brand of rock, and confidence born of having been a functioning unit for several years".[5] In his 1994 book The Complete Guide to the Music of The Doors, Peter K. Hogan describes the album as an expansion on the style from Morrison Hotel, but in a more coherent form. He also believed L.A. Woman was a fitting swan song for Morrison, who was pleased to finally record a blues-oriented album.[66]

In 2003, L.A. Woman was ranked at 362 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.[67] When the list was revised in 2012, to accommodate a number of albums released since 2003, the album was repositioned at number 364.[68] Stereogum named it the Doors' second best album, with the website's Ryan Leas adding, "It traveled the same raw blues-rock lane as its predecessor, but now the Doors sounded ragged, bleary. It's one of those early-'70s records that comes off like a beleaguered hangover from the end of the '60s."[69]

CD reissues[edit]

Botnick later produced and mixed a new 5.1 Surround version of the album, released on DVD-Audio on December 19, 2000. It was produced from the original eight-track analog 1" master tapes.[70] L.A. Woman was digitally remastered as a part of "The Years of the Doors" series. It was reissued in an expanded format on January 24, 2012, by Elektra and Rhino Records, with seven alternate versions of songs, and three previously unreleased tracks, "Orange County Suite", "She Smells So Nice" and "Rock Me".[71] To accompany this release, a documentary titled Mr. Mojo Risin': The Story of L.A. Woman was distributed. The film includes interviews between Krieger and Densmore, as well as live and studio performances.[72]

Track listing[edit]

Side A
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "The Changeling"   Jim Morrison 4:21
2. "Love Her Madly"   Robby Krieger 3:20
3. "Been Down So Long"   Jim Morrison 4:41
4. "Cars Hiss by My Window"   Jim Morrison 4:12
5. "L.A. Woman"   Jim Morrison 7:49
Side B
No. Title Writer(s) Length
6. "L'America"   Jim Morrison 4:37
7. "Hyacinth House"   Ray Manzarek, Jim Morrison 3:11
8. "Crawling King Snake"   Anonymous, arr. John Lee Hooker 5:00
9. "The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)"   Jim Morrison 4:16
10. "Riders on the Storm"   Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, John Densmore 7:09

Singles[edit]

  1. "Love Her Madly" b/w "(You Need Meat) Don't Go No Further" (Elektra 45726) March 1971 (US No. 11)
  2. "Riders on the Storm" b/w "The Changeling" (Elektra 45738) June 1971 (US No. 14, UK No. 22)

Personnel[edit]

Note: Source for this section are as follows:[27]

The Doors
Additional musicians
Technical

Charts[edit]

Album

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Australia (ARIA)[84] 4× Platinum 280,000^
Austria (IFPI Austria)[85] Gold 25,000*
Canada (Music Canada)[86] 3× Platinum 300,000^
France (SNEP)[87] 2× Platinum 600,000*
Germany (BVMI)[88] Gold 250,000^
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[89] Platinum 100,000^
Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)[90] Gold 25,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[91] Gold 100,000^
United States (RIAA)[92] 2× Platinum 2,000,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone

References[edit]

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Bibliography[edit]