Disappointing Albums, Music

51 Disappointing Albums: ‘The Soft Parade’ (The Doors)

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Each week TONY THOMPSON discusses a ‘disappointing album’: why it’s disappointing, what that means in the context of the band or musician’s career, and what that says about changing critical tastes.

One thing must be made clear,” he says, this is not a series about terrible albums. They might be disappointing, but they are records that you need to hear.

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Ah, that difficult fourth album. The Soft Parade is sort of their third album and to be frank, it’s only disappointing because the others are all so good. It’s also sort of their third album because they cheated a bit with the second one and released a whole bunch of great songs that hadn’t made it on to the eponymous first LP.

The actual third album, Waiting For The Sun, should have been more of a problem for them but for some reason The Doors were able to maintain the momentum on that record.

Someone, David Crosby maybe, once said that your first album is ten years in the making and the second one has to be done in ten minutes, in between the sound check and the show that night in Cleveland. It’s not always the case but for bands that strike it big early in their career, it can be a big problem.

In came the string arrangements and a level of perfectionism that killed most of the energy that made this band so great.

The Soft Parade appeared about two years after the first album which had, of course, yielded the monster single Light My Fire. In those two years the band had gone from being the edgy underground kings of LA to write ups in Tiger Beat and a serious drop in credibility. Jim Morrison would be dead two years later and was, by all accounts, in a terrible place emotionally by the time they came to record this album. He wanted to leave the band and be a poet but was talked into one more record by his old pal and keyboardist, Ray Manzarek.

Elektra Records producer Paul Rothschild is something of the villain of this piece. Instead of letting The Doors simply be what they were, a brilliantly pretentious garage band and one of the great live acts, he decided that they were going to be The Beatles too and he was going to be George Martin.

The lyrics are interesting but Jim phones them in, rushing so that they all fit.

In came the string arrangements and a level of perfectionism that killed most of the energy that made this band so great. Morrison was never much of a singer. He was an actor and thrived on spontaneity and improvisation. By the 18th take he – like anyone would – starts to sound a bit bored. My theory is that when he got bored, he would drop into his Sinatra routine and lose the thread of whatever story he was telling in the song. If The Soft Parade is disappointing it is because Jim sounds bored.

Why is it disappointing?

Some of the songs seem like missed opportunities. Shaman’s Blues is ruined by an absurdly jaunty tempo and a dull arrangement. The lyrics are interesting but Jim phones them in, rushing so that they all fit. Do It is a cool song but it sounds unfinished and overly fussy in the arrangement.

This won’t make me any friends but the title song is a mess. The loopy prayer opening is great but the oddball organ lines drown out the lyrics. The tempo changes regularly for no reason other than to sound arty or something. This might have worked on something like Peace Frog but The Soft Parade is a failure.

Why should you hear it?

The album is saved somewhat by the lovely Wishful Sinful and the enigmatic Runnin Blue. Paul Rothschild’s vision of grand arrangements actually works on Wishful. He’s still playing George Martin but the lyrics are given some space to resonate here. It’s one of their more underrated songs and it is buried on side two of this record. It is as close as the album gets to meeting the Pepper vision.

Runnin Blue was on the Weird Scenes comp that my mum ill advisedly gave me for my 14th birthday. I love Robbie’s funky little fills and the hard bop horns. Does Jim know that the Dock on the Bay in question was in Sausalito? Does it matter? The hokum hillbilly sections drive some fans nuts but I like the fiddle part at the end. It’s supposed to sound backwoods but sounds gypsy to my ears. The Doors are dull when they are trying to be The Grateful Dead on Easy Ride and utterly compelling on strange little operettas like Running Blue.

Whatever it’s faults; it is still part of a remarkable run of albums from this band. Touch Me is considered one of their ‘greatest hits’ and I can distinctly recall camping in France once next to a group of surfers who would launch into drunken versions of Tell All the People regularly. Check any online Doors forum and you will find many people who adore this record and will probably go nuts when they see it listed here.

For the rest of this series, click here.

3 responses to “51 Disappointing Albums: ‘The Soft Parade’ (The Doors)

    1. That’s for sure! Years and years ago, I read an interview with Ray Manzarek where he said that he thought those post-Jim albums would one day be better known and better understood. They were re-released a few years ago but I don’t think any major critical re evaluation has taken place yet. Thanks for reading the column!

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