Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Vale Ray Manzarek, of the Doors

Ray Manzarek, keyboardist for the Doors, has passed away from Bile Duct cancer, aged 74.

A colleague of mine remarked this morning that he felt Ray was the "brains" of the band, and I cannot disagree with that. Too often the doors are considered by many to be the band with the wild, mysterious, charismatic frontman...and the other three dudes. However, it was Manzarek that encouraged Jim Morrison to try singing and to hear his songs. It was Ray who encouraged the band to go out and get gigs and to write their own music. And it was also Ray that carried on the band long after it probably should have...

Ray really was the soul of the Doors. He was certainly the most musically accomplished. The fact that he played two keyboards at once (a Fender Rhoads for the bass and a Vox Continental for the lead parts) speaks volumes. The band never had a bass player, so Ray filled in the bottom end. On their last two records however, they used a session musician to play bass guitar.

History has shown the band to be influential in developing the psychedelic sound more than any other band. By incorporating long, winding keyboard and guitar solos, swelling dynamics and deep, inscrutable poetry, their music defined an era and it opened up the possibilities as to what was possible on record.

Too often, The Doors mystique overshadows their contribution to music, thus defining their legacy beyond all else. Sadly, a lot of fans regard Jim Morrison as some sort of mystical pseudo-deity, celebrated for his good looks, wild behaviour, legendary drug diet, sweet tenor voice, incomprehendable poetry and ass-hugging leather pants. This is at the expense of the other three members. The fact is, without Ray Manzarek there probably wouldn't be a band at all. That we have such great music from the band is something we should be profusely thankful for.

Suggested listening:

The Doors have something of a chequered discography. They made a great start with their self titled LP, which is one of the rare records where critics universally regard as one of the greatest records ever made. The Follow-up album "Strange Days" was recorded with the leftover songs that didn't make the first album, and as such it can only be a pale imitation. The next two records "Waiting for the Sun" and "The Soft Parade" were somewhat mediocre - while not terrible, they're just not as strong as the first two. "Morrison Hotel" and "LA Woman" were much better, drawing heavily on their original blues influence while being a little less philosophical. Jim Morrison died within weeks of "LA Woman"'s release in 1971. Ray, Robbie and John kept the band alive for 2 dismal records "Other Voices" and "Full Circle" before limping towards the inevitable dissolution. 8 albums in total and one live LP ("Absolutely Live" in 1970) during their time together. But there have been many, many compilations drawn from those albums.

For those looking for a place to start, the best compilation is the 2007 Rhino release of "The Very Best of the Doors", which has remastered the original tapes in high definition sound for the first time ever. For the hardcore fans, you can hear bits and pieces in the mixes that you may have missed previously, or that weren't there before. Things like "Break On Through" is featured here with the middle-8 uncensored, a longer fade-out on "Hello I Love You" and Jim's previously subliminal expletives in the crescendo of "The End" are lightly louder in the mix. There's a few little bits of studio banter at the top and tail of some tracks, add to that "Light My Fire" is presented in its pitch corrected version (the original release and subsequent releases were pressed from masters played at the incorrect speed) but in general, the sound quality of this release is by far the best of any compilation in the band's catalog.

"The Very Best of the Doors" is featured below. Get your fix of Ray Manzarek's transcendent keyboard playing...and the Lizard King's poetry while you're there.

Vale Ray. Thanks for the tunes.

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