The late rock critic Lester Bangs once referred to Doors lead singer Jim Morrison as a “buffoon” and argued that in the history of rock music The Doors were no more important than the Guess Who. This feeling that The Doors were an average band led by a bad poet prone to drunkenness has been echoed by many over the years. Going against this view in his book TheDoors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years, music and pop culture critic Greil Marcus makes a case for The Doors as a talented, serious and sometimes revolutionary rock group.
Marcus’ book is not a biography of the band. Instead, most of the chapters are devoted to an exhaustive critique of an individual song or performance. Quite a few live recordings are analyzed that only the most fervent Doors fans are likely to own, but Marcus describes every beat, note and vocal inflection so well that it isn’t necessary to own these live versions to enjoy the book. The author is also quick to point out weaknesses in some songs or that some songs are just plain weak. In an amusing piece on the song “Strange Days,” Marcus writes that the song turns into trash after its brilliant first seven seconds.
Despite chapters being devoted to separate songs, The Doors still works as a whole, in large part because Marcus works in bits of the band’s history as well as what was happening in the U.S. at the time. While writing about a moment in the song, “The Unknown Soldier,” Marcus best sums up his view of The Doors. “It’s not a sound you’ve heard before, or want to hear again,” he writes. “It was the sound of the times that no one else made.”