Rhino sets up The Doors 50th anniversary in the right way

Rhino (3-CD, 1-LP Box Set)
4 stars

By Gillian G. Gaar

“The Doors” is rightly regarded as one of the best debut albums in rock history. And 50 years on, it retains its potency, from the opening bossa nova beat of “Break On Through (To the Other Side),” through the strutting “Twentieth Century Fox,” the European cabaret flavor of “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar),” the irresistible signature song (and the band’s first big hit) “Light My Fire,” the gritty blues of “Back Door Man,” and the dizzying hallucinogenic wonder of “The End.”

This 50th anniversary box set offers the album in both stereo and mono mixes (both remastered from the original album mixes; it’s the first time the mono mix has been available on CD, and digitally), with a vinyl album of the mono mix included as well. The album was last reissued in stereo in the 2006 “Perception” box. That edition featured an unedited version of “Break On Through” (with Jim Morrison singing “She get high,” later edited to “She get” on the final album, Elektra fearing a drug reference would hurt airplay). This new edition uses the edited version of the song, in both the mono and stereo mixes.

And there’s a CD of extras, live tracks from a March 7, 1967 show at the Matrix in San Francisco. These tracks were previously released on the 2008 album “Live at the Matrix 1967,” but the versions used here are taken from the original tapes, so the sound quality is vastly improved. Recorded before “Light My Fire” topped the charts, the audience response is polite, almost respectful; the calm before the storm

Unfortunately, the extras are limited to the songs that also appear on “The Doors”; why not include the complete performances? (The 2008 album drew on tracks from two different gigs.) Not to mention: the single mix of “Light My Fire,” the unedited version of “Break On Through” (in mono and stereo), the early version of “Moonlight Drive” recorded during the sessions (originally released on the 2006 edition of the album), and other outtakes, if any exist. That would’ve made for a more comprehensive presentation of this landmark album.

As such, the biggest draws on this set for collectors will be the mono mix and the Matrix show upgrade — both of which are great to have. 

Rhino/Bright Midnight Archives (10” Vinyl w/CD)
4 stars

By Gillian G. Gaar

This set presents seven songs from a May 1966 gig at LA club the London Fog — the earliest known live recordings of The Doors.

It’s a tantalizing look at a band still finding their voice. Most of the songs are covers, from the blues/R&B playbook: Muddy Waters’ “Rock Me” and “Baby, Please Don’t Go,” Wilson Pickett’s “Don’t Fight It.” By this stage, The Doors had been steadily gigging around the Los Angeles area for several months, and had gelled into a tight band. Of special interest is an early version of “Strange Days,” whose dreamy psychedelia sits a bit uneasily between “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man” (with a lead vocal from Ray Manzarek), and the set’s closer, a rather restrained “Lucille.” It’s the same arrangement the band used when recording the number the following year. A bigger surprise is the raucous “You Make Me Real,” a track the Doors wouldn’t record in the studio until “Morrison Hotel.”

But, it has to be said, the list price for the box ($49.98 on The Doors’ website) is excessive for what you get. There are some extras — there’s both a CD and vinyl EP with the music, along with facsimile memorabilia — but that’s still pretty slim offerings.

Nonetheless, it’s an essential release for Doors collectors (it’s also a limited-edition release, limited to 18,000 copies). The sound quality is good, and the historical importance can’t be overstated. And with the press release for the set stating “‘London Fog 1966’ is the first of many special activities and releases coming to celebrate The Doors’ 50th Anniversary in 2017,” Doors fans can look forward to more to come.      


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