Recording of November 2019: The Soft Parade (50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)

The Doors: The Soft Parade (50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)
Rhino Records R2-596001 (3CDs, 1LP). 1969–2019. Paul A. Rothchild, prod.; Bruce Botnick, eng. ADD. TT: 146:47
Performance ****
Sonics ****

The Soft Parade has long been the Doors' most under-valued album. After the revolutionary impact of the band's first two LPs, The Doors and Strange Days, and the commercial consolidation of the band's popularity on the third, Waiting for the Sun, Soft Parade was perceived as a fall from grace. The charismatic Jim Morrison, famously dubbed "The Lizard King" by Crawdaddy! guru Paul Williams, had transitioned from perhaps the most sexually powerful rock'n'roll figure since Elvis Presley into a troubled frontman bent on self-destruction.

For all the transformational impact of the band's records, their live shows were increasingly marred by Morrison's nightly jousts with local police. At the first provocation from Morrison, a phalanx of police would come on stage and form a circle around him, shielding the crowd from the expected lewd behavior. Morrison often taunted the cops, and the shows would descend into chaos; police shut them down or enraged fans rioted, rushing the stage and breaking furniture. I witnessed this at a 1968 Singer Bowl show in New York, just a few months before work started on The Soft Parade.

Morrison's antics had become a distraction, and he started to grow apart from the band, leaving guitarist Robby Krieger to handle much of the writing for The Soft Parade. The inclusion of strings and horns on some tracks—most notably the album's first single, "Touch Me"—was viewed as apostasy by hardcore fans, who demanded rock authenticity from their band. Another factor in the album's lukewarm reception is that three of the record's best songs had already been released as singles before The Soft Parade came out. By the time of the album's July 1969 release, it already seemed stale.

Fifty years later, none of that matters. The Soft Parade can now be viewed without prejudice. Rhino's 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition, with a wealth of previously unreleased material and remasters from Doors engineer Bruce Botnick, presents a strong work, as representative of the legend as anything the band recorded.

Morrison's deterioration would of course continue, leading to his supernova flameout on the brilliant Morrison Hotel, his untimely death, and the massive success of L.A. Woman. But even though he had ceded to Krieger and keyboardist Ray Manzarek much of the creative work on The Soft Parade, Morrison was still a vital participant at these sessions. In fact, he sounds particularly strong, backed by an inventive and superbly integrated band; there's no indication of waning vocal skills. His interaction with the horns on "Touch Me" is a high point of his recorded career, and the title track is one of his best dramatic performances in terms of range and dynamics.

This 3CD/1LP set includes the original studio album, remastered by Botnick for this release, on CD and 180gm vinyl. The remaster is bright and loud, which suits the Doors and enhances the sonic depth of the individual performances. And if you're among those who believe the band sold out by adding strings and horns, the supplementary tracks include versions of five songs—"Tell All the People," "Touch Me," "Wishful Sinful," "Runnin' Blue," and "Who Scared You"—in which those elements are removed. On three of those tracks—"Touch Me," "Wishful Sinful," and "Runnin' Blue"—strings and horns are replaced by Krieger's guitar parts. At the end of the revised "Touch Me," for example, Curtis Amy's saxophone break is switched out for a Krieger guitar solo—a fair choice, but it would be hard to argue that the resulting version is better than the one included on the original album.

Elsewhere, the extra material offers a revealing look into the band's strategy in developing songs. The fascinating, hour-long "Rock Is Dead" medley is included here. This was obviously a fertile time for the group, perhaps because Morrison was less involved. Manzarek sings lead on several tracks, some of which became classic Doors performances. (These tracks also include overdubbed bass by Stone Temple Pilots bassist Robert DeLeo, who played with the surviving members at a tribute in 2016 commemorating Manzarek's passing.)

The best of these is "Roadhouse Blues," which would become the lead track on Morrison Hotel. Attributed here to "Screamin' Ray Daniels," Manzarek's vocal is eerily close to Morrison's as he traces the outline of the song, but it's a scratch track, and the difference between this version and the leonine final take is dramatic. Morrison shapes the lines and adds a crucial interjection of "Baby" that rolls the chorus perfectly. It reminds me of the way Frank Sinatra would go over a song until he had every note and nuance scanned to perfection before he would sing it.—John Swenson

COMMENTS
Metalhead's picture

Thanks for the excellent review.

Still a big Doors fan.

I was going to pass but having the extra tracks minus the horns is going to have me pulling the card for this one.

The record store day triple Doors live from a couple/few years back is a must listen.

Cheers

dial's picture

I love the doors like any music fan. And the 50th anniversary of those recordings* could have been a chance to issue every alternate version available. It's a missed opportunity. To say the least. For example, the 1st two discs could fit on one, like for Strange days, why this waste of plastic is beyond me.
Perhaps the passing of Ray has something to do with it ?!

* = (I also speak for the other deluxe releases like the first without anything new studio track, except the mono mix bringing, you guess, absolutely nothing, and just a live portion of one of the 4 Matrix shows recorded. 'Strange days' "offering" just the mono & stereo takes [!]...)

BillK's picture

The hauntigly beautiful strings and the horns on "Touch Me" make it the only Doors song I actually like.

This actually isn't much different from Phil Spector's chorus and harps on "The Long and Winding Road" making it and "Let it Be" the only two Beatles songs I can stand listening to.

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