The Doors Suck: Point / Counterpoint

On the 40th anniversary of Jim Morrison’s death, we settle it once and for all.

By Jason Gilbert and Stephen Deusner

It was forty years ago this Sunday that Jim Morrison died at the tender age of twenty-seven. When we broached this fact to some friends, we realized that some people think The Doors were iconic pioneers of rock, and others think they totally sucked.  

If there’s anything we hate, it’s disunity. And so, we decided to settle the matter once and for all. To help us, we got Stephen Deusner, staff writer at Pitchfork (and lifelong Doors-hater) to take on our own Jason Gilbert. 

You may consider the matter settled.


The Doors Rock
Jason Gilbert,

Some people say that only horny teenage boys like The Doors — that their over-sexed, come-hither stomp is only appealing to sweaty-palmed high-schoolers, as though a constant, nigh-overflowing rush of pent-up sperm were essential for enjoying "Hello, I Love You."

That's nonsense. I have long since left my teens and my horniest years behind (I hope), but I still get a contact high from the propulsion and energy of The Doors' best tracks. It's become embarrassing for music critics to admit to liking The Doors, and I think I know why. So let's get something out of the way right off the bat:

Jim Morrison wrote a lot of poetry, and most of it was shitty, pretentious, regrettable, faux-intellectual diarrhea. Reading Jim Morrison the poet is like watching a shirtless SAE pledge strumming James Blunt on his old acoustic in the university commons during spring break: totally insufferable, uninspiring, and distasteful. I agree.

But Morrison's high-school emo-etry isn't the only reason that The Doors have lost their cred, and some of the posthumous baggage people dump on them seems unfair. Morrison had been dead for twenty years by the time Oliver Stone made a horrible movie about him; it's not like he had a vote. (And for that matter, Oliver Stone made a God-awful movie about Alexander the Great, and there wasn't a huge critical backlash against him.

Anyway, fuck Oliver Stone; look at The Doors' discography! Look at the broad range of newborn rock genres The Doors nailed on their singles — the hypnotic psychedelia of "Light My Fire," the shit-kicking backroom blues rock of "Alabama Song," the dirty proto-garage propulsion of "Break On Through," the doomsday rock-opera drama of "The End"— and that's just from their debut album. They packed more great songs onto that thing than most bands manage in a career, and they did it not by exploiting a single strength, but by experimenting with different, nascent sounds and blowing the top off them. They recorded a song written by Bertolt Brecht, for God's sake.

Listen: "Light My Fire"


So even if you don't buy into The Doors' evolution into blues rock — and you should, because between Morrison's deep howl and Robby Krieger's guitar licks, L.A. Woman and Morrison Hotel may just be the two greatest albums ever to drink cheap beer out of a bottle to — you have to give them their self-titled debut. The Doors is an LP packed with terrific songs, with varied songs, with exciting and surprising shifts in tone and lyric and tempo and technique, culminating in the eleven-minute apocalypto-shock of "The End." It is quite simply one of the unimpeachably great albums of all time, and if you disagree, then you are thinking too hard.

Listen: "The End"


Try pushing aside the poetry and the posturing and the posthumous commercial appropriation, and just really listen to this stuff. The interplay of Ray Manzarek's organ with Robby Krieger's guitar is one of the great grin-inducing pleasures in all of rock music; Morrison's manic showmanship and vocal expression are affecting and pleasing on the most very basic level. And that's where most of the appeal in The Doors lies — on those basic levels, and in those base, teenage instincts. You don't have to be very smart, or patient, or sober to enjoy The Doors: just a sucker for catchy and mischievous hooks, passionate instrument-playing, and a little bit of pomp and swagger. That is the ongoing appeal of The Doors; that is the real poetry of Jim Morrison and his band.

Commentarium (58 Comments)

Jul 01 11 - 1:25pm

The Doors are a relatively singular band, especially when you consider their moment in time: they arguably became a defining band of the times without sharing the characteristics of any other defining band during the same time period. However, Jim Morrison was an overrated hack, and that is inarguable. Therefore, I am forced to tread the middle ground and simply declare them vastly overrated.

