Released nine months after their debut, The Doors’ Strange Days finds the band expanding their sound while retaining their strengths. According to original engineer Bruce Botnick in the liner notes, he and the band listened to a monaural acetate reference disc of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s before it was released and were awestruck by it. That album opened up the possibilities of what a studio can do, and inspired them.
The music and ideas of The Doors run counter to the peace and love that was flowing out of the ‘60s counterculture. The band, Morrison’s lyrics especially embraced the darkness, the fear, the pain of life, knowing you can’t have one without the other. The yin and the yang are the price of admission.
The album begins with the title track, a moody psychedelic number with Jim’s voice’s augmented by passing through a synthesizer. “[Strange days] are going to destroy our casual joys” is realization of the price to be paid for riding so high, for himself and the world. The music is a nightmarish swirling kaleidoscopic with Manzarek’s keyboards leading the procession.
The evocative moodiness of some Doors’ songs would surely be an influence on the Goth scene, which began a decade later. The lyrics from “You’re Lost Little Girl,” “Unhappy Girl,” and “I Can’t See Your Face In My Mind” could just as easily have come out of the mouths of Bauhaus’ Peter Murphy or The Cure’s Robert Smith. The latter contributed a Doors song for a tribute to Elektra Records, but chose to cover “Hello, I Love You.”
The two hits from Strange Days are still played frequently on classic rock stations: “Love Me Two Times” and “People Are Strange”. Krieger wrote the former; his pop sensibilities creating another hit. It begins with a very familiar guitar riff. Manzarek’s keyboards sound like a harpsichord. Morrison vocals and Densmore’s hard drum strokes capture the narrator’s passion.
The sound collage “Horse Latitudes” is a poem of Morrison’s inspired by a drawing of the Spanish throwing horses overboard as they approached the New World. It is augmented by sound effects and is most likely what he would rather have been creating instead of rock music. It is a precursor to the brilliant An American Prayer.
It segues into “Moonlight Drive, ” one of the first songs Morrison wrote. Krieger plays a great bottleneck, very dreamy sound, a perfect match to the sexy lyrics about enjoying the evening and swimming to the moon. The song grows quietly to a close and Morrison softly sings, “Baby gonna drown tonight,” but is it a metaphor of the lovers drowning into each other, or is the narrator planning something sinister?
The other hit from the album and what began side two is “People Are Strange,” a song about paranoia and vulnerability, especially when on drugs as Morrison was well aware. “My Eyes Have Seen You” is an interesting song to follow because it starts with a Peeping Tom watching a woman.
Similar to their debut the album closes out with an aptly titled epic, “When The Music’s Over.” They had been playing it since their earliest gigs, making it possible for the rest of the guys to record without Morrison when he didn’t show up. It’s a strong piece with the music providing a great accompaniment to the journey of Morrison’s lyrics. A great way to end the album and the night.
Strange Days is a great showcase of the many facets of what The Doors are. Don’t just take my word for it. In Chick Crisafuli’s Moonlight Drive, he quotes Patricia Kennealy Morrison quoting Jim. “He always thought [Strange Days] was their best album. It was his favorite of all of them.”
Rhino is remastering all the doors studio albums and including bonus tracks. Strange Days only has two, the least amount of any, and they aren’t much to speak of. “People Are Strange (False Starts & Studio Dialogue)” is two minutes of talking and the guys warming up. On “Love Me Two Times (Take3)” the music is slightly different, but a different take on one song doesn’t equate to emptying of the vaults. These tracks aren’t worth listening to.