This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #112: L.A. Woman by The Doors.
The late 1960s was quite the time to be living in the Los Angeles area. There was that whole, Laurel Canyon community, of Brian Wilson, Joni Mitchell, Michelle Phillips, David Crosby, etc., all helping to create that California “surf sound” and then, the “folk rock” scene that grew from that. In 1969, specifically, the Summer of Love was winding down. The Vietnam War was on-going, as were the anti-war protests against it. The Hippies and their “hug-it-out” sensibilities were giving way to a more drug-fuelled paranoia, led by a charismatic man named Charles Manson, who holed up at a ranch, just outside of L.A., called The Spahn Ranch. From there, he and his followers went on a killing spree in the heart of the Hollywood Hills. The Tate-Labianca Murders seemed to signal the official end of an era of blissed out living for those who called Los Angeles, and surrounding area, home. Among those affected by the change in mood were the members of The Doors. The Doors were an L.A. band. They recorded their albums there. Many of their songs had roots there. The band members all lived there. So, in 1970, The Doors started work on an album that was to be transitory for them in more ways than one. That album was called, “L.A. Woman”. It was to a farewell to the city that they loved. Little did they realize that it would, also, be a farewell to the band, itself. Here is the story of the song, “L.A. Woman”.
The album, “L.A. Woman” turned out to be the final album The Doors completed as a full band. It was, also, the final album they completed while living in Los Angeles. Just after completing their previous album, “Morrison Hotel”, their producer quit working with them, citing a growing instability within the band that was affecting, in his words, the quality of their songs. That “instability” was focussed mainly on singer, Jim Morrison, and his growing addictions to alcohol and drugs. During this time, it became common for Morrison to disappear for days, drinking himself into oblivion within the rooms of the seediest hotels and dive bars in the city. The famous/infamous Morrison Hotel was actually known more for its Health Code violations than it was as a trendy place made famous by a rock n’ roll band. In fact, Morrison was beginning to transition from Rock star into drunken poet; emulating heroes such as Charles Bukowski. Morrison often carried a leather-bound, telephone book-sized notebook in which he would record snippets of ideas and observations. He began feeling the need to live what he was observing and, as such, he drank in the same hotel room that singer Sam Cooke was murdered in at the rundown Hacienda Hotel, just to soak in the aura of his spirit. So, when the remaining members of the band gathered to start work on the “L.A. Woman” album, they did so without a producer and, quite often, they did so not knowing if Morrison would show up and, if he did, what kind of shape he would be in. Luckily for the band…..if such a statement can be said to be lucky…..Morrison was a afternoon/evening drinker and had often slept his intoxication off by morning. So, much of the album was recorded early in the day.
The band may not have discussed leaving Los Angeles but, they could all feel that change was a-foot. Thus, a song like “L.A. Woman” came to be written. This song is an ode to the city they have lived in and loved. The “Woman” in question in the song title, is the city, itself. As we all know, sometimes, when you feel most up aganist it, you end up doing some of your best work. In this case, the members of The Doors all agreed that the song “L.A. Woman” was the quintessential Doors song. It is a rollicking, roiling, bluesy, bawdy ride down the highways of L.A., visiting the places the band felt most alive. Ray Manzarek has stated that the recording sessions for this song were the most fun the band ever had and they all loved this song.
However, one of the things that separate great bands from those that are merely good, is their attention to details. Despite his battles with drugs and alcohol, Jim Morrison was a smart, well-read young man who possessed deep thoughts on a number of topics. When it came to the song, “L.A. Woman”, the band played around with the use of minor and major chords. Minor and major chords help set a mood for a song, among other things and, usually, major chords are more uptempo and minor chords tend to lend a more dreamy air to a song. Well, the song “L.A. Woman” is, in reality, a sad song because the band is saying goodbye to the city they love but, they arranged the song using major chords so that the song has a lot of happy energy as it unfolds. Furthermore, “L.A. Woman” is noted for a change around the halfway mark, when Morrison starts to slowly repeat the phrase, “Mr. Mojo Risin'”. That phrase is actually an anagram for Jim Morrison’s name. The way that this section of the song starts slow and then repeats and repeats; building in speed and intensity as it goes, was meant to simulate sex. In essence, The Doors wanted to make love to their city one last time before leaving. “L.A. Woman” was that tryst.
Three months after the album was completed, Jim Morrison was found dead in a hotel bathtub in Paris, France. The official cause of death was listed as heart failure but, many suspect he actually died from a heroin overdose. The remaining members of The Doors released two further albums without Jim Morrison, using songs that they had recorded but not used previously but, those albums were both poorly received. And just like the way The Summer of Love had died with the Manson killings and everything changed in Los Angeles, Jim Morrison’s death seemingly ended The Doors, too. “L.A. Woman”….a song about a city that had been so much more than a home to the band….was their final big hit. It is fitting that a band as talented and intelligent and poetic as The Doors would end their tenure by driving down the highway by the Hollywood bungalows, seeing which way the wind blows. For some of us, home is defintely where the heart is. For The Doors, that home was L.A. and, in their eyes, she was the most beautiful woman imaginable!
Without further delay, here are The Doors, with their ode to the city they loved, “L.A. Woman”, from the album of the same name. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “L.A. Woman: by The Doors, can be found here.
The link to the official website for The Doors, can be found here.
Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for being home to so many great artists and bands. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.