Jul 01 11 - 1:46pm
Andre Ramos

They are definitely overrated considering too many people like them for the wrong reasons ( for the simple fact that Jim Morrison is there ) but that aside, they have a lot of valor and interest and enough musical bagage to be liked by the same number of people, and all this with Jim Morrison aside. And therefore i have no problem in saying the fact that they are so overrated for the wrong reasons makes them underrated for there actual valor.
Till this day i fail to understand why anyone would not fall in love with The Doors.

Jul 01 11 - 1:56pm

I was the typical Doors fan in my teens. Over the years I've met a number of people who at some point got to see them live. So far, they've been unanimous: the show was awful. Morrison was an unhappy out of control drunk. Like many creative types, he was a miserable person.

Jul 15 11 - 12:21pm

The Doors put on tons of great shows from 1965 to around '68. It was around 1969 that Morrison's drinking accelerated, which resulted in some uneven gigs.

Jul 01 11 - 3:22pm

They had some good moments, for sure. Always found them a bit pretentious. Jim Morrison, to me was not the Lizard King--he was the Lounge Lizard King. I mean, Touch Me, for Gawd's sake! But, LA Women is really fine. Light My Fire is....Light My Fire. Etc. Very uneven really, with a precipitous decline.

Jul 01 11 - 3:32pm

Both good arguments. Interesting the The Doors lover hated the Oliver Stone movie and The Doors hater didn't think it was too bad.

My theory is that people who hate the Doors are really just turned-off by Jim Morrison. I've always felt that the three musicians behind him were insanely talented and created an amazing atmosphere so that even his more ridiculous lyrics managed to sound mysterious (at least when you're 14). Manzarek, Kreiger and Densemore took their classical, blues, flamenco and jazz influences and blended those styles beautifully to create something new. Jim was overrated the other three terribly underrated.

Jul 01 11 - 3:44pm
Vinegar Bend

"The Doors" movie wasn't that bad ("Alexander" was actually incoherent). The last parts may have been awful but the entire long section depicting their rise from the LA clubs is pretty brilliantly portrayed.

Both of those writers are to some extent correct. The doors did not suck, but the overemphasis on Morrison as some kind of mythic poet/shaman is ridiculous and has very little to do with their actual appeal. Plus, since almost everything in the band is erroneously credited to Morrison, Robby Krieger's considerable songwriting gifts tend to be ignored.

The Doors were a refreshing volt when they first appeared. Their first hit, "Break on Through," is pretty basic and unpretentious but also terrific. No matter what one may think of "Light My Fire" now, hearing it on Top 40 radio back then was quite a breakthrough.

Then there are things like "Horse Latitudes" which never should have been put on vinyl. And having seen them often enough to have witnessed Morrison's degeneration in public, I can tell you there was nothing appealing about it.

Jul 01 11 - 4:11pm

Deusner, did you seriously say "Albert Lee?" And a Pitchfork writer, no less? You're not allowed to talk about psychedelia any more, you dim twat.

Jul 09 11 - 2:53pm

Dude, thanks for the wicked laugh. Dim twat share your thoughts more often, LOL

Jul 14 11 - 4:54pm
The Memphian

Arthur Lee. You're not allowed to comment anymore.

Jul 01 11 - 4:12pm

I love their first album and think the follow up, 'Strange Days', is an all-time classic. But it was completely scattershot after that; a great single here and there, buried inside a lot of mediocre albums. Plus, they lose a ton of cred in my book for willingly putting out a song as embarrassing and just plain wretched as 'The Soft Parade'. Not even Eddie Murphy's 'Party All The Time' or that Gwyneth Paltrow-Huey Lewis duet makes me cringe as much.

Jul 01 11 - 4:22pm

Deusner said Arthur Lee, not Albert Lee. And Love, Arthur's band, was far far greater than The Doors.
I agree with Julian about "The Soft Parade." When it came out, I wondered what had happened to The Doors. Up to that time, it may have been the worst album put out by a "respected" rock band, thanks largely but not only to the title song.

Jul 01 11 - 5:02pm

If it wasn't for The Doors, I wouldn't be dropping blotter and discussing The Golden Bough with my baby lamb to this day.

