It's hard to believe, but there's a new album called "The Doors Greatest Hits" (Elektra 5E-515). Elektra is touting it as one of its major releases of the fall, obviously hoping to exploit the success of the recent Jim Morrison biography, "No One Here Gets Out Alive," which rode the top position of the paperback sales charts for several months. At least the Doors won't suffer the fate of Jimi Hendrix, who had more records released after his death than before it -- or Sly Stone, who saw his brilliant early work re-released with a "contemporary disco mix."
There is still plenty of interest in the Doors. Two of their albums, "L.A. Woman" and "Morrison Hotel," have the trade charts; cable television is planning a "Jim Morrison: The Man and the Book" special; and scripting and casting are going full-throttle for a major movie production.
The time seems right, but the problem with "Greatest Hits" is that it's all sales technique -- Elektra's ill thought-out attempt to provide a "definitive Doors package." And the packaging is lousy. So what if the back cover features a never-before-published group photo? Where are the liner notes, where is the context, the perspective? Why does Elektra claim to picture the entire catalogue on the inner sleeve, but then leave off the already existing (and still available) compilations as well as the two post-Morrison Doors albums? Is this a doors package or a Morrison package?
What about "13," released in 1970 and containing seven of the 10 greatest hits? What about "Wierd Scenes Inside the Goldmine," a double album released in 1972 containing another two greatest hits as well as other, lesser (but more interesting) hits like "The Wasp (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)," "When the Music's Over" and "The End"? What about the quad "Best of the Doors" released in the mid-'70s? What we have here is a revolving Doors packaging concept, the Resurrection of the Lizard King.
What's unsettling is how dated the Doors' music sounds today, how weakly it stands outside a context (like the soundtrack of "Apocalypse Now") or at the center of an incendiary rock-bio. The Doors always straddled a fence separating the green grass of Top-40 success and the asphalt barrens of underground legend. With the legend less immediate, the music's basic pop precaution stands out more clearly. The songs on "Greatest Hits" sound surprisingly quaint and safe, predating New Wave's directness and economy, possibly inspiring it, but certainly not improving it through hindsight.
Could poetry be incorporated into rock lyrics? The songs on "Greatest Hits" render the question moot. The mystic overtones of the one song approaching poetry, "Not To Touch the Earth," are so against the grain of the rest of the album that they stand out like a Door thumb. What's more common are simplistic, sophmoric lyrics like "Motel money murder madness/change the mood from glad to sadness," or "Sidewalk crouches at her feet/like a dog that begs for something sweet." Or that ultimate heavy lyric: "Our love becomes a funeral pyre."
And what about Morrison as the Great Shaman of the Rock Revolution, the electric poet, the self-destructing wordsmith whose compulsive obsession with sex, deviation and death were at the center of the legend? Almost a decade after his death in Paris at the age of 26, he remains charismatic. But Morrison may have been the ultimate semi-intellectual rock poseur. He was controversial, extreme, fascinating, revolting, never boring. The risks he took hardly seem worthwhile in context.
Musically, the Doors provided a solid foundation for his exuberance; last year's beautifully packaged "An American Prayer" (where the band came back to life working with recently unearthed Morrison poetry tapes) attested to that. After all, it was guitarist Robbie Krieger who wrote "Light My Fire," which catapulted the band to success in 1967. But much of what's on "Greatest Hits" is from the "Hello, I Love You side (where the Doors blatantly ripped off the Kinks' "All Day and All of the Night"). The eerie inventiveness that owed as much to keyboard player Ray Manzarek as to Morrison is missing here (but available on "Weird Scenes").
The sad part is that "Greatest Hits" will sell like hotcakes. Maybe only Morrison knew that when the music's over, you should turn out the lights. Unless you can ask $8.98 for it.