L.A Woman was The Doors’ sixth album and the last to feature vocals by their esteemed leader and The Lizard King, Jim Morrison, while he was still alive. Leading up to the record, The Doors had gone through a tremendous amount of personal turmoil. For that reason, the album was a very spiritual one, similarly to their other releases, but there was something else that L.A Woman had that those records did not.
This album features a stripped-back Doors sound as they openly embraced and acknowledged their blues influences. There was always a sense of the blues in the material of The Doors, but L.A Woman was all blues and, unashamedly so. There was little to no orchestration on the record as the band were fed up with the gruelling long hours in the recording studio, which had certainly been the case with albums like The Soft Parade.
One of the most defining features of this record is Jim Morrison’s vocals. For better or for worse, he sounds rugged, worn out but yet fully aged like a fine-wino. Even visually, this was apparent; he had grown a full beard and gained weight, and those around him were beginning to worry due to his increased drug use that he may soon go off the rails completely. As guitarist Robby Krieger said, “It’s hard living with Jim.”
Aside from the iconography of being the group’s final ‘proper’ LP, the album features some of their best songs: ‘Love Her Madly’, ‘Riders On The Storm’, ‘L.A. Woman’ and ‘Crawling King Snake’ are the real stand-outs among an album thick with quality.
The magic behind the record is that a large majority of it was recorded live, which was unusual for The Doors. Robby Krieger provided his thoughts on the title track: “I think that could be the quintessential Doors song, and the way we came up with it was amazing. We just started playing, and it came together as if by magic.” Krieger then turns his mind to Morrison.
“Jim made a lot of it up as he went along, which is amazing because I think it’s one of his most poetic songs. I can remember Jim sitting in the bathroom with the mic singing and all of us just having a great time.”
Another different aspect to this Doors album is that they had brought in additional musicians because of the live aspect of recording. Elvis Presley’s bassist, Jerry Scheff and rhythm guitar player Marc Benno joined the group to add a more robust spine to the performances.
Though there were some additions to the band, there were also some departures. Their longtime producer, Paul Rothschild had left due to rising tensions. He thought that the band’s material for this record was slightly mediocre. At one point, he called it ‘cocktail music’. Of course, this didn’t sit too well with Morrison. Years later, Rothschild said that he made that comment “to make the group angry enough so they would do something good.” The death of Joplin, who he had just worked with at the time, affected Rothschild tremendously. Instead, Bruce Botnick would take over as the main producer who had worked as an assistant engineer on their other records.
Another massive issue that played a significant role in creating more tension was that, by this point, The Doors had essentially been blacklisted from playing various venues across the globe. This was due to Morrison’s indecent exposure at a concert in Miami, Florida, as well as his generally poor behaviour backstage.
“I think subconsciously I was trying to get across in that concert, I was trying to reduce it to absurdity. And it worked too well,” Morrison commented on the infamous event in Miami. Because of this incident, their bookings diminished and fewer radio stations would play their music, garnering the band a cult following more than a commercial surge.
Despite all of the issues facing the band, L.A Woman is one of the greatest Doors albums and it drips in the potent essence of the city after which the record was named. One of the most profound statements the record makes is introduced to the listener in ‘The Changeling’. In the words of one of Morrison’s lovers, journalist Patricia Kennealy-Morrison: “A lot of people had written Jim off by the summer of ‘68,” according to Ultimate Classic Rock.
Also saying, “people weren’t really willing to let him grow; they wanted him to be this icon forever. When I heard ‘The Changeling,’ I thought, ‘That’s it. He’s out of here.’ It’s a very autobiographical song, and he was telling us that he was already gone.”
It’s one of many incredible tracks on the album which, 50 years later, still feels as vital today, if not for the music then for the snapshot of a pop culture icon, weeks before he would succumb to the pressures of being such an idol.