Friday, February 10, 2017

The Doors - 1978 [1995] "An American Prayer"

An American Prayer is the ninth and final studio album by the Doors. In 1978, seven years after lead singer Jim Morrison died and five years after the remaining members of the band broke up, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, and John Densmore reunited and recorded backing tracks over Morrison's poetry (originally recorded in 1969 and 1970). Other pieces of music and spoken word recorded by the Doors and Morrison were also used in the audio collage, such as dialogue from Morrison's film HWY: An American Pastoral and snippets from jam sessions.
The album received mixed reviews and still divides critics, yet it has managed a platinum certification in the US. When the album was originally released, longtime Doors' producer Paul A. Rothchild labeled the album a "rape of Jim Morrison". Rothchild claimed that he had heard all of the reels of master tapes from both the 1969 and the 1970 poetry sessions, insisting that the three remaining Doors failed to realize Morrison's original intent for an audio presentation of the poetry. Morrison himself, prior to leaving for Paris, had approached composer Lalo Schifrin as a possible contributor for the music tracks meant to accompany the poetry, with no participation from any of the other Doors members. In addition, he had developed some conception of the album cover art work by January 1971, and was in correspondence with artist T. E. Breitenbach to design this cover in the form of a triptych (a three-paneled painting with various images embedded in each panel). However, John Haeny, who recorded the original session tapes with Morrison in 1970 and safeguarded them before the project was resurrected as An American Prayer, insisted that the album "was made by those people who were closest to Jim, both personally and artistically" and "everyone had the best intentions", stating: "Jim would be pleased. Jim would have understood our motivation and appreciated our dedication and heartfelt handling of his work.

Moody and mesmerizing, An American Prayer is an interesting album of Jim Morrison reading his poetry over the Doors' music. An American Prayer was finished by the remaining members of the Doors after Morrison's death and finally released in 1978 (it was remastered and re-released in 1995 with bonus tracks). Those familiar with the lyrics of the Doors will not be surprised, but others may be put off because Morrison is unafraid to use crude imagery and talk unabashedly about taboo topics such as sex and religion. Although many dismiss his poetry as simplistic random musings, Morrison is a gifted lyricist with a vivid imagination. The album also demonstrates how the other musicians in the band create a mood that breathes life into Morrison's dark, twisted visions. The music excerpts of "Peace Frog" and "Wasp (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)" provide a welcome air of familiarity, and the definitive live version of "Roadhouse Blues" in the middle of the album provides a nice respite from the barrage of stories and metaphors. However, An American Prayer must be listened to in one sitting to be fully appreciated, preferably at nighttime when one is alone and can devote full attention to the listening experience. This album is not for everyone, but is a must-own for Doors completists and fans of Jim Morrison's poetry.

It was Robby’s idea. Jim had been haunting him for a while. Maybe it wasn’t a true haunting in the classic sense or definition but Robby had been having dreams of Jim Morrison reciting his poetry. Robby called engineer John Haeny to see if he knew where the tapes were that Jim had recorded on his 27th birthday on December 8th, 1970.  Haeny still had the tapes and the first step was taken in what would be an album of Jim Morrison’s poetry known as “An American Prayer”.

An American Prayer: The Cover

The Dec. 8th, 1970 recordings were made with an eye towards Jim Morrison recording a solo album of his poetry. Morrison had secured a contract with Elektra founder Jac Holzman for the album and he wanted to start recording it. He invited Frank and Kathy Lisciandro, Alain Ronay, and Florentine Pabst to the studio for the recording. Haeny gave Morrison a bottle of Old Bushmills whiskey (on the “An American Prayer” CD on the bonus track, “Ghost Song”, the tape was still rolling and Morrison says, “one more thing”, then you can hear him take a swig off the bottle; you have to turn the volume up to hear it), and the session lasted approximately four hours. If the scene sounds familiar Oliver Stone used it in his movie “The Doors”. Recordings from the March 1969 recording session were also used but by the 1970 “birthday sessions” Morrison had revised a lot of the previously recorded poems.

The surviving Doors recorded “An American Prayer” using (besides Morrison’s poetry sessions) materials from The Doors catalog, recordings of live Doors shows and sound effects. They recorded new music using much of the poetry, editing and splicing Morrison’s voice in and around the music.

“An American Prayer” was released in November of 1978* and roughly outlines the life of Jim Morrison from birth (‘wake up!’), childhood, teenage years and coming of age, to being a rock star/sex symbol, and the elegiac poem “An American Prayer”. “An American Prayer” was released to generally good reviews.  Although it didn’t get a lot of radio play because of Morrison’s use of expletives, it was the only Doors album nominated for a Grammy and at 250,000 copies sold upon its release makes it the largest selling spoken-word album.

All the members of The Doors ‘family’ thought “An American Prayer” a fitting tribute to Morrison and his wish to be regarded as a poet. The lone exception was longtime Doors producer Paul Rothchild, who called “An American Prayer” “the rape of Jim Morrison” and compared it to “taking a Picasso and cutting it into postage stamp-sized pieces and spreading it across a supermarket wall”. Rothchild also cited Morrison’s intentions of producing a poetry album as a solo project, separate from The Doors, and without rock music using more classical orchestrations or with avant garde orchestrations such as with Lalo Schifrin (who did the soundtrack to 60’s classics “Cool Hand Luke” and “Mission Impossible”). Part of Morrison’s vision for his poetry album was the commissioning of a triptych by artist T.E. Breitenbach, it shows the elements Morrison thought important, a moonlit beach with naked couples running around, a city at noon “insane with activity,” and a desert scene at night seen through the windshield of a car.

Tracks Listing:

- Awake -
1. Awake (0:36)
2. Ghost Song (2:51)
3. Dawn's Highway (1:22)
4. Newborn Awakening (2:26)
- To Come Of Age -
5. To Come Of Age (1:02)
6. Black Polished Chrome (1:08)
7. Latino Chrome (2:15)
8. Angels And Sailors (2:47)
9. Stoned Immaculate (1:33)
- The Poet's Dreams -
10. The Movie (1:36)
11. Curses, Invocations (1:58)
- World On Fire -
12. American Night (0:28)
13. Roadhouse Blues (5:53)
14. The World On Fire (1:07)
15. Lament (2:19)
16. The Hitchhiker (2:16)
- An American Prayer -
17. An American Prayer (3:04)
18. Hour For Magic (1:18)
19. Freedom Exists (0:20)
20. A Feast Of Friends (2:11)

Total Time 38:28

Bonus tracks on 1995 CD remaster:
21. Babylon Fading (1:40)
22. Bird Of Prey (1:04)
23. The Ghost Song (5:16)

Line-up / Musicians

- Jim Morrison - vocals, spoken word (recorded on February 9, 1969 and December 8, 1970)
And:
- Ray Manzarek / keyboards, piano bass
- Robby Krieger / guitars
- John Densmore / drums

With:
- Arthur Barrow / synth programming (10)
- Jerry Scheff / bass (20)
- Bob Glaub / bass (20)
- Reinol Andino / percussion (10)

2 comments:

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