The Doors started recording their third album “Waiting for the Sun” on February 19th, 1968. But it wasn’t the album The Doors had originally planned on releasing. The album had originally been titled “Celebration of the Lizard” before its renaming and re-conceptualization. The creative compromise the band made in removing the “Celebration of the Lizard” made visible the fault lines in the relationship between Jim Morrison and the rest of the group.
The album that became “Waiting for the Sun” was supposed to be closer in tone and concept to The Doors’ first two albums, with the epic poem/theater piece “Celebration of the Lizard” to fill out the second side of the album. But “Celebration of the Lizard” didn’t have the time to develop organically in the clubs like its predecessor songs like “The End” and “When The Music’s Over.” “Celebration of the Lizard” had its beginnings much as the other two did, pieces of Morrison’s poetry fashioned together and fused with the music. Parts of “Celebration of the Lizard” were around from the earliest beginnings of The Doors, in particular “A Little Game” which was one of the songs The Doors recorded as a demo. But with the success of The Doors, the focus of the group shifted from creation to delivering the hits to larger and larger audiences that didn’t want to sit still while the band created onstage. They wanted to hear “Light My Fire.”
The air of creative invention that permeated the first two albums didn’t survive into the recording sessions for “Lizard/Sun” either. Morrison’s drinking started to take precedence in his life and his interest in recording was starting to wane. Morrison showed up for the “Celebration of the Lizard” sessions drunk or on a combination of alcohol, pills and groupies. At the same time or perhaps as a reaction to Morrison’s lack of interest Doors producer Paul Rothchild exerted more of an influence on the recording process and more and more takes were done for each song.
Joan Didion, who was writing for the Saturday Evening Post at the time, was able to sit in on some of the “Celebration” sessions and in what was later included in her book “The White Album,” in the chapter “Waiting for Morrison,” describes a dispirited group that is sullenly recording the album with Morrison’s interest in the sessions at a minimum.
By early March of 1968 John Densmore was so upset with the recording process and Morrison’s drinking that he threw down his drumsticks and quit in disgust. Densmore returned the next day and recording continued.
The first and biggest casualty to the third album’s concept was the song “Celebration of the Lizard.” The Doors with the exception of Jim Morrison all thought the song too disjointed musically to be included in the album. It was dropped with the exception of the “Not to Touch the Earth” section which included the “I am the lizard king, I can do anything” line which, according to Morrison, was meant to be tongue in cheek, but was picked up by the press and was used to detrimentally define Morrison’s persona.
With the exclusion of “Celebration” leaving both a physical and psychic void to the album The Doors scrambled for more material, returning to the demos they had cut for Pacific Sound and to Morrison’s notebooks. With songs like “Summer’s Almost Gone,” “Wintertime Love,” “Love Street” and “Hello, I Love You” next to songs like “Five to One,” “The Unknown Soldier,” and “Not to Touch the Earth,” the result is an album that sounds disjointed and lacks the cohesion of the first two albums. It was only later on “Absolutely Live” that The Doors were able to finally release a version of “Celebration of the Lizard.”
Originally published February 19, 2013.