Cultural pressure and government fiat can’t hide this uncomfortable fact any longer: “Riders on the Storm” is not a good song. Longtime Doors' producer Paul Rothchild is said to have denounced early versions as “bad cocktail jazz.” Far too kind an assessment. Upgrading “Riders” to bad cocktail jazz would require full reconstructive surgery. When I think bad cocktail jazz, I think harmless background noise that at least offers some relief from the suffocating silence of our inner doubts. “Riders” can’t even give us that much.
The song tries to set an eerie mood using rain and thunder sound effects and cinematicish lyrics:
There’s a killer on the road
His brain is squirming like a toad
These lines might be acceptable if they weren’t riding the same bus with headscratchers like:
Like a dog without a bone
An actor out alone
Girl you gotta love your man
Take him by the hand
Make him understand
Surely you can’t be serious, Mr. Morrison?
Now contrast the words of "Riders" with the beguiling pop verite found in earlier songs like “Soul Kitchen:”
The cars crawl past all stuffed with eyes
Street lights share their hollow glow
Your brain seems bruised with numb surprise
Those are lyrics that stick to your memory like an old flame; the type that makes you grin mischievously whenever you think of her. "Riders" is more like that one night stand that was so bad it reaffirmed your atheism.
I am not a Morrison hater. When I was an adolescent, I was an obnoxious junior Lizard King. I bought Jim’s poetry books. Read the poems. Resisted the nagging suspicion that they were as tedious as the bad teen poems I was writing.
Each year when The Doors rolled out their annual FINAL BEST OF NEW UNDISCOVERED OUTTAKE DEMOS LIVE FROM MORRISON'S CRYPT!(MONEYGRAB REMIX), I was the moron who actually bought it. I didn’t stop there. I even owned An American Prayer; the posthumous album featuring Mr. Morrison reading his poems over a score played by the surviving Doors. I had it on CD and cassette. True story.
Would you still be my friend if I confessed to once hanging a Doors poster in my room?
The first two Doors albums are so good that if aliens ever land here, they should be presented as peace offerings. That being the case, maybe it's unfair to use their early work as a watermark for judging the rest of their career. Still, I wouldn't call “Riders” one of their finer hours. The song was once used in an English tire commercial, and as far as I’m concerned, it should spend the rest of its days providing the soundtrack for flattened squirrels.
Break on through with me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/greatMikePayne