Revisiting the Doors’ Only No. 1 Album, ‘Waiting for the Sun’
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Following up a classic debut album as well as a stunning sophomore effort is no easy task. Just ask the Doors. Their self-titled first album from 1967 was still riding high when the follow-up LP, Strange Days, hit shelves at the end of the year. As 1968 approached, the band marched forward to work on their third album.
Recording started that winter, and things came together quickly for the band. The first song released from the sessions, “Hello, I Love You,” hit the chart the first week of July and went straight to No.1. The album, Waiting for the Sun, was released on July 11, 1968, and would scale to the top of the album chart a month later and sit there for four straight weeks.
“Hello, I Love You,” which was written in 1965 around the same time as “People Are Strange” and “Moonlight Drive.” Some people have noted the song’s similarity to the Kinks‘ “All Day and All of the Night,” and in 1981 keyboardist Ray Manzarek admitted to Musician magazine that it was “a lot like a Kinks song”: “It’s all rock ‘n’ roll, we’re all family, we’re not stealing anything from them, we’re sort of […] Yes, it is a lot like it, isn’t it? Sorry, Ray.” The Kinks didn’t sue the Doors, but an agreement was later reached so that a portion of the single’s sales in the U.K. would go to Ray Davies.
“Love Street“‘s lazy shuffle captures the air of summertime, “Not to Touch the Earth” takes things into a more ominous and eerie place, somewhat recalling the songs on Strange Days, and “The Unknown Soldier” is filled with unfiltered Jim Morrison drama. In spite of its epic appearance, the song is more like a miniseries than a big-screen production, with drama and tension ringing loudly over the singer’s shouts of “the war is over.” “Wait until the war is over and we’re both a little older / Breakfast where the news is read, television children fed / Unborn living, living dead, bullet strikes the helmet’s head,” Morrison sings.
“Spanish Caravan” is an elegant tour de force for guitarist Robbie Krieger as he crawls out of a flamenco-style riff, blending acoustic and electric instruments. Meanwhile, “My Wild Love“‘s tribal mood, pounding minimalist rhythm and gospel-like vibe make for one of the album’s most distinct tracks. In contrast to “Spanish Caravan,” the song features no instruments and is guided solely by vocals, hand claps and foot stomps, starting with an a cappella passage by Morrison that slowly builds to full-on cathartic chanting.
The album’s closing cut, “Five to One,” has become somewhat of an epitaph for Morrison since his death. “Five to one, one to five, no one here gets out alive,” he sings. The primitive drum pounds, neanderthal guitar riffing and Morrison’s pre-punk vocals could very well be the blueprint for the first Stooges album. “Your ballroom days are over baby,” Morrison sings, overflowing with attitude and authority as the rest of the group pushes the song to the edge.
Originally, Waiting for the Sun was to include the epic “The Celebration of the Lizard,” which would have taken up all of side two. The prospect of expanding the free-form themes of “The End” and “When the Music’s Over” undoubtedly appealed to the band, but the Doors couldn’t quite connect the music with the lyrics (which are included inside the original album). The track would later end up on Absolutely Live.
At times, tensions among band members ran high, and drummer John Densmore even walked out during a session. “I was just frustrated” he admitted in the liner notes to the Doors’ 1987 box set. “Maybe I was trying to say to Jim, ‘Don’t be so self destructive.'” Even if Waiting for the Sun never reaches the stupendous heights of The Doors and Strange Days, it remains one of the Doors’ most enjoyable albums and their only No. 1. At 30 minutes long, it packs quite a punch, leaving little breathing room. We couldn’t ask for more.
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