Velvet Underground – Velvet Underground v The Doors – The Doors
Thursday evening saw the return of the head to head format to Record Player. Steve picks two albums that have a connection of sorts and at the end of the session the audience gets to choose which one they would take on a desert island with them. This time out we had two début albums released in 1967. One from East coast, art house, luvvies the Velvet Underground the other from West coast bad boys The Doors.
The Velvets kicked off the evening and it was the first time I’d heard the LP in its entirety for about 30 years. It wasn’t long before I realised why that was the case. The subject matter isn’t the problem. Hell, I’ve been listening to songs about drugs, sex and violence for pretty much my whole life. It’s just that they are rarely as turgidly boring as the Velvets make it all sound. I didn’t, at any point, find my toes tapping or think “I quite liked that bit”. In truth I was even beginning to think that I’d rather be listening to U2. Yes, I felt it was that bad.
The low point came with side 2 opener Heroin for which they had apparently hired a bunch of chimps to fanny around with some instruments for 7 minutes whilst Lou Reed prattled on over the top of the din. It may have gotten worse after that but I think my brain, kicking into survival mode, shut down the synapses to my ears.
So not an auspicious start to the evening although, worryingly, some of the crowd actually seemed to enjoy it. Here’s hoping The Doors could salvage something from the train-wreck.
In short, yes they could. From the first few bars of Break on Through (To the Other Side) you knew you were experiencing something different as they go all bossa nova on us. This is a band who were having fun and they wanted you to be a part of it. Star of the album in my eyes is Ray Manzarek, and his Vox Continental, who produces the sound that defines this album.
Side 1 is particularly strong with the highlights being Alabama Song (Whisky Bar), a cover from Weill and Brecht’s 1930 opera Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, and closer Light my Fire, their first hit. Side 2 doesn’t quite match the standard of the first, but only just. The cover of Willy Dixon’s Back Door Man is perhaps the LP’s low point but, trust me, it’s not that low. Again, side closers Take It as It Comes and The End are the highlights. At 11 minutes plus The End was recorded twice with no overdubs and the band chose the second take to add to the LP. Top stuff.
As Jim says, the West is the best.
Even given the insipid pap peddled by the Velvet Underground the evening was once again a triumph. The Doors won the popular vote but it was closer than I thought. I guess that’s what I love about music, there is always something out there for everyone.
Recommended Drink: How about something from the bar at the Whisky Festival in Chicago, Ray Manzarek’s home town.