Is "The Soft Parade" Too Soft?

The fourth Doors album was not particularly well-received when first issued in 1969, though it still managed to reach the Top Ten and "Touch Me" was a hit single. The inclusion of horns and strings was for many a deal breaker, but what really made more pull back was the sense of a less than fully integrated ensemble appearing to come apart at the seams.

Even the recording was less fully integrated. The heavy atmospherics of the first two albums were gone here, replaced by a far closer microphone scheme with instruments panned strongly left/right leaving only the drums and Morrison's more dryly recorded voice to the center.

The poetry seemed more formulaic in places and "Do It" with the repetitive "Please, please, listen to me children"? was pure filler. The band that had been leading was at best following and at worst coasting. "Easy Ride" sounded like a Lovin' Spoonful number, while the horn-drenched two openers by Robby Krieger ("Tell All the People" and the hit "Touch Me") sounded like Electric Flag cast offs more than Doors numbers, or worse like Chicago. Even worse, the lyrics often played into the messianic cult that had developed around Morrison, not entirely without his encouragement.

The move from straight rock rhythms to more jazzy ones seemed to upset the dark "Doorsian" nature of things and the higher overall energy came across as compensation for a lack of inspiration. Whereas on the older albums you could put them on and reliably sink into another musical dimension, much as certain movies can be watched repeatedly and do the same thing: movies like "Animal House," "Chinatown" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Soft Parade felt more like the mystery had been stripped back to reveal the studio.

No matter how many times you've seen those magic movies, when they're on you get sucked in again. You "want to go there."The same with certain albums, including the first two Doors albums. Not so this one.

It seemed as if the band had run out of gas and was covering for it by adding strings, horns and "irrational exuberance." Yet another album closing Morrison epic, "The Soft Parade" was one too many. When Morrison sang "You cannot petition the Lord With Prayer," that was probably the point where many first time listeners lifted the stylus from the grooves, removed the record from the turntable and went back to Strange Days for a fix. If they stayed longer, they got a song that sounded lifted from Frank Zappa's We're Only In It For The Money (complete with fourth wall breaking asides: "this is the best part of the trip")!

Even the inner gatefold artwork by Peter Schaumann was a derivative letdown. It was too similar to the back jacket of label-mate Love's Four Sail album also by Schaumann and come to think of it, The Soft Parade sounds as if The Doors or someone in the band had been listening to a lot of Arthur Lee's jazzy, syncopated rhythms and horn and string driven arrangements. A very good place from which to draw, just not for The Doors. Surprisingly, time has been kind to this mess of an album. Kreiger's "Tell All the People" and "Touch Me" seem majestic and the arrangements plausible, particularly now that they can so easily be deciphered and deconstructed. This double 45 is so far superior sounding to the red label original and Japanese late '70s reissue I have here, it's like hearing the album for the first time.

There's still plenty of filler and overall it's lyrically weak, but "Wishful Sinful", another Krieger contribution, soars. At this time Morrison was supposedly heavily into alcohol so Krieger stepped in but for my money the real hero and standout here is drummer John Densmore. He, more than anyone else in the band holds it together and Botnick's recording of the drums is masterful and never before heard to such great effect.

So not the greatest Doors album but easily the greatest version of it for those who are fans. I have never heard so much detail revealed and such blackness behind the notes, nor have the strings and horns been so well reproduced. The laminated gatefold packaging is a treasure you'll want to polish when your grimy fingerprints dull the luster.

Be sure to read the interview with Bruce Botnick found elsewhere on this site.

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Devil Doc's picture

For explaining why this album is the least worn of all the records I bought in 1969.


JC1957's picture

Too bad one of the best songs from the sessions "Who Scared You?" was only a B-side. It would of been a much better choice for the LP than "Easy Ride."

nogan's picture

This version is phenomenal. Like the others from AP it blows away the recent Rhino releases.

Nathan's picture

I have had this album close to 4 decades. And the title song still does it for me even if there are forgettable tracks on the LP. It's a different type of Doors album. Perhaps an experiment. Not all experiments work.  

Michael Fremer's picture

I think we agree. You essentially said what I said: some great tracks plus unforgetables.... 

DJ Huk's picture

One of my favorite Morrison raps: I often imitate him intoning it when I hear too much Republican Mormon and/or Fundamentalist claptrap.  Then when he goes into that "we must whip the horses eyes" routine, well, he sounds like some kind of sodden Godhead who's lost His believers.  Heavy hilarity, indeed ...   

robertstewart257's picture

This was the first Doors album I didn't just run out and buy on the first day it came out.  As a self-described (deluded?) sophisticated rock listener at the ripe old age of 15, I could tell it was too much of a departure even then. Still, I bought all of the singles once they ended up at Woolworth's in the 3-for-a-dollar cutout bin.  It wasn't until about 1972, when I could get a cutout of the album--again, at Woolworth's--that I finally bought a copy. For me, it has aged pretty well, especially 'Wild Child,' 'Touch Me,' and 'Wishful Sinful.'

And I must add, getting to see The Doors perform 'Touch Me' on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was transformational.  As I recall, when Tommy was introducing the band, there was a wall of audio electronics (probably 20 or 30 Crown amps, or something made to look like them) that rolled back to reveal the band as they went into their first song.  This was one of the last episodes broadcast in their 3rd season, and even though CBS picked up season 4, they soon fired the brothers. CBS never repeated that episode, so I had to wait for decades to see that performance again.

Anyway, the transformation for me was seeing all that equipment lit up, and it made me think, "That's how I want to listen to music at home!"