Jul 15 11 - 10:25pm

CCC good style ...... herd the sheep in your sleep

Jul 01 11 - 7:02pm

ALbert Lee and Love were amazing. Forever Changes might be the most underappreciated (by the general public) album of the 60's. Morrison's self importance was very hard to take. if he wasn't so damn handsome, he would never have gotten away with it. At the end of the day, he was just a drug addled, self-destructive, fat wretch. Nothing Romantic about that.

Jul 01 11 - 8:03pm

It's ARTHUR Lee and Love. And to me, "Forever Changes" is the best album ever made.

Jul 02 11 - 3:58pm

Yes, Arthur Lee. I made the same mistake made earlier. But, I know it's the late Arthur Lee.

Jul 01 11 - 9:57pm

The Doors have some moments that are great and a few songs ("You're Lost little Girl", "Break on Through", "Queen of the Highway" "Soul Kitchen") that still hold up, but I tend to think - as many here on this thread do - that their best moments were largely because of the great playing of Robbie, Ray and John, and not because of self-styled "poet" Jim.

Or to put it another way, the best songs are the ones where Jim scales back the pretension and self-importance and just sings with the band, not drawing attention to himself and not trying so desperately t0 be a badass.

Also, ditto what everyone else says about _Arthur _ Lee. That guy was the shit. I saw him play live with Baby Lemonade in the 2000's and he was the real deal. On stage charisma and he still sounded great as a singer.

Jul 02 11 - 6:20am

The music of the Doors is just fine, but the lyrics? Jim Morrison calling himself an American poet?? With lines like "You know that I would be untrue/You know that I would be a liar" or "Like a dog without a bone/like a man without a home" that I probably could have come up with as a fetus, I can't take him seriously.

Jul 02 11 - 9:08am
Base Less

I never understood how a rock band could get by without a bass player.

Jul 02 11 - 9:37am
Taste Less

Manzarek played the bass lines with his left hand.

Jul 02 11 - 9:41am

The lyrics to "Light My Fire" are actually by Krieger

Jul 02 11 - 11:14pm

this negative assessment was cynical, heavy handed and childish. That whole bit about jim morrison reading Freud before writing riders on the storm was just plain derivative. Perhaps you should learn about music history, the movement, the idealism of the time was more than complex lyrics, and smokin guitar riffs. I can guarantee that the bloke that wrote this is a huge radio head fan, and also modest mouse, but not the one that got radio play, that the one that was "too mainstream, and sellout" ill tell you what cowboy its really easy to talk shit on a band that wasn't the best band ever, but certainly is head and shoulders above anything made in the last ten years. If you think im alone in my assessment, their record sales speak for themselves. its really easy to condemn, its much harder to create.

Jul 04 11 - 8:18am

"its really easy to talk shit on a band that wasn't the best band ever, but certainly is head and shoulders above anything made in the last ten years."

You are certainly living up to your name with this statement.

Aug 20 12 - 12:49pm

And now album sales equate quality? You are going to have a really hard time making that argument. Ditto for making baseless assumptions about the author.

Jul 03 11 - 1:52am

Listen to LA Woman and say the suck. You're not human.

Jul 03 11 - 1:53am

I lived in LA when they broke on am radio. They were so far ahead of everything else, it blew your mind. I was a six year old with a blown mind.

Jul 03 11 - 5:44am

Both "pro" and "contra" are pathetic in their own special ways. The "pro" guy is real heavy on the drinkin' the cheap beer thingy - does that imply that the Doors were only perfect for a Bud commercial? And the Pitchfork guy urges us to listen to melodramatic and really, really stupid Love and incoherent 13th Floor Elevators. C'mon give us a sample of Rocky's and Arthur's lyrics, I dare you.

Jul 04 11 - 5:44pm

To celebrate the fact that I love The Doors just because I do, I will put on 'A Feast of Friends' and enjoy it to the fullest. Love it or hate it, it's a choice like any other, I don't judge.

Jul 04 11 - 6:09pm

Hmm. How many bands will ever enjoy this kind of debate forty years on? I'm with "madli"--serendipitously, I just heard "When the Music's Over" for the first time in years a few hours ago, and I thought, "Good god, that's brilliant." And apparently, while Morrison's talent as a poet always has been and probably always will be pooh-poohed, that doesn't stop generation after generation from discovering him. Silly bastards.

