The Doors started recording their third album “Waiting for the Sun” on February 19th, 1968. The finished product, though, wouldn’t be the album The Doors planned on releasing. The album had originally been titled “Celebration of the Lizard” before its renaming and re-conceptualization, and these creative compromises 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” filling the second side. Much like “The End” and “When the Music’s Over,” “Celebration of the Lizard” would consist of pieces of Morrison’s poetry fashioned together and fused by musical passages. But “Celebration” didn’t have the time to develop organically in the clubs like its predecessor songs.
Parts of “Celebration of the Lizard” were around from The Doors’ earliest days, in particular “A Little Game” (or “Go Insane”) which was one of the songs they recorded as a demo. But as their records climbed the charts, and The Doors graduated from clubs to arenas, the focus of the group shifted from creation to delivering the hits to larger audiences that didn’t want to sit still while the band experimented onstage. They wanted to hear “Light My Fire.”
The enthusiasm and cohesion that drove 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 waning. Morrison showed up for the “Celebration of the Lizard” sessions drunk or preoccupied with some combination of alcohol, pills, and groupies. At the same time, perhaps as a reaction to Morrison’s lack of interest, Doors producer Paul Rothchild exerted more control over the recording process, demanding more and more takes of 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. In what was later included in her book “The White Album,” in the chapter “Waiting for Morrison,” Didion describes a sullen, dispirited group loitering around the studio with Morrison’s participation 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 of the band’s disunity was the song “Celebration of the Lizard.” The Doors tried several times to record the full piece, but with the exception of Jim Morrison, all believed the result was too incohesive or aimless to be included. It was dropped with the exception of the “Not to Touch the Earth” section, which included the infamous “I am the lizard king, I can do anything” line. This, according to Morrison, was meant to be tongue in cheek, but it was picked up by the press and used to detrimentally define Morrison’s persona.
With the exclusion of “Celebration” leaving both a physical and psychic void on 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 consistency of the first two albums. It was only later on “Absolutely Live” that The Doors finally released a version of “Celebration of the Lizard.”
Originally published February 19, 2013.