The Doors are among the most widely celebrated bands from the late sixties and early seventies. The group became widely credited with accelerating psychedelic rock in 1967 – heck, depending on who you quiz, they started it! Fans and critics adored and sometimes renounced the quartet for their avant-garde spirit, forward-thinking records, and epic live performances. But in the backdrop stood dereliction, usually just as all was looking up.
Unfortunately, the early and generation-scarring death of frontman Jim Morrison in 1971 ended the band in a sense. But in another, the surviving trio stormed ahead, determined to keep the wounded flame alive. While some listeners may want to tune out the inconsistencies in this discography, let the record show there is infinite excitement, stunning excellence, and cosmic musical spiritualism spread throughout their art-making years. There is just as much history to digest and appreciate, too – the end goal being you enjoy these albums even more!
By digging into The Doors’ discography, you will discover why and how the lineup of Morrison (vocals), Ray Manzarek (keyboards), Robby Krieger (guitar), and John Densmore (drums) would change the course of popular and unpopular music forever. Toke up if you please, pour some tea if that’s your cup of choice, and enjoy.
- The Doors
- Strange Days
- Waiting for the Sun
- The Soft Parade
- Morrison Hotel
- L.A. Woman
- Other Voices
- Full Circle
- An American Prayer
Released: January 4, 1967
Facts about The Doors:
- The Doors became one of the best debut albums ever, thanks to the band’s vision, eclectic influences ranging from hard rock to jazz, and iconic singles “Break On Through (To the Other Side)” and “Light My Fire” (the latter tune got inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame). The album is also credited with launching the psychedelic rock genre into the mainstream, thanks to its January 1967 release and wide-ranging cultural impact. It was recorded in the legendary Sunset Sound Recorders by producer Paul Rothchild.
- The album and band are famously named after the concept of “The Doors of Perception,” referring to enhancing one’s consciousness. The phrase became popularized by Aldous Huxley, thanks to his 1954 book of the same name about psychedelics and enlightenment. But before Huxley, back in the late 18th century, legendary poet and painter William Blake coined the phrase and metaphor. The band’s central duo, Morrison and Manzarek, who met in a university art class, admired both figures, and it became fundamental to their friendship and artistic partnership.
- In 2015, the Library of Congress hand-picked the record for the National Recording Registry to signify its historical significance.
- The band Smash Mouth has received criticism for their tune “Walking on the Sun” because the instrumentation sounds nearly identical to “Soul Kitchen” from this record.
- “Break On Through (To the Other Side)”
- “Light My Fire”
- “The End”
Released: September 25, 1967
Facts about Strange Days:
- Strange Days was released the same year as the band’s debut, cementing their integrality to 1967, the year psychedelic rock exploded in the United States and the United Kingdom. It reached the third position on the Billboard 200 chart and would become a platinum-certified record. It got praised by critics and fans for fusing the band’s psychedelic and avant-garde elements with catchy, hedonistic tunes. You can see it, especially in the two hits “People Are Strange” and “Love Me Two Times.”
- The band once again recorded at Sunset Sound Recorders with producer Paul Rothchild. But this time, the engineers for the sessions utilized an eight-track recording machine, which was brand-new technology at the time. The Beatles’ eight-track recording method on Sergent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band inspired The Doors. It essentially expanded the possibilities to record more than merely vocals, bass, guitar, and drums (four “tracks”) on a single song; this method gave the record a more polished and cinematic feel.
- The album represented one of the first uses of the Moog synthesizer in popular music, namely rock-and-roll. Arguably, that choice influenced The Beatles on Abbey Road, another classic and early example of the instrument’s use. The at once archaic and futuristic keyboard appears on the title track.
- “Love Me Two Times”
- “People Are Strange”
- “When the Music’s Over”
Waiting for the Sun
Released: July 3, 1968
Facts about Waiting for the Sun:
- Waiting for the Sun would become the first and only number one album by The Doors, thanks to the band’s second top-charting single “Hello, I Love You” and the top-40 hit “The Unknown Soldier.” The record also reached the 16th position in the United Kingdom, another milestone for the group. However, despite its success, the recording process became marred by creative and interpersonal difficulties.
- The band found it difficult to pen new compositions in the wake of two successful records that effectively drained their primary songwriter’s lyric book of all ideas, constant touring, and Morrison’s worsening alcoholism. Drummer John Densmore famously walked out on a session because Morrison, who required aid recording his vocal parts, was belligerently drunk.
- Although recording for this album initially took place at the familiar Sunset Sound Studios location, the band moved the process to Hollywood. That is partly due to the band’s growing disillusionment with perfectionist producer Rothchild, whose methods stood starkly at odds with the band’s newfound approach to building songs in the studio. There at TTG Studios (which stands for “Tilhas Tizig Gesheften” – named after a WW2 Jewish infantry, effectively meaning “up yours”), they recorded most of the record’s 11 tracks.
