May 4, 1968: The Doors Release “The Unknown Soldier”

The Unknown Soldier Film

On May 4th, 1968, the single of The Doors’ song “The Unknown Soldier” from their third album “Waiting for the Sun” peaked on Billboard’s chart at number 39. As its “B” side was “We Could Be So Good Together.”

“The Unknown Soldier” was part of the third album that had begun life as “Celebration of the Lizard,” but after the intended poetic tour-de-force was deemed too unwieldy to record as a whole, The Doors were left looking for material to fill in the album. The Vietnam War was in full violent bloom and The Doors wanted to make a statement about it, but decided that in order to avoid it becoming a “period” song, they would try for the universal, with war as a theme and not a specific historical event.

The recording of the album was the start of Morrison’s growing disinterest in the recording process, and producer Paul Rothchild was beginning to become more of a perfectionist in the studio, with “The Unknown Soldier” needing 130 takes to finish.

“The Unknown Soldier” was consciously conceived as a theatrical piece. In the middle of the song Morrison acted the part of a prisoner of war that is shot by a firing squad. In concert The Doors acted out the firing squad sequence with Morrison as the sacrifice to the firing squad, and they even made and released a film that graphically depicted the firing squad scene.

Even though the song wasn’t specifically about the Vietnam War and Vietnam isn’t mentioned in the song, radio stations shied away from the controversial subject matter, which probably contributed to the low standing in the Billboard charts.

Originally published May 4, 2011. This article appears in “The Doors Examined”.

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