The Doors’ ‘Soft Parade’ @50: Still Rockin’

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Asked to name a favorite Doors album, many fans would pick the group’s eponymous 1967 debut, 1970’s Morrison Hotel or 1971’s L.A. Woman. Some might vote for 1967’s Strange Days or 1968’s Waiting for the Sun. Few would likely point to 1969’s The Soft Parade, the group’s fourth album, which is often seen as a bit of a misstep because it frequently eschews the Doors’ trademark hard rock for pop-flavored numbers that feature horns and strings. That said, it rose to #6 on the charts, achieved platinum sales status and produced a #3 hit single (“Touch Me”).

Now, The Soft Parade is the latest Doors album to get the 50th anniversary boxed set treatment, giving listeners an opportunity to take another look and reassess. The new edition includes previously unreleased Doors-only mixes (no horns or strings) of most of the album’s tracks.

Listen to the “Doors only mix” of “Touch Me,” and note the difference, particularly at the 2:26 mark

The first of the three CDs in this numbered, limited edition features the original album plus a single’s B-side (“Who Scared You”), both of which have been newly remastered by Bruce Botnick, the engineer for the original release. (This material also appears on an included vinyl LP.) The second CD presents the previously unreleased Doors-only mixes and some with new guitar overdubs by the group’s Robby Krieger. Also here and previously unreleased: versions of Morrison Hotel’s “Roadhouse Blues” and two other blues songs with vocals by Ray Manzarek, the late Doors organist.

Listen to “Roadhouse Blues” with Manzarek on vocals

An often-bootlegged 64-minute studio jam known as “Rock Is Dead,” which has not previously been officially released in full, dominates the final disc.

The excellent remastering doesn’t change the fact that the original album is a relatively lesser effort, but it does serve as a reminder that The Soft Parade had its high points. There’s filler here, including “Do It,” much of the 10-minute title cut, and the out-of-character bluegrass-inflected “Runnin’ Blue,” all of which sound like tracks that should have been labeled outtakes.

Related: Our review of 2018’s Waiting for the Sun deluxe release

But “Shaman’s Blues” and “Wild Child” are strong, and while “Touch Me” is no “Break On Through,” it packs a punch and contains an excellent sax solo by session musician Curtis Amy. It is also notable as what must be the only rock song to end—strangely enough—with a quote from an Ajax TV commercial (“Stronger than dirt!”), though the Grateful Dead did reference the ad in a song title and riff.

Moreover, the Doors-only mixes—which differ significantly from the previously released versions—are interesting. In some cases, such as the melancholy “Wishful Sinful,” they suffer from the lack of embellishments; in others, such as “Touch Me” and “Runnin’ Blue,” they make the material sound better and much less like a departure from earlier work.

As for the third disc’s “Rock Is Dead,” which was recorded only weeks after the Soft Parade sessions, it’s meandering and uneven but frequently rewarding and sprinkled with fascinating experiments. Here’s your chance, for example, to hear Jim Morrison deliver an impassioned version of Junior Parker’s “Mystery Train” (also recorded by Elvis Presley) and turn Presley’s “Love Me Tender” into something you might hear at a funeral eulogy. If nothing else, the jam belies its title and suggests that The Soft Parade’s pop leanings notwithstanding, the Doors were still very much a rock and roll band at the time of its release.

Listen to the 2019 remaster of the title track

Related: Our Album Rewind review of Strange Days

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Jeff Burger

Jeff Burger's website, byjeffburger.com, contains more than four decades' worth of music reviews and commentary. His books include the recently published Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and Encounters as well as Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.
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  1. Da Mick
    #1 Da Mick 4 December, 2019, 09:40

    I guess because Mr. Burger is writing an article about this Doors reissue, he feels compelled to state his opinions about the compositions on this release as if what he says is the way it is. “The Soft Parade” was a somewhat controversial release for the Doors, back in the day. But the reality is that the Doors music was all controversial, with each of their records having its own distinct personality. I seriously doubt they had any desire or intent to create new music that “wouldn’t sound like a departure from their earlier work.” That said, if you’re a fan of The Doors, I don’t really understand how you can deign any of their records, or any specific recording as good or bad, or a “lesser effort.” The Doors were an experimental band — their music stands on its own merit. Speaking for myself, I was in high school when “The Soft Parade” initially came out, and as a fan who loves each of their recordings for their distinct personalities, I thought “The Soft Parade” was an exciting breakthrough, and I still do.

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