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50 Years Ago: The Doors Release Their Debut Album

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When the Doors entered a Hollywood recording studio to make their debut album at the end of August 1966, they knew what they wanted. Months of serving as house band at the Whisky a Go Go had sharpened their playing and performing skills to the point where one member of the quartet could abruptly swerve toward a new direction and the others would follow without missing a beat.

And they had become adventurous songwriters in the process, coming up with a culture-tipping set of songs that sampled the flavors of 1967, from blues and pop to folk and psychedelia. Built on Ray Manzarek’s woozy organ (which fell somewhere between old-man jazz and tripping-balls garage rock), the Doors’ music sounded playful and serious, stoned and studious, artsy and yes, it must be said, pretentious.

Its dubiously in-charge ringleader was Jim Morrison, one of rock’s most magnetic frontmen, a swaggering mound of sweaty flesh who was defined by a combination of slurred lyrics and pants-down-now sex. His penetrating presence turned The Doors into something more than just another hippie-era relic; he got under your skin and wormed his way into your system’s vital wiring. Without him, the music was an empty vessel.

But it all came together in a collision of ideals, ideas and high-as-a-kite philosophy during that week in late August 1966. When The Doors was released on Jan. 4, 1967, it sounded both part of and a distraction from a scene that was on the verge of discharging. “Break on Through (To the Other Side)” was the album’s lead track and single, but the showpieces came at the end of each side: “Light My Fire” was Top 40 pop with a hard-on; “The End” was apocalyptic theater laced with oedipal tension. And they pretty much summed up The Doors experience.

“Break on Through” failed to crack the Top 100, but “Light My Fire” made it to No. 1, hitting the peak position in July, just as the Summer of Love was ramping up. The song has become a pivotal moment in that momentous year. So has the album, which reached No. 2. Its blues (“Back Door Man”) and pop-art (“Alabama Song [Whisky Bar]”) covers blended with originals like “Soul Kitchen” and “Twentieth Century Fox” for the start of a trip that helped open rock’s expanding perceptions.

Doors Albums Ranked Worst to Best

Next: Top 10 Doors Songs

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