If You Like the Doors, Then.....
Some, if not most, of that influence/allure surely stems from the charisma of Morrison and the power he held over his audience. This plays into the tendency many post-punk bands had to work laboriously to construct conceptual foundations for their bands. One preoccupation that often found nearby these foundations was fascism. Sometimes, this was a fascination/repulsion thing, sometimes it was closer to a fascination/fascination thing. Either way, the charismatic leader (or "shaman," as Doors' keyboardist, Ray Manzarek, refers to Morrison) was inescapably alluring to post-punk bands, either for its conceptual ties to fascism or for its more ego-driven appeal to the leaders of certain groups.
Musically, the thing with the Doors is that they are particularly hard to peg. What is it about the Doors that a Doors fan most connects to? It could be any number of things since the band can be romantic and even sappy one moment, possessed and malevolent the next. I've mentioned the child/dark-side schizm of Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett. The Doors had something similar, but less fantasy-based, something more worldly and sexual. They were sometimes a blues-rock band, led by a keyboard player and lacking a bassist entirely. They were sometimes a commercial pop band for teen girls. And they were sometimes flat-out psychedelic as they went on improvised trips while Morrison went off into his primal/Freudian/existential black hole. Blues-rock, jazz, psychedelia, pop, hard rock, pretty/ugly, seductive/destructive, accessible/experimental. As with many classic bands that have been able to maintain an audience for forty years, there are many different facets about the Doors, each of which radiates at a different strength to each fan. Then again, it may just come back to Morrison.
I remember very well when I was trying to put together POCKIT ROCKIT, how surprised I was that I found these guys to be one of the very hardest bands to match effectively. The best approach I could devise was to approach one or two elements in the Doors make-up, such as the vocals or the instrumentation, and try to match those, rather than match the entire essence. In fact, I still scratch my head about trying to come up with better recommendations for the Doors. So, while I'm not necessarily the biggest fan, I have a great deal of respect for the Doors for being, in retrospect, one of the more idiosyncratic and original bands of their day.
ESSENCE: Like I said, this is tough. The best I could come up with is sort of kaleidoscopic, trying to capture the tightrope walk between the mainstream, the Dionysian-decadent and the insane, the possibility of pop pleasure or a slip through the rabbit hole. Or is it all a put-on?
MEANS: Different vibes on different tracks, Manzerak's organ, jazzy jamming skills, Morrison.
SPECIAL SAUCE: Does it have to be repeated? Morrison held it all together. I'll add that the de-emphasis on the guitar perhaps enabled the space for Morrison's presence and for the more atmospheric feel of some of the band's best material ("Riders on the Storm," "The End" etc).
Who I have in POCKIT ROCKIT and why:
1) Phantom's Divine Comedy: closest to the Doors actual "sound," if a bit more melodramatic.
Although their one-off album is from around 1974, these guys come the closest to actually nailing the Doors sound, the jazzy, trippy pop/rock with a hint of malevolence on the horizon, almost to the point of vaudeville. Getting the vocals right, or even close, is not easy, and this group hits it.
2) Nick Cave: The closest modern embodiment of the Morrison ethos: ragingly intense, movingly tender, always passionate.
Here's where we start leaving the Doors time period and try to translate their essence in new ways. Cave is probably my first choice in this regard. For one, he has that rich baritone that always holds the possibility of flying unhinged with Old Testament passion. Sexy, commanding. He can do lush, romantic, poetic ballads of love...or of murder. Or he and his crack band can release the bats, bellowing with hellfire and brimstone. Start with Live Seeds or Henry's Dream since both show Nick's range magnificently. Then move on to Tender Prey, probably my favorite.
3) Jefferson Airplane: some similar dark/light dynamics, but from a more folk--rather than blues-based--background.
Airplane had that peace, love, flowers...blood in the streets dichotomy, at times. Hippies, for sure, the acid was sometimes bad and it came it out in the music, from folk pop to heavy psychedelia. Grace Slick was also a suitably charismatic/sexy frontperson for a while.
4) Joy Division: Radically different sound, but some core, essential similarities of dancing around the void and the baritone vocals. Raw and doomy but rewarding.