- Most critics acknowledged some standout moments in the record but noticed a lack of consistency throughout the album. Some argued that expectations were too high for the band, whereas others accused the band of pretentiousness. For example, “The Unknown Soldier” saw the band exploring more cinematic elements in their music’s production, a device Manzarek and Morrison had long wanted to employ. The song is considered an anti-Vietnam protest song.
- “Hello, I Love You”
- “The Unknown Soldier”
- “Five to One”
- “Spanish Caravan”
The Soft Parade
Released: July 18, 1969
Facts about The Soft Parade:
- Following the band’s third album, The Doors became highly sought after for large budget arena concerts at such revered venues as Madison Square Garden and the Hollywood Bowl. Suddenly, Top 40 stations began promoting the band’s work after previously banning their songs from getting played on their airways. This next-level commercial success helped the band’s perception worsen as “sellouts” in one sense – namely, in the eyes of their underground following. And that, combined with the record’s mixed reception, also contributed to pressure and exhaustion in the studio.
- At the time, Morisson was mentally checked out of the band’s studio efforts. Instead of drawing from an empty well, the singer withdrew into substances and wrote poems, two isolating mediums he began to prefer. He nearly quit The Doors during the recording of The Soft Parade, as he felt he was heading towards a nervous breakdown and became disenchanted by the media’s perception of him as both outlandish and a sex symbol. Ultimately, keyboardist Ray Manzarek convinced him to stick around.
- Because touring had again left the band exhausted in spirit, creating new songs was troublesome. For guidance, they returned to Paul Rothchild to oversee production for their fourth record, The Soft Parade. He drove the band to incorporate brass and string arrangements into their music, which is most tastefully present on the record’s biggest song “”Touch Me,”” but generally was unwelcomed by their fanbase. Additionally, guitarist Robby Krieger took a more hands-on approach to songwriting – he has songwriting credits on five of the nine tracks.
- Despite reaching the sixth position on the Billboard 200 chart, it is widely considered the band’s worst output with Morrison. Critics, fans, and contemporary artists saw The Doors abandoning what made them unique in favor of pop formulas.
- “Touch Me”
- “Wishful Sinful”
- “Tell All the People”
- “Runnin’ Blue”
Released: February 9, 1970
Facts about Morrison Hotel:
- Morrison Hotel, the band’s fifth record, is widely regarded as a return to form for The Doors. That is because they abandoned the orchestral elements introduced on their last album and seemingly returned to their roots in psychedelic blues-rock, famously seen in the track “Roadhouse Blues.”
- The year before, Jim Morrison caught a profanity and public indecency charge for performing nude in front of 12,000 people in Florida. It essentially wounded the band’s image, resulting in 25 dates from a high-profile tour getting canceled, and once again, their music getting banned from a flurry of upset radio stations. Drummer John Densmore claimed it had cost the band millions.
- Despite himself, Morrison attempted to keep his distance from his rebellious image by dressing “normally,” growing a beard, and gaining some weight. But the singer’s unhinged alcoholism essentially thwarted all efforts at reinvention, most painfully seen in another charge Morrison accrued during this time. The violation occurred on a plane under recently passed skyjacking laws, with a $10,000 fine and ten years in prison on the line.
- Morrison Hotel performed well on the charts, reaching the fourth position in the United States and the 12th in the United Kingdom (their highest chart success there). “Roadhouse Blues” and “Peace Frog” are among the band’s most celebrated songs by fans and critics despite neither becoming radio hits.
- “Roadhouse Blues”
- “Peace Frog”
Released: April 19, 1971
Facts about L.A. Woman:
- L.A. Woman holds a bittersweet spot in The Doors discography. The music reflected bright light at the end of the tunnel: it is arguably their best work. The band further developed a return to form and commitment to their art, thanks to a shift towards the blues undercut by experimental art-rock that began on the previous album, Morrison Hotel. In addition, critics and fans praised Morrison’s vocal performance, and the album sparked commercial success. On the other hand, real-life unfolded ungently. Here is the last album released while Jim Morrison still lived, as he died four months after the album was released.
- Longtime producer Paul Rothchild departed with the band early into the recording process, dismissive of the track “Love Her Madly,” of all songs – though he contends The Doors performed “Riders on the Storm” and “L.A. Woman” exceptionally during the pre-production process. In truth, friction stemmed between Rothchild and Morrison’s lack of attendance, in addition to slow songwriting for a band with three songwriters. And it would be unfair to ignore Paul was mourning a colleague, Janis Joplin, whom he had recently worked with while producing her final album Pearl before her death at 27 in October of 1970. Thankfully for the band, sound engineer Bruce Botnick stuck around and saw that the band recorded the songs successfully.
