Like many people, I went through an avid Doors fan phase in my youth, focusing primarily on their first two and their last two studio albums. Traditionally, the best regarded efforts by the band. I postponed buying the two central studio albums, Waiting For The Sun and The Soft Parade, for a long time as I did want to be disappointed.
Eventually, though, I picked them up and, yes, I was disappointed. Neither album is anywhere near the standard of the other studio efforts, although Waiting For The Sun holds up better by sustaining the group sound evident on Strange Days and a number of very pretty melodies.
The Soft Parade, however, has few redeeming features. Adding strings and horns to the band dilutes rather than enhances the power of the band and many of the songs are pure throwaways. However, two songs stand out. The lengthy title cut, ironically in some ways their finest extended setting of a Morrison poem, and the shorter Shaman’s Blues.
Shaman’s Blues is a completely successful Doors song, and as such stands comparison with all their best material. It’s a blues, a precursor to the much more extensive exploration of that style that would come with Morrison Hotel and L.A. Woman, and it is magnificently sung by Morrison. In many ways it is his best blues performance, partly because it is free of the ennui that drenches his later vocals but show intimations of the depth that would also infuse the band’s later blues performances. The arrangement is sparkling, a riff driven song heavy with harpischord and wailing electric guitar figures, strong deep bass, and a jazzy blues drum figure from John Densmore. The lyrics are typical Morrison mysticism, but again with that personal touch – “will you stop the pain?”, “I’m alone for you – and I cry” – that prefigures the starker later songs. There is little sense that Morrison is acting or uninvolved with these lyrics, something you cannot say about most of the other material on The Soft Parade.
Shaman’s Blues is so markedly superior to the songs that preceed and follow it that you wonder how the band could feel comfortable with those woefully substandard efforts. In truth, canning the whole album and putting out a single, The Soft Parade b/w Shaman’s Blues, would have been an ideal solution. Thirty years later the rest could appear on an “Anthology” style record to enthuse the true believers.
But that didn’t happen, and at least we can be grateful that Shaman’s Blues appeared at all.