The Doors’ Difficult Third Album

Waiting For The Sun gets reissued for its 50th anniversary

The Doors, Waiting for the Sun, Elektra Records 1968

If you were to close your eyes and try to trace the contours of the discography of The Doors, the towering peaks of their first two albums would be easily discerned, as would the confusing shape of the fourth (The Soft Parade) with its wild swings between highs and lows. Morrison Hotel, widely seen as a return to blues rockin’ majesty, and the elegiac glories of L.A. Woman would likely come readily to hand, with anything that came after Jim Morrison’s death a wispy presence at best. But keep groping – there’s one you missed: Waiting For The Sun, the third album, whose 50th anniversary was just celebrated with a deluxe reissue. 

In some ways that makes sense, as Waiting for the Sun represents the moment where the L.A. quartet, having burned through a brilliantly sustained burst of inspiration, had to get down to the hard business of being a professional rock band. This transition led to tensions in the studio as the band struggled with the lack of material readily at hand. “The intense pressure is taking its toll – it’s in their faces,” wrote bassist Doug Lubahn, who played on nearly every track, in his memoir, “The exuberant looks are gone. They are not as happy or excited. It’s becoming more like a business – get in, do the work, go home.”

One song they did reluctantly pull out their back pocket (at the behest of Elektra head Jac Holzman, whose son told him it was hit) was “Hello, I Love You,” which kicks off the album and became their second Number One single.

“Hello I Love You” 7-inch

As originally demoed in 1965, it was almost a boogaloo, with a nagging piano part not too dissimilar from “Chopsticks.” The final result finds the verse bolted to a riff that’s the missing link between The Kinks and synth-pop, with Ray Manzarak’s layered keyboards and Robby Kreiger’s fuzz guitar nailed to one of John Densmore’s tightest drum patterns. Wedded to Jim Morrison’s sleazy yet poetic pick-up line lyrics,  this “dusky jewel” of a pop song, polished to perfection by producer Paul A. Rothchild, became The Doors’ second #1 single.

While that 1965 demo isn’t in this new package, we do get a newly unearthed rough mix, one of nine, which may redefine your view of how seriously Morrison took his singing. In the rough mix, you can hear the spaces between the tracks, most dramatically the three vocal lines Morrison laid down to create the dimensional vocal you hear on the final version. Now, Rothchild was a legendary taskmaster – in a recent Rhino Podcast, Holzman calls him “Erich von Stroheim without the collar and monocle” – and it may have been under his direction that Morrison came up with this approach. But it’s Jimbo who has to put in the work – and he nails it. Not all the rough mixes are as revelatory, but “Five To One” is worth the price of admission, revealing the demonic flipside of Morrison’s talents in dramatic fashion. In this case, you’ll quickly realize that the final mix has actually tamped down the chthonic, feral power of Morrison’s vocal considerably. The rough mix puts Morrison’s likely drunken countenance close enough to your own that you can practically feel the spittle as he pulls howls from deep in his gut and proclaims classic lines like “Your ballroom days are over, baby, night is drawing near/Shadows of the evening crawl across the floor…” Yikes. When the “Get together one more time” chant, almost subliminal in the final mix, starts up, “Five To One” begins to to sound like a new song entirely.

The deluxe edition of Waiting for the Sun is out now on Rhino Records

Previous archival releases included some early takes, gathered in this playlist (along with some related live material), that gave a window into what it took to get to the final performances. The rough mixes, however,  allow you to hear some of the choices Rothchild, engineer Bruce Botnick and the band made to arrive at the glossy final product. You can be forgiven if find yourself thinking that Waiting for the Sun, which often highlights Manzarek’s more baroque impulses, is perhaps a little too slick. It’s classic status is undiminished, though, and the results were undeniable, rewarding The Doors with their first #1 album.

As a counterweight, Rhino has included some gritty selections from a concert at Falkoner Centeret in Copenhagen in September 1968, just a few weeks after the album was released. As The Doors bash their way through “Hello, I Love You,” “Five To One” and “The Unknown Soldier,” it’s clear that, even if the studio product was tending more towards pop, on stage their dark mojo was fully intact.


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Jeremy Shatan

Jeremy Shatan is a dad, music obsessive, and NYC dweller, working to enable the best health care at Mount Sinai Health System. He’s also a contributing writer for Follow him on Twitter@anearful.

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