Recording of February 2022: The Doors: L.A. Woman (50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)

The Doors: L.A. Woman (50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)

Elektra/Rhino R2 659055 (3CD/1LP). 2021. Bruce Botnick/Doors, prods.; Botnick, eng.

Performance *****

Sonics ****½

The Doors flew like a comet across the rock/pop universe, running only four and a half years and six studio albums with lead singer/poet/shaman Jim Morrison. L.A. Woman, their last album, marked a hard turn back to the rock and blues basics from whence they sprang in 1966 as a hot bar band on Sunset Strip. It is a masterpiece, a hit out of the gate that has grown in stature over time. Morrison took a sabbatical shortly before its release, decamped to Paris, and died there as this record climbed the charts.

Like most turns on the Doors’ career path, the album started out with drama. The band and producer Paul Rothchild arrived at Sunset Sound, where they had recorded their first two albums with engineer Bruce Botnick. Tensions between band and producer had been brewing for years, and after one full take of “Riders on the Storm,” the pot boiled over. Rothchild condemned the song as “cocktail jazz” and walked out. That early version of what became a rock classic is the last track on CD1 of this 50th Anniversary Deluxe reissue. It’s indeed flaccid compared to the album version.

The band asked Botnick to stay on and help produce the album, sharing that duty with the band. They hand-carried a 3M M23 8-track tape recorder, a Langevin 14-input solid state console, JBL 4310 monitor speakers, monitor amps, and a pile of microphones to the Doors Workshop, located around the corner from the Elektra Records studio. The band recorded in their 15′ × 30′ rehearsal space, using a closet and bathroom as isolation booths when needed. Their manager’s upstairs office was the control room.

Session photos published in the booklet show Morrison standing between Ray Manzarek’s large array of keyboard instruments and guitarist Robby Krieger. Rhythm guitarist Marc Benno (brought in on Botnick’s recommendation) sat in the back corner, bassist Jerry Scheff (on break from Elvis Presley’s touring band) set up along the back wall, and drummer John Densmore sat opposite Morrison, surrounded by sound baffles. Morrison’s vocal and harmonica mike was connected both to the recording console and to a Fender guitar amp that served as his PA system in the room. No one wore headphones. This simple setup in a small space led to a powerful and fully connected sound, the band looking at and hearing each other, locked in and rocking.

Rooted in blues structures and simple arrangements, the album was recorded over six days, mostly live to tape, beginning November 30, 1970. It was mixed at Poppi Studios in L.A. in early February 1971 and released April 19. Morrison died July 3.

The big hits from the album were “Love Her Madly,” “Riders on the Storm,” and, eventually, the title track. But don’t overlook gems like “Cars Hiss By My Window” and “The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat).” In total, it is a well-sequenced, powerful album with something to recommend every cut.

For this reissue, the original album was remastered using the Plangent process, which time-aligns the audio to the high-frequency bias signal on the tape, eliminating wow and flutter. Botnick has used Plangent for Doors anniversary releases since Waiting for the Sun‘s deluxe reissue in 2018. Also worth noting: The CDs are MQA-encoded.

Two extra CDs contain session outtakes and chatter—interesting because you can hear the evolution of familiar sounds. Before a take of “Riders on the Storm,” Morrison makes a thunderstorm sound and says, “We should start it with a storm.” Botnick says from the control room, “I have a recording of that,” which turned out to be an Elektra sound-effects LP. Another time, at the start of a take of “L.A. Woman,” Manzarek doubles Scheff’s bassline on his Fender Rhodes. Morrison says, “That’s great, keep doing that,” and an iconic song takes form.

The LP was cut by Bernie Grundman from the 24/192 Plangent-processed master file. It and CD1 offer a sharply defined sound-picture, with every instrument in a specific place in the stereo mix. The sound is spread out but dense enough to hang together well—quite different from the hazy stereophony and weaker low end of the original LP release; better or worse will be a matter of personal opinion. Much to Botnick’s credit, the sound is dynamic; drums punch and pop as they should. Morrison’s vocals sit just right in the mix, as do Manzarek’s varied, interesting-sounding keyboards. Krieger is on the right, Benno on the left, with plenty of space for them to stand out. Scheff’s bass strongly anchors the center.

Completing the package is a well-illustrated booklet with a contextual essay by David Fricke and recording notes and memories by Botnick. A half-century later, the Doors’ comet burns bright.—Tom Fine

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