This vintage Doors pressing (either on the Elektra Gold or Big Red E Label, nothing else will do) has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely reproduce.
Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.
This Is One of The Records That Did It For Me
Perhaps hearing Dark Side was what made you realize how good a record could sound. Looking back on it over the last thirty years, it’s clear to me now that this album, along with scores of others, is one of the surest reasons I became an audiophile in the first place, and stuck with it for so long. What could be better than hearing music you love sound so good?
It’s clearly an album we are obsessed with. We have written extensively about 50 of them to date. It is our contention that to be any good at this hobby, you have to become obsessed with well-recorded albums and work out the consequences of those obsessions for yourself. We wrote about it here. An excerpt:
As a budding audiophile I went out of my way to acquire any piece of equipment that could make these records from the ’70s (the decade of my formative music-buying years) sound better than the gear I was then using. It’s the challenging recordings by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, as well as scores of other pop and rock artists like them, that drove my pursuit of higher quality audio, starting all the way back in high school.
And here I am — here we are — still at it, forty years later, because the music still sounds fresh and original, and the pressings that we find get better and better with each passing year.
That kind of progress is proof that we’re doing it right. It’s a good test for any audiophile. If you are actively and seriously pursuing this hobby, perhaps as many as nine out of ten non-audiophile pressings in your collection should sound better with each passing year.
As your stereo improves, not to mention your critical listening skills, the shortcomings of some of them will no doubt become more apparent. For the most part, however, with continual refinements and improvements to your system and room, vintage pressings will continue to sound better the longer you stay active in the hobby.
That’s what makes it fun to play old records: They just keep getting better!
The Typical Soft Parade LP
The sound of most pressings of The Soft Parade is just plain terrible. The brass that opens side one is often so pinched, compressed, grainy and aggressive it will practically make your hair stand on end. Almost all the post-Big-Red-E 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.”
Need I even mention how much better this copy sounds than the recent 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 would be night and day better. So much for the concept of vinyl superiority. Not with Bernie at the helm anyway.
Add to that the fact that almost every copy you pick up will have a pronounced HONK in the midrange, 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. If you can’t afford the DCC Gold discs for The Doors’ catalog, you are in for some shockingly mid-fi sound.)
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.
Tell All the People
Jim Morrison, a man with no professional experience as a singer before he formed The Doors, was blessed with one of the most beautiful baritones in the history of Rock and Roll. If his voice isn’t rich, full and Tubey Magical on this track, the sound on side one isn’t likely to be either. If that’s the case you are not in for an easy ride my friend. Chuck that sucker in the trade-in pile and move on.
There’s big bass on this track; you need to be able to hear it right from the start or this track is going to sound like it’s playing through a car radio.
Listen also for the texture on the strings. If you have that rare, tonally correct early pressing with a real top end, the strings won’t sound steely, strident or smeared (the three S’s, don’t you know).
Fiddle and mandolin (we thought it might be a banjo at first but we’re pretty sure it’s a mandolin; listen for strumming at the end) accompaniment on a Doors song? Hey, why not? Let the guys stretch out a bit. That’s what this album is all about. They’re not trying to be Blood Sweat and Tears. They’re trying to add some new colors to their palette, and I for one am glad they did. (When they went back to basics for Morrison Hotel, they turned in one of their weakest efforts ever, if not The Weakest.)
Bruce Botnick Tubey Magic To Die For! Does it get any better for audiophiles than this?
Listen for the lovely timbre of the oboe, a featured element of this track. The orchestral arrangements here rival those of the legendary George Martin (himself an accomplished oboist, bet you didn’t know that!). If large scale orchestral arrangements are good enough for The Beatles, how can The Doors be criticised for incorporating them into their music?
The Soft Parade
This extended suite may be an example where the band’s reach exceeded their grasp; not all of this song works as well as one might wish, but the parts that do work are so good, the song’s shortcomings are easily overlooked.
Ya gotta love that spoken word intro. Once you’ve heard it you’ll never forget it, as long as you live. The best early copies (gold label or big red E) have echo bouncing off every wall of the studio endlessly. The weight the best copies have below 250 cycles is where much of the studio ambience is. Play the typical leaned-out copy and all that space collapses.