This requires a little bit of a leap, since the bands are of clearly different times and places. However, JD's searingly intense vocalist, Ian Curtis, was one of those post-punk Jim Morrison fans I mentioned earlier. He also sang in a low, monotone, baritone, which had some connection to Morrison, but far starker, more harrowing, more suffocating, just as Joy Division's music is to the Doors'. But between the singers related neuroses/obsessions/demons and the bands' abilities to wake the razor of song and oblivion, JD may truly resonate with certain Doors fans, though I'm under no delusions that it will work will all of them. Start with Closer.
5) High Tide: A Morrison-type vocalist fronting a band more like Black Sabbath or King Crimson, around 1970.
At least the vocals have Morrison's deep, moody vibe, though the band is clearly heavier, doomier, and more prog rock-inclined than the Doors. Top quality band. Whether Doors fans or Black Sabbath fans will be more inclined to like their two great albums, Sea Shanties and High Tide, is anyone's guess.
6) Love: Great band, some existential issues, pop/experimental, but the actual sound is significantly different.
Wonderful band, but I have a few reservations. Yeah, they were in the same LA psych scene. Yeah, they could be baroque one moment and grungy the next. Yeah, hope and despair intermingled in some of their music. Yeah, Arthur Lee was a major personality. But I can't help but feel that more Beatles fans than Doors fans would turn on brightest to Love, considering the band's expertise with composition and arrangement, more than Dionysian expressionism.
7) Spirit: Many moods/textures, rock/jazz/blues/folk/psych. But also significantly different sound.
Another excellent band from the late-60s LA psych scene. But again, not exactly an accurate match for the Doors. The leader was the guitarist while the vocals were not remarkable. There was plenty of eclecticism, but I'm not sure the same tension, the same possibility of falling through the rabbit hole, is there in the way it is in essence for the Doors.
8) Danzig: Don't take this one too seriously, but if Morrison-like vocal power is what you want, Danzig's bellowing might hit the spot.
Kind of a lark, this one, but maybe not. Danzig is a campy blues-metal performer who uses Satanic and dark magic imagery in his schtick. However, if anyone in music of the last 20 years was actually influenced by Morrison's vocals, it was Danzig and his amazingly powerful vocal pipes. Throw in some Elvis and Vampira and you're set.
9) Agents of Oblivion: A genuinely passionate and soulful elegy by a band for their fallen bassist. Intense range of emotions and an astonishing vocal performance.
An outsider/dark horse pick and a possible result of my personal affection for this record. The side project of New Orleans metal band, Acid Bath, following the death of their bassist, this was kind of an elegy to him. As such, it has the range of moods I imagine a Doors fan would appreciate: wailing sorrow, red-eyed anger, tenderness, brutality. What holds the album together is what holds the Doors material together: a preternaturally powerful vocalist. Dax Riggs is really a wonder on this recording, from fallen angel falsetto to raving bluesman. A rare performance, Doors connection or not. Even better that the connection might be there, as well.
10*) Velvet Underground: This was a major omission. Though there are substantial differences, the core similarities are closely parallel.
I actually did not include them in the Doors list although, in retrospect, perhaps I should have. If one of the essences of the Doors is decadence and transgression, the VU were every bit their match. Given, the VU's decadence was a more NY/European, artsy/literary world of deSade, Masoch, Burroughs, Artaud, etc while the Doors had a more Californian, primal vibe with the two schools meeting half-way with Brecht/Weill. But either way, the drive was towards breaking taboos, crossing boundaries of sexuality and drug intake. The surface manifestations might have been different, but the underlying drives were relatively similar.
11*) Iggy Pop/Stooges: This was also a major omission, although more justified than the VU. Simply, the Stooges' raw-as-hell, blitzingly minimal, bestial rock attack sounds nothing like the Doors more elegant and refined organ-based sound. Also, Iggy's talk of working class aimlessness and limited horizons was a far cry from Morrison's mystic, rock god invocations. However, when it comes to raw, physical force, animalistic sexuality, on-stage abandon, off-stage hedonism, the whole nine, there are perhaps no two artists more aligned than Iggy Pop and Jim Morrison. Their essences are nearly identical, with substance ingestion to kill the largest land mammals in North America to sexual encounters with any and everyone from 13-year-old girls to transvestite dudes, to physical endurance that should have left them in traction for decades, factoring in the differences due to geography (L.A. via Texas vs. suburban Detroit). So, if you're keying in on the sound of two bands, the Doors and Stooges don't match. If you're keying in on the life-forces of the driving artists of these two bands, you probably couldn't do much better than linking these two madmen.