Jul 04 11 - 7:27pm

blah blah tit tit listen to all the hippies whine

Jul 15 11 - 10:31pm

what an idiot

Jul 05 11 - 12:57pm

Mr Deusner,

You are definitely allowed to have your opinion but I simply disagree with you.

You cannot ignore the effect they had on our society and the genius of some of their iconic pieces.
Some of those would come out today and I'd be hooked.
It's more than obvious that they transcend time & fashions.
They also gave a very efficient mainstream kick in the butt to the politically-correct, which was very much needed in America during that era.

All of that said I will definitely appreciate and love the Doors until my end.

Jul 05 11 - 6:08pm

jim and i were just sitting down having some drinks and talking about the good old days.................

Jul 06 11 - 4:22pm

That was fun. Do more of these.

Jul 07 11 - 3:03pm

It's not surprising that there is so little consensus about this if you start with polar opposites like "They're gods!' vs. "They Suck!" Were they overrated? Well, what WASN"T overrated from the 60's...really!? The Dead. The Airplane. Sgt. Pepper's. all overrated. So what? The Doors were an interesting and talented band fronted by a careening megalomaniac with Byronic artistic pretensions. Their music was at turns oddly dark and out of sync with whatever else was going on and trafficked in a kind of modal noodling lead by Robbie Kreiger's unique approach-listen to the roller coaster slide solo on Moonlight Drive! Appreciate them in perspective- what else can you do? If you want to see some pretentious lyrics read Arthur Lee's! You wanna hear bloated embarrassing overreach listen to "Revelations" on the 2nd side of Da Capo. Still, Love was awesome in their own way...

Dec 01 11 - 9:35pm

Best comment

Jul 07 11 - 4:08pm
Paul Bergen

Where does this hate-on for Morrison come from? Like any great band, and there is little doubt that Doors qualify as such, every member contributes....but that being said, were it not for Morrison, the band would never have been noticed. Morrison might be a shitty poet/writer and even a shitty human being but he was one of the great front men of all time. Certainly still listening to in an age which though full of as much good music as ever has lowered the bar for vocalists. Lots of great bands with soso singers out there...

Jul 07 11 - 4:35pm
Nerve Sucks

Is Nerve so desperate to create hype and hire crap music "writers"? None of these contributors seems to be educated in the history or rock n' roll. Come on people. Please hire people with musical knowledge, stop asking your local hipster wannabe musician to write shit articles!!!!

Jul 08 11 - 4:37pm
Un Fronted

If Morrison was so pretentious/bad/overrated/etc and the true genius of the group was the other 3, then why were the albums they recorded without him such flops? IIUC, they still haven't made it onto CD.

Jul 09 11 - 3:16pm

..and while they don't need any of us to cash the royalty checks, it seems like the debate is over Morrison, not the Doors. The music,taken in context to when it was made and its neighbors on the FM dial was just as open, complex, moving, freeing, derivative, unique as anything else.
What "the music" of the Doors did [including lyrics and Morrison's vocals] was give lots of hopeful songwriters and musicians more space to create. Hearing Arthur Lee sing about his heartbreaks, Levi Stubbs sing about his, and Morrison sing about the crystal ship in the same 12 minutes on the radio straight or high as the moon was an exceptional experience and would not have been as rich without the bad poetry and sometimes not so great singing of the lizard king. "If he can do that, so can we" was that wonderful message.
So don't get so cynical, light one up and get into the whispers of riders on the storm, or don't. It's there if you need it.

Jul 13 11 - 9:03pm

Stephen Deusner sounds like moron's moron... Where the hell is Pitchfork anyway?

Jul 15 11 - 9:04am

Like him or not, Morrison was honest and uncompromising. You wouldn't have found him writing fatuous, undergrad love/hate screeds to generate web traffic.

Jul 22 11 - 12:40am

This is the perfect way to break down this ifnormatoin.

Jul 22 11 - 1:17am

One or two to rmmeeber, that is.

Aug 11 11 - 5:19pm
little buddy

the doors were great for there time & they're still fun to listen to's r'n r '. ya not supposed to think to much about it. if ya' like it fine , enjoy it . if ya' don't turn it down or off.i think both missed the bus.remember they're paid to write even if they have nothing to say.

