The Doors’ ‘L.A. Woman’ 50th Anniversary Edition: Review

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Like all its predecessors, April 1971’s L.A. Woman—the sixth and final studio album by the original Doors—achieved Top 10 sales chart status and has now become the subject of a 50th anniversary deluxe edition. The numbered, limited release includes three CDs, a vinyl LP and a booklet with notes by Rolling Stone’s David Fricke and Bruce Botnick, the group’s longtime engineer, who co-produced the original album with the group.

The band, which took a side trip into orchestrated, pop-flavored material on 1969’s The Soft Parade, returned to blues-based rock on 1970’s Morrison Hotel and continued in that direction on L.A. Woman. The group’s longest record at nearly 50 minutes, it contains some of their best performances, not the least of which are its two hit singles, the propulsive “Love Her Madly” and the foreboding “Riders on the Storm.”

The album, which the quartet recorded in just six days, is also notable for incorporating a few firsts. It was the first Doors album not produced by Paul A. Rothchild, who quit the sessions after dismissing “Riders of the Storm” as “cocktail music” and saying, “I can’t do this anymore,” leaving the band and Botnick to fill his role. Moreover, the record features a second guitarist, Marc Benno, who had been collaborating with Leon Russell in the Asylum Choir and who played rhythm parts on four tracks so that Robby Krieger could deliver his solos live rather than overdubbing them later. The album also incorporates contributions from Jerry Scheff, Elvis Presley’s bass player.

Related: Read our Album Rewind of the Doors’ Strange Days LP

Though the record has been reissued before on several occasions, the well-packaged 50th anniversary edition is the most comprehensive version to date. The first of its three CDs houses Botnick’s new stereo remaster of the original album (which the vinyl LP also contains) plus two bonus tracks: a demo of the record’s “Hyacinth House” and the recently discovered original demo of “Riders on the Storm.” Discs two and three, which have a combined playing time of more than two and a half hours, consist entirely of previously unreleased material from the L.A. Woman studio sessions. That mostly means rehearsals and alternate takes of the album’s material, but you’ll also find a few blues covers, including B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby,” Allen Toussaint’s “Get Out of My Life Woman” (the 1966 Lee Dorsey song) and snippets from Big Joe Williams’ “Baby Please Don’t Go” and Junior Parker’s “Mystery Train.”

Serious fans may notice a few regrettable omissions. A previously released surround-sound mix of the album and a session song called “Orange County Suite” are missing. (The former appears on a DVD included with a limited-edition 2006 collection called Perception; you can find the latter on 1997’s Box Set and 1999’s Essential Rarities.) Also not included is a new Dolby Atmos mix of the LP by Botnick, which for some reason is available only for streaming.

There’s still plenty to savor here, however, starting with extended variations of songs that wound up on the finished album, including about 21 minutes of “Love Her Madly,” 18 minutes of “Riders on the Storm,” 23 minutes of “Been Down So Long,” 27 minutes of “The Changeling” and three tracks, totaling 33 minutes, devoted to the title number. While there are occasional tedious moments on these recordings, most of this material (and especially the “L.A. Woman” and “Been Down So Long” renditions) is downright thrilling. This session work, which is loaded with improvisation, is frequently wilder and more energized than the familiar recordings and permeated with reminders of just how talented all four Doors really were.

Listen to the extended version of “The Changeling”

Sadly, L.A. Woman proved to be their last LP. In July 1971, less than three months after its release, Jim Morrison’s girlfriend discovered him lying dead in a bathtub in Paris. The remaining Doors did go on to make a few more albums, but don’t hold your breath waiting for big anniversary editions of those. They had their strengths thanks to three strong players, but it took the full quartet to make Doors magic.

So, to quote a line from their debut LP, “This is the end.” But what an end L.A. Woman is.

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