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The Doors finally release original singles mixes

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“The Doors: The Singles” features material MIA for decades

It’s about time.

The Doors - one of America’s most iconic and best-selling bands - have finally given fans what they’ve long been asking for: a collection of the band’s unique hit mixes originally issued on 45, many of them mixed specifically for mono.

Available in multiple formats - including a budget-priced 2-CD/1 Blu-ray package, an even more affordable 2-CD edition and a 7-inch vinyl box featuring original sleeve art and labels - “The Doors: The Singles” collects 20 U.S. singles, along with their corresponding B-sides, and adds four commercially unreleased mono radio hit mixes.

The new collection was compiled and mastered by original Doors engineer, Bruce Botnick.

Why mono? Because it’s how most people first heard The Doors, beginning with their first hit “Light My Fire” in 1967. And there are a number of significant differences between the dedicated mono and common stereo versions.

In recent years, many groups and artists who came to prominence during the 1960s, including The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, have issued boxed sets of original mono mixes, many with unique instrumentation and/or vocals not present in their stereo counterparts.

Back in the day when AM radio ruled, monophonic was the most common audio format – not only on the radio but also in record stores. Stereophonic records came with a higher retail price and were generally considered the domain of jazz and classical aficionados and Hi-Fi hipsters.

Listening to The Doors’ unique mono mixes is sometimes an altogether different experience from listening to the more familiar stereo versions. Beyond the obvious editing which sometimes occurred on the mono versions, there are subtle differences in reverb and compression and different effects added to lead singer Jim Morrison’s vocals.

In short, The Doors in mono bring “the spook.”

A prime example is “The Unknown Soldier,” released in March of 1968 in advance of the band’s third album “Waiting For The Sun.” According to Doors-lore, producer Paul Rothchild demanded more than 130 takes before a satisfactory master could be achieved.

The original album stereo mix of “The Unknown Soldier” is certainly spooky enough, but comparatively anemic-sounding next to the sparer yet more powerful mono 45 mix. The charging military feet and percussion sound effects are more prominent in mono, while the gunshot actually sounds like a gun. The single mix is missing the cheering crowds and tolling bells heard on the stereo album version.

“Hello, I Love You” and “Touch Me” are presented in their original stereo 45 mixes. The former was famously promoted as the first rock 45 rpm record issued in stereo, while the latter mix centers drummer John Densmore in the stereo spectrum and is missing the “stronger than dirt” vocal coda (an inside band joke on the album version which referenced an Ajax ad campaign of the period).

Specially prepared promotional mono radio mixes for “Hello..” and “Touch Me” are also here, along with dedicated mono radio mixes of the brass-accented “Tell All The People” and the baroque-pop classic “Wishful Sinful.”

Of “Wishful Sinful,” audiophile mastering engineer Steve Hoffman wrote on his music discussion forum (found at www.SteveHoffman.TV), “This is mono mixing art at its peak. I think it’s a lost art now. I assume that Bruce Botnick did everything here that is Jim-related. This mono stuff is just mono mix perfection, the way only Bruce Botnick could do it, the master of the single mix.”

A Wisconsin-based member of that forum with the username “ascot” wrote of some clear differences in the stereo mix for “Wishful Sinful” as it appears on “The Singles” compared with his original 45.

“The instrumental break showcases it best,” he writes of the different mix which he says “comes close to, but does not fully duplicate, the original single.” There has been no official explanation for this anomaly.

Following Jim Morrison’s death in July of 1971, the three surviving Doors attempted to carry on with the albums “Other Voices” and “Full Circle.” The five singles pulled from those efforts are here (with B-sides) and provide a decent representation of the band’s post-Morrison output.

The content found on the Blu-ray in the expanded edition of “The Singles” provides an alternate Doors listening experience for fans set up with a surround sound system - a high-resolution immersive quadraphonic mix of the 1973 compilation “The Best of The Doors,” originally released on vinyl, 8-track and reel-to-reel format.

The Doors camp deserves accolades for the exceptional sound quality presented on “The Singles.” The dynamics and purity of the original recordings have been transferred fully intact, with seemingly no added compression or limiting.

It’s a minor miracle that the singles masters, unused in some cases for 50 years, survived in such glorious fidelity. The fact that the tapes were not subjected to the unnecessary digital futzing that has marred many a reissue in a failed attempt at modernity makes “The Singles” a delight for fans interested in both audio quality and the historical integrity of the content.

One minor grumble: “The Singles” lacks any contextualizing liner notes outlining the unique nature of the material. Even a cursory explanation of why this material is distinct in The Doors’ canon would be helpful to the unaware buyer who might assume that they’re about to acquire the same mixes they hear on classic rock radio.

For The Doors’ 50th, the band’s representatives have prepared three golden anniversary collections, including deluxe expanded versions of the first two albums (“The Doors” and “Strange Days,” both released in 1967). The first was issued this past March while the second is expected on November 17.

“The Doors: The Singles” is an essential addition to The Doors’ canon.

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