Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Doors - 1967 [1985] "Strange Days"

Strange Days is the second studio album by the American rock band The Doors. Released in September 1967, it was a commercial success, reaching No. 3 on the Billboard 200 album chart and eventually earning a RIAA platinum certification. The album also yielded the Top 30 hit singles "People Are Strange" and "Love Me Two Times".

Strange Days was recorded during tour breaks between May and August 1967 at Sunset Sound Recorders in Hollywood (the same studio as their first LP). In contrast to the 1966 sessions, producer Paul A. Rothchild and engineer Bruce Botnick employed a cutting-edge 8-track recording machine. The protracted sessions allowed the band to experiment in the studio and further augment their otherworldly sound with unusual instrumentation and sonic manipulation; developed with the assistance of Paul Beaver, the title track constitutes one of the earliest uses of a Moog synthesizer in rock. On the Morrison poem "Horse Latitudes", Botnick took the white noise of a tape recorder and varied the speed by hand-winding it (resulting in a sound akin to wind) as the four band members played a variety of instruments in unusual ways. Further varispeed was then employed to create different timbres and effects.

Much like their debut album, Strange Days features several moody, authentically odd songs, although some critics feel it does not quite match up to its stellar predecessor. In his AllMusic review of the album, Richie Unterberger notes, "Many of the songs on Strange Days had been written around the same time as the ones that appeared on The Doors, and with hindsight one has the sense that the best of the batch had already been cherry picked for the debut album. For that reason, the band's second effort isn't as consistently stunning as their debut, though overall it's a very successful continuation of the themes of their classic album." Two of the album's songs ("My Eyes Have Seen You" and "Moonlight Drive") had been demoed in 1965 at Trans World Pacific Studios before Krieger joined the group; indeed, the latter had been conceived by Morrison prior to his fateful reunion with Manzarek in the summer of 1965. Although the song was attempted twice during the sessions for the band's debut, both versions were deemed unsatisfactory. A conventional blues arrangement, "Moonlight Drive"'s defining features were its slightly off-beat rhythm and Krieger's bottleneck guitar, which create an eerie sound.

The LP's first single, "People Are Strange", was composed in early 1967 after Krieger, drummer John Densmore, and a depressed Morrison had walked to the top of Laurel Canyon. Densmore recalled the song's writing process in his book Riders on the Storm. Densmore and Krieger, who had then been roommates, were visited by a dejected Morrison, who was acting "deeply depressed." At the suggestion of Densmore, they took a walk along Laurel Canyon. Morrison returned from the walk "euphoric" with the early lyrics of "People Are Strange".

Although Morrison was the Doors' primary lyricist, Robby Krieger wrote several of the groups hit singles (the first song the guitarist ever wrote was "Light My Fire"), including the bluesy "Love Me Two Times". According to band members, the song was about a soldier/sailor on his last day with his girlfriend before shipping out, ostensibly to war. Manzarek described the song as "Robby's great blues/rock classic about lust and lost, or multiple orgasms, I'm not sure which." In 1997, Krieger stated to Guitar World's Alan Paul that the musical idea for "Love Me Two Times" came from a lick from a Danny Kalb album. Manzarek played the final version of this song on a harpsichord, not a clavichord. Manzarek described the instrument as "a most elegant instrument that one does not normally associate with rock and roll." It was edited to a 2:37 length and released as the second single (after "People Are Strange") from that album, and reached No. 25 on the charts in the US. "Love Me Two Times" was considered to be somewhat risqué for radio airplay, being banned in New Haven for being "too controversial," much to the dismay of the band.

The album concludes with an 11 minute-long epic, "When the Music's Over."

The album cover of Strange Days, photographed by Joel Brodsky, depicts a group of street performers in New York. The location of the photograph is at Sniffen Court, a residential alley off of East 36th Street between Lexington and Third Avenue in Manhattan. The availability of such performers pictured was low, so Brodsky's assistant stood in as a juggler while a random cab driver was paid $5 to pose playing the trumpet. Twin dwarfs were hired, with one appearing on the front cover and one appearing on the back cover, which is the other half of the same photo on the front cover. However, a group shot of the band does appear on a poster in the background of both covers, bearing captions of the band and album name. (The same photograph previously appeared on the back cover of the band's debut album.) Because of the subtlety of the artist and album title, most record stores put stickers across the cover to help customers identify it more clearly.

Even darker than their purple-hued debut, the Doors' follow-up, Strange Days, closed 1967 with an ominous flourish. Highlighted mostly by short, radio-friendly tunes such as the bluesy "Love Me Two Times" and the cabaret-style "People Are Strange" and featuring a smattering of edgy recitations ("Horse Latitudes") and smoky rockers ("My Eyes Have Seen You"), the album features a centerpiece that was another ambitious extended track, "When the Music's Over." On it, Morrison railed at everything from organized religion to pollution, and his rallying cry--"We want the world, and we want it now!"--became a call to arms for the counterculture rising up around the band.

Track listing:

01 Strange Days 3:05
02 You're Lost Little Girl 3:01
03 Love Me Two Times 3:23
04 Unhappy Girl 2:00
05 Horse Latitudes 1:30
06 Moonlight Drive 3:00
07 People Are Strange 2:10
08 My Eyes Have Seen You 2:22
09 I Can't See Your Face In My Mind 3:18
10 When The Music's Over 11:00

Personnel:

Vocals – Jim Morrison
Guitar – Robby Krieger
Keyboards, Marimba – Ray Manzarek
Drums – John Densmore
Bass [Occasional] – Douglas Lubahn*

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