It’s a little considered historical fact, but the Beatles and the Doors – two of the biggest musical icons of the late 1960s – had almost nothing to do with each other, crossing paths almost incidentally. Once, Jim Morrison dropped in on the Beatles while they were working on “Happiness is a Warm Gun” at Abbey Road in London. That courtesy call was apparently returned by George Harrison while the Doors were working on The Soft Parade at Elektra Sound Recorders in Los Angeles. And maybe you could count the Jimi Hendrix bootleg where Morrison makes drunken noises into a microphone while Jimi starts a jam on “Tomorrow Never Knows.”
And that’s about it. But it’s also a bit odd: yes, the Beatles got an earlier start, but from the time the Doors released their first album in 1967 until both bands were essentially over a few years later, they were contemporaries, each group releasing six studio LPs and one compilation of hits. You’d think there would have been more interaction, or crossover, or competition – something.
The written record has come to characterize the Beatles as working class lads from Liverpool gifted with natural musical talent who worked hard to make it in an industry over which they would go on to have far-reaching influence. It’s also acknowledged that they just happened to luck out when it came to being in the right place at the right time.
The Doors, on the other hand, were artsy, educated and part of the post-war generation that seemed to their elders spoiled with an expectation of entitlement. Unlike the Beatles, who in their early days built up enough good will to later help them through the sorts of controversies that come with being in the public eye, the Doors seemed to go out of their way to provoke controversy. More often than not, Jim Morrison would not only flout authority, but would goad his own audience to the verge of riot as well.
Nowadays, their singles coexist on classic rock radio, but there still seems to be an essential gap between the two groups – like two parallel stories whose narratives don’t intersect despite being set in the same time and place. Maybe it’s about time to put their work side by side and see what kind of comparisons can be made … not that fans are going to change their allegiances one way or another at this stage in the game.
THE BEATLES, “HERE COMES THE SUN” vs. THE DOORS, “WAITING FOR THE SUN”: So, here we have two album tracks with heliocentric lyrics. “Here Comes the Sun” is a sweet, optimistic piece considered by many to be one of George Harrison’s most realized contributions to the Beatles’ catalog.
The Doors’ track, found on Morrison Hotel, was actually an outtake from the album that shares its name. It contains the lyrical ambiguity typical of much of the Doors’ work (generally positive images interrupted by “This is the strangest life I’ve ever known”), but isn’t considered to be particularly deep.
Winner: Has to be the Beatles, just because “Waiting for the Sun” is pretty inconsequential.
THE BEATLES, “YER BLUES” vs. THE DOORS, “ROADHOUSE BLUES”: One thing to which the Beatles never made claim was that they were a blues band. So “Yer Blues,” with its obsession over death, comes across simply as an attempt to mimic the form, an attempt that’s been done better by many others before or since.
The Doors, though not a blues band either, consistently exhibited an understanding of the blues: sometimes academic; sometimes practical. They covered blues classics like “Back Door Man” and “Little Red Rooster,” and leaned heavily on their own interpretation of the idiom on their last two albums. “Roadhouse Blues” puts the blues into blues-rock, and the lines “I woke up this morning and I got myself a beer/The future’s uncertain and the end is always near” are as existentially profound as the blues gets – in Venice Beach, California, anyway.
Winner: the Doors – easily.
THE BEATLES, “A DAY IN THE LIFE” vs. THE DOORS, “THE END”: This is a heavyweight battle in the making, with the closing cuts on each band’s big LP from 1967. There’s really a case to be made for the apples and oranges rule to be applied here: the two songs are so dissimilar, there’s very little points of discussion with which to connect them. The Beatles were long past the stage where the studio was simply a place to record a live performance. With “A Day in the Life,” they were able to combine their songwriting craftsmanship with producer George Martin’s studio expertise to create one of the true masterpieces where pop meets art meets technology in a most perfect and profound union.
The Doors never really focused much on the “studio as instrument” concept on any of their albums. Their recording of “The End” is mostly that: one splice of the band performing two takes of the song live one night at Sunset Sound. It must have been pretty impressive, as producer Paul Rothchild went on to say: “It was the most awe-inspiring thing I’d ever witnessed in a studio.” Over a space of nearly 12 minutes, the band covers love, death, snakes, the blue bus (?), Oedipus, the f-word, time shifts, tonal shifts and what sounds like a nuclear explosion – or maybe just the sound of having your mind blown.
Winner: Well, we saw it coming – match called off by the International Musical Fruit Conglomerate, citing (of course) the Apples and Oranges Cancellation Clause. If nothing else, this is probably the best illustration of why the Beatles and the Doors seem to be mutually (and musically) exclusive.
THE BEATLES, “HEY JUDE” vs. THE DOORS, “LIGHT MY FIRE”: We’ve got time for one last bout, featuring two great songs, well-crafted, catchy, and timeless. Or maybe time-full: both run over seven minutes long. “Hey Jude” has that great “tail-wagging-the-dog” ending, but “Light My Fire” has that great organ hook in the intro and spotlights two convincing soloists, Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger on organ and guitar respectively.
Winner: The Beatles. It turns out the Doors had to edit out the solos for radio airplay, but the Beatles released the entire seven minute cut of “Hey Jude” as the single itself. Who says good will doesn’t pay off in the end?