50 Years Ago: The Doors Keep Evolving on ‘Full Circle’
After the death of Jim Morrison in July 1971 at age 27, many people wondered if there was any point to the Doors continuing. Without him, the heart and engine of the band, what else was there?
But the reality was that the rest of the band wasn't unaccustomed to working on their own. Morrison, struggling with substance addiction, was sometimes unreliable when it came to showing up for sessions. When he left for Paris shortly after the recording of L.A. Woman, his bandmates felt the change of scenery would do him well.
"When Jim moved to Paris, none of us thought the band was over," guitarist Robby Krieger wrote in his 2021 book Set the Night on Fire: Living, Dying and Playing Guitar With the Doors. "We knew Jim needed a break, we knew he might be away for a while, but we had no reason to think he wouldn't be back and that we wouldn't pick up where we left off."
In the meantime, the rest of the Doors — Krieger, keyboardist Ray Manzarek and bassist John Densmore – kept making music, assuming Morrison would jump right back in when he returned.
He never did. His body was discovered in a Paris apartment on July 3, 1971. His bandmates grieved and considered what might become of the Doors without their larger-than-life frontman, ultimately deciding that it was best to continue the group.
"It was a new dynamic, but it wasn't that odd for the three of us to write and record together," Krieger wrote. "He had been preparing us to cope with his absence from the beginning. Besides, we needed a mission. Without a new album to work on, we would've just moped around and wallowed in our grief. I was only 25 years old at the time. Not only had I just lost a dear friend and an irreplaceable writing partner; I was facing the idea that our band was over and my life may as well have been over. If we hadn't stayed busy, the weight of all that would've crushed us."
Other Voices, the first album to be released after Morrison's death, came out in October 1971 and reached No. 31 on the chart - not a bad showing considering what the band had been through the past several months. But a substantial portion of the LP stemmed from jam sessions before Morrison's death. Now it was time to work on entirely new material.
Listen to the Doors' 'Verdilac'
After a spring 1972 tour of Europe, the Doors returned to the U.S. ready to get to work. They moved from Santa Monica Boulevard, where they had recorded L.A. Woman, to A&M Studio in Hollywood. They also swapped out Bruce Botnick, who had co-produced L.A. Woman and engineered every Doors album up until that point, for Henry Lewy, who brought a selection of session musicians, including jazz saxophonist Charles Lloyd, Leland Sklar and backing vocalists Venetta Fields and Clydie King.
Full Circle, which was released in July 1972, contained several bouncy, upbeat songs, including "Get Up and Dance," "4 Billion Souls" and a cover of Roy Brown's "Good Rockin'." "Get Up and Dance" was released as a single in 1972, with the B-side "Treetrunk," which was left off the album because it was "too commercial," Krieger later recalled.
Other songs strayed considerably further from commercial aspirations, like "Verdilac," a misspelled Russian word for a vampire that feeds on the blood of its loved ones, and "The Piano Bird." Both tracks drifted toward a funkier, jazz-fusion sound that didn't appeal to fans of the band's older music.
Listen to the Doors' 'Mosquito'
The shift made sense, though. When Manzarek arrived in Los Angeles in the early '60s, it was not the colossal rock industry it would become by the next decade. "Basically, this was not a rock 'n' roll town, it was a jazz town," he recalled in 2013, not long before his death. "The only rock 'n' roll was the Beach Boys." When Manzarek and Densmore first met in 1965, it was jazz that sparked their friendship.
"Ray and I broke the ice when we started talking about our mutual love of jazz," Densmore wrote in 2020's The Seekers: Meetings With Remarkable Musicians (And Other Artists). "I told him that I had seen all the greats at the Manne Hole in Hollywood: Miles, Coltrane, Art Blakey, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans and so on." Before Krieger pivoted to rock music, he was primarily a flamenco guitar player. So the jazz structures heard on Other Voices were always there. But now the Doors were letting them break through.
Listen to the Doors' 'Treetrunk'
The band's willingness to evolve worked out, especially in "The Mosquito," a Latin-inspired song Krieger wrote after a trip to Mexico with his wife. "Lynn and I stayed at a quaint little resort and reeled in some sierras, dorados, yellowtail and bonefish," he later recalled. "At night, the resort staff would cook up our catch, and some local musicians would come down from the nearby hills to serenade us. They were like mariachis but they wore ragged clothes instead of the traditional fancy outfits. They had a song about a mosquito that I wanted to learn, but when I got home I couldn't quite remember it ... so I wrote my own mariachi-sounding tune with simple Spanish lyrics about a mosquito."
The song featured Krieger on lead vocals and reached No. 85 in the States. It was the last Doors single to chart. Full Circle made it to No. 68 on the Billboard albums chart. The Doors released one final studio album, 1978's An American Prayer, which featured Morrison's spoken words set to their music.
"The only thing we had going for us, in the end, was that our fans were still there to support us," Krieger said. "For which we'll always be deeply grateful."