CLASSIC TRACK: The Doors —
Not much ran smoothly for The Doors, and this was certainly so with sessions for their sixth album, ‘L.A. Woman’. In November 1970, regular producer Paul Rothchild, unconvinced by what he was hearing in the studio, decided to quit. Enter engineer Bruce Botnick, who joined the band in their old rehearsal space, the Doors Workshop on Santa Monica Boulevard. It was a back-to-basics move that mirrored the eventual tone of the album itself. Gone were the symphonic flourishes and painstaking exactitude of their most recent work, replaced instead by a freer, garage-blues sound that harked back to their beginnings. This was most keenly expressed on the title track. On one level it’s a simple song about barrelling down the LA Freeway, lights a-blur and the wind at its tail. But it’s also a conflicted homage to Los Angeles as a living entity, a promised land of midnight alleys and Hollywood bungalows, peopled by the lost and lonely. As drummer John Densmore remarked in the documentary, The Story of L.A. Woman: “The metaphor for the city as a woman is brilliant — cops in cars, never saw a woman so alone… The physicality of the town and thinking of her and how we need to take care of her. It’s my hometown.”
Musically, L.A. Woman shifts through the gears. Densmore’s tight rhythm and Ray Manzarek’s descending organ riff hurry it along, before Jim Morrison’s vocals (with Robby Krieger’s bluesy guitar replying after each line) open the throttle. Elvis’s former bassist Jerry Scheff adds a sense of propulsion, as does rhythm guitarist Marc Benno.
Morrison’s repeated phrase — “City of Night, City of Night” — takes its cue from John Rechy’s underground novel of the same name, which depicts a demi-monde of hustlers, fiends and illicit sexual trysts, partly set in Los Angeles. Hurtling through eight minutes of dark psychedelic blues, the song heads for optimum pick-up when Morrison begins to intone “Mr. Mojo Risin’’ (an anagram of his own name) over and over. As his vocals become more frenzied — “Risin’!, Risin’!” — the symbolism is, er, obvious.
The Doors debuted L.A. Woman at the State Fair Music Hall in Dallas that December. It was the song’s first and last outing. Within three months of its parent album’s release in early 1971, Morrison was dead. The legend continues to endure, of course, and not least via what Krieger calls “the quintessential Doors song.”