In a short period of 24 months, Jim Morrison went from shirtless sex symbol to pudgy, bearded public outlaw. Conscious or not, it was the kind of destructive, outward rejection of fame and success that wouldn’t be seen again from a rock star until Kurt Cobain a quarter of a century later. Morrison had also run out of material to draw from for The Doors’ fourth LP and the band was forced to start writing in the studio. The resulting album, 1969’s critically reviled The Soft Parade, was a rather disjointed collection of songs—half written by Morrison and the other half by guitarist Robby Krieger—that displayed a significant decline in quality from the band’s first three releases.
If Strange Days was the spiritual cousin to The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s, Soft Parade tracks like “Tell All The People,” with its swells of strings and brass, were more literal sonic nods to the hugely influential Beatles record. The title track is a 9-minute “A Day In The Life”-style suite that begins with a spoken word intro (“You cannot petition the Lord with prayer!” Morrison preaches like an evangelist) and a lovely, forlorn refrain accompanied by a stately harpsichord melody before settling into a familiar and comfortable Doors groove with spry guitar and bluesy organ work. But that’s where the similarities end. The Soft Parade is decidedly more Americana than Brit-pop: “Shaman’s Blues” features an atypical 6/8 swing rhythm, while “Runnin’ Blue” is a mandolin and fiddle-filled ode to Otis Redding that finds Krieger taking up vocal duties on the song’s bluegrass hook.
The one song co-written by Morrison and Krieger isn’t so much a collaborative work as it is a seemingly piecemeal collection of riffs and lyrical improvisations that don’t go anywhere. “Please, please, listen to me, children/You are the ones who will rule the world,” Morrison implores, but the shaman doesn’t offer any advice or direction. “You gotta please me, all night,” he sings during one breakdown, a tangent indicative of his lack of both focus and a point. “Wishful Sinful” sounds like something from one of The Doors’ early albums, but Morrison’s vocals are less than genuine and it’s clear the strains of substance abuse were beginning to wear on his voice greatly.
The Soft Parade isn’t without its pleasures though. The hit “Touch Me” was given a baroque feel thanks to the pairing of Manzarek’s harpsichord with a full orchestra. And “Easy Ride” features some of Morrison’s better lyrics, set to a hillbilly stomp: “The mask that you wore/My fingers would explore/The costume of control/Excitement soon unfolds.” Unfortunately, the lyrics to the final segment of “The Soft Parade” are probably the most insightful of all: “We need something or someone new/Something else to get us through.” The Soft Parade wasn’t the end of The Doors, but it was certainly the beginning of it.