Friday, May 21, 2010

The Doors v Lou Reed - Songwriters Match Up #5

This week it's The Doors versus Lou Reed in our songwriter match up - who will come out on top?

As I think about these two bands, I can't help but remember from Oliver Stones movie The Doors in which Jim Morrison and company are at a party where Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground are performing. It was implied that The Doors were ambassadors of the psychedelic, consciousness expanding spirit of the west where as The Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol embodied nihilistic decline and heroin induced escapism. I am a great fan of both bands. The Doors and Lou Reed pushed boundaries of rock music, and the music they made was uncompromising, especially in Lou Reed's case. Lou Reed was brutally honest and unafraid of exploring controversial topics including fetish, drug addiction, electric shock therapy (his parents subjected him to this as a teenager) and trans-sexuality - not your typical fair and certainly not subjects with wide commercial appeal. Lou Reed wrote songs of this nature from more of an observational standpoint rather than a judgmental one. Jim Morrison was the visionary front man and primary lyricist of The Doors. His lyrics reveal his fascination with psychic dislocation, chaos and shamanistic ecstasy - he considered himself to be more Dionysian than Apollonian. Robby Krieger was the primary author of some of the groups best songs including Light My Fire, Lover Her Madly, Touch Me and Love Me Two Times. The Doors were a pretty cohesive songwriting unit and many of their songs credit the group rather than one member as the author.

Lyrics

Jim Morrison wrote some of the most surreal lyrics in rock music. Songs such as People Are Strange are brilliant in their concise and poetic expression. Sometimes though he was prone to muddled non sequiturs that seem more like filler than substance. Lou Reed's lyrics are grittier, more narrative and are more intense expressions of emotional states. Such a tough decision to make here, but I think Reed is more cohesive and because of this I am awarding this category to Lou Reed with reservations - especially when I think of some of Morrison's best lyrics like "Women seem wicked when you're unwanted, streets will haunt you alone when your down". The verdict - 10 points for Lou Reed.

Composition

The musical backbone of The Doors - keyboardist Ray Manzarek, drummer John Densmore, and guitarist Robby Krieger formed a very adept musical core for the band. They excelled at free form improvisation in concert, and were well served by their well-rounded musical chops, able to play classical, jazz, blues and rock. Lou Reed was arguably at his best when he was part of the Velvet Underground and collaborating with John Cale, who was also a classically trained musician (as Reed was) and who was influenced by avante-garde musicians such as John Cage. John Cale pushed the bands sound into noisier, more experimental territory. However, sound I believe is different than composition - I am going with The Doors since they were so adept and making each instrument work so well as part of an ensemble and for the greater complexity of their arrangements in general. The Doors win this, 10 points.

Influence

This one is not much of a contest - I have to go with Lou Reed. As part of The Velvet Underground, it is said that he was instrumental in the formation of alternative rock and punk - the use of noise and volume, the sometimes abrasive quality of the music, and the subject matter of the songs inspired scores of rock fans to form their own bands. 5 points for Lou Reed.

Originality

Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground where part of Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable - they would perform at his events and movie projectors would play film on them as they performed. Lou Reed's seventies album Transformer helped pioneer Glam Rock. Metal Machine Music was one of the most outrageous records ever made for better or worse (it is all noise pretty much). The Doors theatrical bent on songs such as The End was a bold exploration of what a rock concert could be and Morrison's uninhibited antics live are legendary. I feel like flipping a coin here - maybe I'll go with Lou Reed because who would have dreamed such an unphotogenic Jewish kid from New York singing songs about transvestites and drug addicts would become a rock star? 5 points Lou Reed.

Durability

I'm going with Lou Reed here as well mainly because the strenghth of that first album with The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground and Nico. Heroin is timeless. The Doors seem to be more of a product of their time, and perhaps because of the continuous airplay of their more commercially friendly songs such as Light My Fire and LA Woman on classic rock stations, the material sounds increasingly dated. Lou Reed has written a lot more songs, and because so much of it is so non-commercial and unique, it is harder to grow tired of it. 5 points Lou Reed.

So there you have it. This weeks winner is Lou Reed over The Doors, 25 to 10.

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