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The Doors - London Fog 1966 album review

Album Review

Earliest known live recording captures Morrison and co. in pre-Whisky ragged glory

His Lizard King incarnation was only just uncoiling, but Jim Morrison already had one eye on posterity when he asked Nettie Pena, a film-making collaborator and student at UCLA, to record this show. With the summer of ’66 getting into its stride, The Doors were a few hot months away from recording their debut album as they cast the essentials of their future legend in a short-lived Sunset Strip dive bar.

Pena recorded two reels of tape on the night – the second, a 10-minute-plus version of The End, remains missing. This partial half-hour set, rediscovered in 2011, is reissued now to trail the band’s 50th anniversary, marked by January ’67, and fills in a key chapter in The Doors’ history.

The background chatter during the tuning-up continues throughout an audacious opening cover of BB King’s Rock Me. Released the previous year by Otis Redding on the epochal Otis Blue, it’s lustfully reconquered and possessed in a stunning rendition.

The loose, disinterested audience mood pervades a combative, psyched-up take on Big Joe Williams’ – by way of Them – Baby, Please Don’t Go. The crowd, reportedly a suitably wayward mismatch of off-duty servicemen, hookers and drag artists, supply the perfect sounding board for a group that are at once imperiously self-absorbed and gleefully feeding off such antagonistic surroundings.

In such circumstances, a grungy stomp through Pickett’s Don’t Fight It and a gob-iron-fuelled assault on Muddy’s Hoochie Coochie Man fall into the crowd-satisfying bracket. But The Doors have more ambition in them and two originals – an unfettered You Make Me Real, four years from being recorded, and second album title track Strange Days – show just how far ahead they are. With their imposing sound already defined, the latter is an out-of-the-box masterpiece of doomy allure, its dizzying, lysergic organ awakening the ominously intoned, premonitory lyric.

Novelty value attends the chance to hear Morrison meet Little Richard’s Lucille – a dirty riff exchange between libidinous guitar and stabbing keys – but the entire London Fog set captivates. Morrison’s casual sensuality, vocal presence and performing charisma are already unmistakable, while the might, mastery and interplay of Messrs Densmore, Manzarek and Krieger impacts ferociously.

If Ms Pena’s continuing searches uncover the second tape, bring it on. Fifty years later, at their beginning or The End, The Doors remain an awesome prospect.

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