No matter how much you try to keep up with new music releases, inevitably something slips through the cracks. A few weeks ago I saw someone in a social media music fan group post a picture of a two-CD collection by The Doors which I’d never seen before. Called simply The Singles, this bare bones package — issued as part of a larger 50th Anniversary celebration that year including a lovely looking boxed set reproducing all the original discs — packs a surprising punch. There are plenty of reasons to want to hear those single mixes — including many exclusive Mono mixes — but that is beyond the scope of this review.
Instead, today we will focus on the third — Blu-ray — disc included in certain editions of this collection containing the rare Quadrophonic mix of The Best of The Doors, a single disc compilation first issued in 1973. Making this even more of a “no brainer” purchase, this new three disc set is priced affordably on Amazon and other places online.
Now, The Best of The Doors had been released on SACD by Audio Fidelity a number of years back but this is the first time (as far as I know) that it is showing up on Blu-ray Disc.These recordings are presented here in 192 kHz, 24-bit fidelity and they sound quite terrific in all their 4.0 quadrophonic splendor!
I’m sure there are some of you out there wondering why you might want this collection if you have the Perception boxed set (released with the input of all the surviving band members and original engineer, Bruce Botnick a while back). Now a very pricey collector’s album, that 12-disc set contains not only the then-newly remastered CDs but also DVD Audio discs with the original run of Doors album featuring Jim Morrison presented in high resolution 96 kHz, 24-bit fidelity Stereo and 5.1 Surround Sound. It is generally a great set but has some curiously lackluster moments which I have long wondered about.
That said, the main reason you need The Singles with the Blu-ray Disc version of The Best Of The Doors is that it is a different beastie entirely from the DVD Audio versions, crafted in the early days of Quadrophonic sound without any real concern for audiophile-oriented soundstage and such.
When the 5.1 surround movement started in the early 00s, there was some push back from audiophiles who were quite vocal in their disdain for overly immersive mixes featuring unconventional listening perspectives.
My favorite of these aggressive mixes was crafted by no less than Neil Young, whose Harvest DVD-Audio Disc puts you more or less his barn studio with the band. And it is configured as you see them playing on the back cover of the album including the drums to one side of the room. It is unconventional, for sure and that is the point. The first time I put it on I was completely blown away and it remains for me one of the coolest uses of surround sound ever.
So, on this Quadrophonic Doors release don’t expect to hear most of the band playing in front of you with a Stereo soundstage. In fact there are times you’ll hear the drums playing from behind you… and it totally works!
Following is a track by track run down of what to expect, comparing it at times to parallel tracks from the Perception boxed set and from the original DVD Audio Disc of The Doors’ L.A. Woman:
“Who Do You Love” — This is a great live track, one of those where crowd ambiance is up around you just loud enough to feel more real. A terrific album opener, I wish they would issue the original album, Absolutely Live, complete on Blu-ray Disc in surround sound (or Quad!)
“Soul Kitchen” – Now we dive into the weird world of Quad sound in 1973 with the Organ on the right and the Bass on the left. The drums are in the rear channels with left showcasing an open high hat motif as well as kick and snare. the right rear channel features a closed high hat time-keeping motif… separate from the left channel. Contrast this with the Perception DVD A which layers both drum tracks in the left front channel. Personally, I find the Quad mix much more exciting, interesting and fun than the relatively boring DVD A mix in which the surrounds are used primarily for (I am guessing, manufactured) room ambiance.
“Hello I Love You” – This slice of psychedelic bubble gum pop puts the drums and bass behind you and it works somehow. The best part is how the trippy slide guitar break travels from front to rear. It is a super obvious gimmicky effect, yet it feels just right. Play this one really loud!
“People Are Strange” – Again, this track places the drums behind you along with solo overdubs (piano, guitar).
“Riders On The Storm” — This song is much more interesting on the Quad mix than either of the DVD Audio versions I own. It places the thunder up front and rain showers in the rear again with the drums. I like the jazzy Wes Montgomery guitar build on this Quad version, which feels a bit more call-and-response balanced, especially during the organ solo. The Quad mix also more prominently reveals the whispered second vocal which shows up in the rear channel mirroring Morrison’s primary performance. On all the other versions, this part is blended near inaudibly under the lead vocal. I think it sounds quite haunting presented more out front like this. The Perception version of this song is more aligned to the front channels, with the rain shower effects beginning up front as the thunder and the storm washes all around you. The Conga is in the rear. On the original DVD Audio, the thunder and rain seem to reside a bit more in the rear channels.
“Touch Me” – The drums appear from both of the rear channels on the Quad mix. There are some horns showing up in the right channel rear while the strings in the rear. The strings later come up more prominently in the mix at the break, more toward the front. The classic sax solo appears on the right And you can hear The Doors sing the “stronger than dirt” tagline more clearly at the end of this version. On the DVD Audio / Perception versions, the horns and strings are in the rear and the drums appear somewhat oddly in the right front and center channels. That latter version does not rock very well, perhaps due to these curious production choices.
“Love Her Madly” – Here the drums are aligned to the rear on this great hit track, plus organ soloing in the right and guitar on the left. Curiously there is an Acoustic guitar in the left front and on the right side you’ll hear bass and honky tonk piano. On the Perception DVD Audio, the mix is mostly forward facing with drums and bass dead center. This leaves the cool fills and breaks to percolate in the rear speakers and around the room. Here, the acoustic rhythm guitar can be found in the right rear while some of the organ swells and the solo shows up in the in left rear. The original DVD Audio Disc version is similar, but not as bright sounding as the Perception version
“Moonlight Drive” – This track is especially fun with the drums in the rear (and boasting a particularly punchy kick!). Slide guitar is also in the rear while a piano over dub emerges in the rear right. The front channels feature organ bass (right) and lower-register “bass” (if you will) piano keys (left). The sort of back and forth effect they evoke at the intro between the instruments is very cool. I like the organ/harpsichord punches happening in the right front channels.
“Light My Fire” – This Quad mix is much more compelling than the Perception version (which is basically just Stereo with some added room ambiance). On the Quadrophonic version, the drums appear in the front and rear left channels. while the guitar and organ in are in the right channels, so its a much more room filling sound.
The Quadrophonic version of The Best of The Doors is a fun release if you like surround sound and immersive mixes. And now that it is available with The Singles collection, its a no brainer purchase if you are a Doors fan into surround sound.
Someday I think it would be nice to hear producer Steven Wilson remix The Doors catalog (including Other Voices!) into surround sound to strike a balance between immersive whimsy and audiophile-worthy sound-staging. But for now, this long overdue Quadrophonic hits release and the Perception boxed set versions are the best we’ll have for some time (and that is a very cool thing indeed).