Aug 14 11 - 7:51pm

The Doors are some really old music and I heard them long before I ever heard of Jimi Hendrix. Are they a tool of racism? That would be unfortunate for them. They deserve to be remembered for the good music they produced. Light My Fire was a classic and the long version was a gift to all of us who dug those long, long numbers. Still, I prefer to remember them in their 60's vogue when they hit the charts rather than in the later cult hero, rock legend modal.

Oct 06 11 - 6:33pm

Guess what, the man could sing. Fuck Freddy Mercury.

Oct 16 11 - 4:39pm

I love people who make fun of the Doors and then turn around and claim that The Beatles is the greatest band ever.

I'd like to see those hacks at pitchfork try to argue against a true intellectual like Piero Scaruffi.

Mar 05 12 - 5:20pm

Never agreed more to anything.

Nov 29 11 - 3:06pm

I came across this article after reading about the female bass player who never gets laid. ! I felt sorry for her but, things will get better . This comparison of bands makes no sense at all.
Lets just say if a band makes it to the R N R Hall of Fame then whatever they did ...a lot of people thought it was pretty good. If Jim took a crap onstage....if Robby sang out of key ...if Ray messed up a bass line....he had to play keyboard too.......if Densmore dropped a drum stick....its ok.....whatever they did was sufficient enough for them to get inducted into the Hall.
This allows them to get the benefit of the doubt....whether they sucked or didn't suck means nothing at this point.

Feb 11 12 - 6:32am
The doors forever!

Wow if people say the doors suck. They should fuckin die!!! JIM MORRISON IS THE BEST SINGER!
the way he preforms is epic!!!!. When he made LA WOMEN. My favorite song.

The doors doesnt suck.
U may die my friend!!!!!

Rip Jim morrison!!!

Mar 05 12 - 8:27pm
Mr hairy balls

My dick itches

Mar 25 12 - 1:49am
fuck all haters

Ok first of all Jim Morrison was absoultely not a shitty person or a shitty human being, he had great talent and he wasn't miserable what so ever in fact no one understood him and his message so fuck everybody who has all this negative contempt for the lizard king

Mar 30 12 - 7:50am
Rock n roll

Id rather listen to Motley Crüe

Apr 07 12 - 2:56pm
Eggshell Mind

Deusner misses the mark. His criticism is 100% about the abysmal poetry of Morrison. Agreed, it sucked. But the poetry of the Doors is the poetry of the whole band, not an isolated Morrison.

The music may be easily digestible, but that doesn't equate to shitty music. Every band has good/bad songs/albums and The Doors are no exception. But on the whole, I believe they did break on through and differentiated themselves from their peers. It is counterintuitive, but if they were just 'another band' then every song would sound like the 'Unknown Soldier'.

Apr 12 12 - 2:08am

I read both articles- I get it- I do- I cringe every time I hear "an actor out on loan". Not always the greatest lyrics. But for some reason it doesn't matter- I LOVE the doors. I wasn't born until after Jim Morrison was dead, the band was long gone (except for their horrible lets try to replace Jim contest on TV- do you remember that??) and I'm a female. But for some reason I hear the music and I feel different- turned on, a switch flicked. I make art- and when I'm working- what do I always end up listening too? The Doors. They just get my head turned around-LA Woman - that album could kill you it's so good. And if I hear LA Woman on the radio- it's all over- the volumes cranked and I'm high. Isn't that what music is really about- how it makes you feel??

Jul 17 12 - 11:57pm

Fuck this guy he doesnt know shit. The Doors probably are one of the most underated bands of all time. The dont get the praise they deserve for coming up with "The LA Sound". The Beatles who were bubble gum pop got more praise for making up simple little songs you can sing along to. As for not being deep, you got to be kidding me there lyrics actually mean something. Not this I love you shit you would hear back then, but some real shit. Sometimes I find myself wondering how the fuck Jim would come up with such amazing lyrics. You dont even have an argument there. They stood for something and that my friends is Personal Power, O and on another note Jim Morrison was a fuckin genius, idiots. Peace Niggaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!