Ray Manzarek and John Densmore were the jazz aficionados of The Doors. In the backs of their minds they hoped to be able to create a jazz-oriented album. “The Soft Parade,” which was released July 18, 1969, was that jazz album, and it reveals a band unsure of how to proceed artistically.
The Doors’ third album, “Waiting for the Sun,” had started life as a much more ambitious project, but it lacked the cohesion of the first two albums and ended up sounding tenuous. The Doors decided it was time to change things up, and with Jim Morrison’s notebooks having been stripped of usable material, they decided to take some risks in creating “The Soft Parade.” This time, they’d create the album from scratch in the studio using string and horn arrangements, and they’d rely more heavily on Robby Krieger‘s songwriting abilities.
“The Soft Parade” took the longest of The Doors’ albums to record and it was the most expensive as well. Recording started in November 1968 after The Doors had returned from their European tour and ran through June 1969 at a cost of $90,000. (By contrast, “Pet Sounds” cost just over $70,000, a staggering amount for a rock album in 1966, and “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is estimated to have cost around $75,000.)
In an effort to cover the soaring costs, the band did a couple of things they had never done before. First, they went out on tour, causing further delays in the recording (and, ironically, the show in Miami resulted in many of their subsequent gigs being cancelled, putting another dent in their finances). They also released two singles, “Touch Me” in December 1968 and “Wishful Sinful” in February 1969, months in advance of the finished album. Previously, Doors singles had served to promote their new album, not fund it.
“The Soft Parade” was further delayed by Paul Rothchild exerting more control over the recording sessions, extensively directing the arrangements and demanding more takes. This may have further driven Morrison’s interest away from the band and recording. It is hard to say, though, which was cause and which was effect. Was Morrison’s waning interest in recording because of Rothchild’s more demanding attitude in the studio, or was Rothchild’s demanding attitude the result of Morrison’s waning interest?
“The Soft Parade” signaled another somewhat ominous first for the band, in that the songs were given individual writing credits instead of the collective ‘The Doors.’ The songs on “The Soft Parade” are divided almost evenly between Morrison and Krieger, and it’s easily discernible who wrote what. Songs written by Krieger have all the string orchestrations, while Morrison’s songs adhere to a more rough-hewn rock sound.
“The Soft Parade” did mark the return of one Doors tradition, that of the epic poetic/theater piece, in the album-closing title song “The Soft Parade.” The song was the result of Paul Rothchild and Jim Morrison combing through Morrison’s notebooks and pulling out discrete poetic passages to be strung together with music.
Robby Krieger wrote “Touch Me,” the song that would become the album’s hit single. Originally titled “Hit Me” the song’s inspiration came from Krieger’s contentious relationship with girlfriend Lynn (who would also be the inspiration for the line in “Love Her Madly”: “Don’t you love her as she’s walking out the door”). “Hit Me”‘s title was changed because Morrison didn’t want to be the onstage recipient of what fans might interpret as an invitation.
Some miscellaneous notes on the recording of the album: 1) “Who Scared You” was recorded during “The Soft Parade” sessions and released as the B-side of “Wishful Sinful,” but it wasn’t included on the final album, probably because it didn’t sound like any of the other songs. 2) The string and horn sections would become derisively known as the “La Cienega Symphony” because the studio The Doors recorded in was on La Cienega Boulevard. 3) In November 1969 George Harrison visited The Doors in the studio, returning a visit Morrison made to the Abbey Road studios in September 1968. Harrison remarked that “The Soft Parade” recording “had the complexity of the Sergeant Pepper’s recordings.”
Originally published July 18, 2014. An earlier version of this article appears in “The Doors Examined.”