- Though The Doors would release three more studio albums, it was the last record to feature Morrison until the last official studio album, An American Prayer, where he posthumously appears.
- “Love Her Madly” and “Riders on the Storm” charted in the United States, and the record struck nine and 28 on the American and English album charts, respectively.
- “Riders on the Storm”
- “L.A. Woman”
- “Love Her Madly”
- “Cars Hiss by My Window”
Released: October 18, 1971
Facts about Other Voices:
- Other Voices is the seventh studio album by The Doors, and like its sister album, Full Circle, it holds an awkward spot in the band’s impressive discography. Still, the album represents a fascinating glimpse into the direction The Doors might have gone had Morrison survived the sixties and displays the trio’s undeniable talent despite some uneven moments. The combined lyrics of the members and shared vocal duties of keyboardist Manzarek and guitarist Krieger proved the band could truck on. The songs also have a closer relationship to Morrison’s living presence than some might assume, as songwriting began while Jim was alive.
- Elektra released the LP merely a few months after Jim died, which the band, critics, and fans have criticized, though not without sympathy and even revision via newfound appreciation. Ultimately, the band discounted Other Voices and Full Circle for decades because they lacked Morrison’s signature vocals and lyrics. Initially, the band did not consider reissuing the two albums, as they did with the band’s previous six studio records. Retrospective reviews have proven warmer, and in 2021 Krieger opened up about the band’s reconciliation with these post-Morrison releases.
- Perhaps the most cohesive, familiar, and impressive song on the album is track three, “Ships with Sails.” Krieger and Densmore wrote the song, while Manzarek sang the lead. Krieger performed background harmonies. The song features psychedelic lounge rock that fans and critics came to know, love, and miss, with sprawling passages that expand the atmosphere, lyrical metaphor, and melody sky-high, thanks to the trio’s resounding and enduring tightness.
- Despite mixed reviews, the album reached number 31 on the charts in America. That signaled the band had inherent artistic value without Morrison and, more importantly, commercially speaking, an audience who would listen.
- “Ships with Sails”
- “Wandering Musician”
- “Hang On to Your Life”
Released: August 15, 1972
Facts about Full Circle:
- Full Circle, the second album in the post-Morrison trilogy, represents the only instance in The Doors’ discography entirely without Jim’s artistic presence. Though he did not appear on the previous record, Other Voices, he did participate somewhat in the album’s songwriting before his death. And on their final studio record, An American Prayer, the songs feature Jim posthumously reciting poetry. Despite mixed reviews from critics, the album represents an enduring moment in the band’s later career. And check out that album art! It certainly LOOKS like a Doors record.
- The band produced the record alongside lead sound engineers Henry Lewy and Charles Lloyd. Botnik did not return for a third installment with the band. It features backup vocalists, instantly visible on the opening track “Get Up and Dance,” which was panned by fans and critics for sounding excessively commercial. However, some experiments were successful. For example, the band explored heightened jazz elements with talented session musicians. Both stylistic decisions were a first for the band.
- “The Mosquito” became a surprise hit for the band. It starts as a lighthearted and easy-going tune with Latin textures until it explodes into full-powered psychedelic rock and does this all while navigating intermittent Spanish and English lyric passages. “The Mosquito” is arguably Krieger’s most impressive standalone vocal performance and arguably one of his best guitar performances. The track charted in Austria, the Netherlands, and Germany. It was also covered in French and became a hit in France and Finland. That makes it one of the band’s most enduring hits, oddly. It is the last song released by the band to hold any chart success.
- “The Mosquito”
- “The Piano Bird”
- “4 Billion Souls”
An American Prayer
Released November 17, 1978
Elektra Records, Asylum Records, Rhino
Facts about An American Prayer:
- After breaking up in 1973 after two post-Morrison records, the band reconvened in 1978 to release one final studio album. The Doors specifically crafted An American Prayer to juxtapose Jim’s spoken word poems, audio collages, and obscure live performances. The album has some very bright spots, thanks to the quality in Jim’s writing and the band’s instrumentation. If you are a Doors fan, parts of this album will genuinely surprise you, especially in the track “Ghost Song.” But if you are a Morrison purist, the fungibility of these poems may offend.
- An American Prayer is arguably the most controversial record by The Doors. Despite the album going platinum in the United States, it received mixed reviews from critics and past colleagues – namely, Paul Rothchild, who insisted the band misunderstood the intent of the recorded poems and exploited them. The trio and many other fans and colleagues argued Jim would have thoroughly enjoyed the record for its ambition.
- Twenty-three tracks make up the album, making it the longest Doors album in terms of tunes alone – not length. Many of the songs feature the same poem over different instrumentals, and some of the songs are more appropriately audio collages, not unlike “Revolution 9” by The Beatles.
- “Ghost Song”
- “An American Prayer”