The Doors – The Soft Parade on Rhino Vinyl

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Heavy Vinyl LP debunked.

A Gold Label original pressing blew out minds not long ago, after whichwe wrote “Need I even mention how much better this copy sounds than the 180g version from the Rhino Box Set, digitally remastered by Bernie Grundman? That thing is just awful, possibly the worst sounding pressing I have ever heard.” 

The Gold CD Hoffman did for Audio Fidelity is very likely to be night and day better. So much for the concept of vinyl superiority. Not with Bernie at the helm anyway.

Rhino has really made a mockery of the analog medium. Rhino touts their releases as being pressed on “180 gram High Performance Vinyl.” However, if they are using performance to refer to sound quality, we have found the performance of their vinyl to be quite low, lower than the average copy one might stumble upon in the used record bins.


HOT STAMPER COMMENTARY [2014]

Our latest shootout (4/2014) included a minty Gold Label pressing, which did reasonably well, but not great, on side one. Side two however was OFF THE CHARTS and won the shootout on that side handily. The fact that side one wasn’t a knockout is yet more evidence that individual pressings with the same label — even the “right” label — vary dramatically in sound.

The sound of most pressings of The Soft Parade is just plain horrible. The brass that opens side one is so pinched, compressed, grainy and aggressive it will practically make your hair stand on end. Almost all the reissue LPs sound like they are made from sub-generation EQ’d compressed tape copies, what are commonly called cutting masters. So many reissues have such a similar character that it’s hard to imagine they’re not all sourced from the same bad “master”.

Add to that the fact that almost every copy you pick up will have a pronounced HONK, giving you that not-so-fondly remembered AM radio sound we’ve all gotten used to after hearing copy after incompetently-mastered, pressed-on-cardboard copy. (And the awful Bruce Botnick engineered CDs too; can’t forget those. What happened to that guy? He’s lost it! If you can’t afford the DCC Gold discs for The Doors’ catalog, you are in for some shockingly mid-fi sound.)

Bruce Botnick and Steve Hoffman

If you own any of the in-print CDs, or any of the mediocre-to-awful reissue vinyl, you will really be surprised at how good this album can soundBruce Botnick, the recording engineer for this and so many other great sounding albums, is a genius.

Credit Steve Hoffman as well. The CD he cut for L.A. Woman was the first version of that music that ever sounded right to me. (I’m sorry to say the DCC vinyl version does not compare with his CD.)

Classic Rock Review

Released: July 21, 1969 (Elektra)
Produced by: Paul Rothchild
Recorded: Elektra Sound Recorders, Los Angeles, July 1968–May 1969

1969 was a tumultuous year for the The Doors. The main incident which caused their collective headache happened in Miami in March when vocalist Jim Morrison was arrested for allegedly exposing himself during a concert. Consequently, many major promoters began cancelling shows. The group, which had been a top international pop/rock coming into the year, selling out venues such as New York’s Madison Square Garden, suddenly found themselves scrambling to get gigs. In the midst of all this came the release of their fourth album The Soft Parade, which contained a radically different sound for the Doors and faced harsh criticism because of it. But when you remove all the fog surrounding it, The Soft Parade is a diverse, entertaining, and totally unique album of a great American band at a musical crossroads.

Recording for the album began in November 1968. From these initial sessions came a very successful Top 5 single (“Touch Me”/”Wild Child” in December 1968). In fact, more than half of The Soft Parade‘s material was released on singles prior to the album’s release in July of 1969, something totally unique for any Doors album. As Morrison struggled with substance abuse and erratic behavior, guitarist Robbie Kreiger stepped up and wrote half the material for the album including all four singles. Producer Paul Rothchild decided to enhance the group’s sound with the inclusion of brass and string arrangements, which was off-putting to many rock purists but (in this reviewer’s opinion) made for very interesting fusion with Morrison’s poetry and subject matter. In fact, while the year was harmful for the band’s career momentum, it may well have been the height of The Door’s creativity.

Krieger’s “Tell All the People” starts The Soft Parade with an intro of blistering horns which give way to a pleasant pop melody. The song is most interesting due to the sheer un-Doors-ness of the track in total and the climax at the end of the second verse with slight melodic variation and quick Kreiger solo. Morrison left no doubt about his disdain for this song, which was released as a single but failed to reach the Top 40. Like the opener, “Touch Me” contains rich orchestral arrangements by conductor Paul Harris. Another Krieger composition, it has a distinctly Las Vegas feel to it and was allegedly derived from a blackjack phrase (“c’mon hit me babe, I am not afraid”). The song’s outro includes a sax solo by Curtis Amy and reached #3 on the US charts while topping the charts in several other countries.

The remainder of the first side features songs with only the four Doors members. Morrison’s “Shaman’s Blues” contains a fine vocal performance and entertaining lyrical motifs. Kreiger performs a whining guitar riff throughout and blues later solo while Densmore’s odd-measured drumming keeps the song interesting yet glued together, especially during his inventive fills. Overall, the song pulls the listener into a trance-like groove. “Do It” is much less potent lyrically but draws you in with its hard rock groove. The bouncy and light “Easy Ride” has an almost polka beat and feel, as a celebration of pure joy throughout with the song’s coda deviating slightly into a more rock-oriented journey during a long fade out.

“Wild Child” is the best overall song on the album, despite its very succinct length of two and a half minutes. It starts with a deep rock riff and hook chant but soon Kreiger’s guitar morphs into a bluesy slide riff as the song breaks into several inventive parts in an asymmetrical journey guided by Morrison’s fantastic and philosophical lyrics. The exact meaning of these lyrics (and the song’s protagonist) has been debated for decades, ranging from Arthur Rimbau to Jesus Christ to Morrison himself.

Kreiger’s “Runnin’ Blue” is a complete left turn and one of the strangest Doors songs ever (and that is saying something!). A clever fusion of bluegrass and soul with a full brass arrangement and co-lead vocals by Kreiger during the refrains. The song is also a light tribute to the late Otis Redding and was another non-charting single from The Soft Parade.

The fourth single from the album, “Wishful Sinful” was a minor hit on the charts. Light and beautiful, the orchestral arrangements on this song are finer than anywhere else especially due to the English horn lead by Champ Webb. But the song also contains perfectly melancholy vocals by Morrison and a stirring rhythm led by session bassist Harvey Brooks who masterfully works with Densmore to keep the rock core of this airy song.

As the album itself is such a diverse musical adventure, it is only fitting that the concluding title song reflect this path to the extreme with its own adventurous mini-suite. Morrison’s “The Soft Parade” follows the pattern of closing an album with an extended tour-de-force, as on the group’s first two albums. However, this track is much different, an almost child-like wonderland movement that goes through each distinct phrase until reaching the rock and soul-influenced final parts (“the best part of the trip”) Much like a true “parade” of an English fugue, the song morphs from Morrison’s a capella sermon-like intro to a Baroque ballad to a show tune-like section to the long rock outro, the music masterfully follows the flowing, stream of consciousness lyric. Morrison’s vocals are doubled throughout, and often talk to each other on separate channels, giving the fuller meaning much to contemplate, especially after the hook section halfway through the song.

Despite the sour critical response, The Soft Parade reached #6 on the album charts and stands shoulder-to-shoulder with any other of the group’s studio albums. A few days after the album’s release, The Doors recorded a few concerts which would become the basis for their 1970 live album Absolutely Live as well future Doors collection. Here, the quality of the band’s music is further displayed as the Doors concentrated on making great music despite the external distractions of 1969.