When the Doors’ producer, Paul A. Rothchild, suggested adding orchestral strings and horns to guitarist Robby Krieger’s song “Touch Me,” Krieger was not happy. It was two years after Sgt. Pepper, and he says he was wary of the band being seen as copycats. “I said, ‘Oh, God. Now we’re copying the Beatles,’ and the Stones had just done their version of the orchestra thing,” he recalls. “So it was like we were keeping up with the Joneses or something.” Also, he worried the move might alienate the band’s fan base. “We were a four-piece band,” he says.
“Touch Me” was one of several songs Rothchild wanted to orchestrate, and it wasn’t until Krieger heard what arranger Paul Harris, who had worked with B.B. King, had come up with that he was on board. These days Krieger thinks “Touch Me” is “one of [his] better songs.”
But now, half a century later since he made peace with the orchestrations, the Doors are releasing a version of the song without the strings that will appear on a new box-set reissue of the band’s 1969 LP, The Soft Parade. A couple of months back, Krieger recorded a new guitar solo for the track that he based on Curtis Amy’s saxophone solo and added some of his own ideas to it. “It sounded empty without it,” he says. Krieger now hears the song a little differently: John Densmore’s drumming and Ray Manzarek’s keyboard playing stand out more to his ears since they were previously covered with strings and horns.
“It was cool to strip that stuff down,” Krieger says. “You can’t say, ‘Oh, this is what it would have been like if we didn’t do the horns and strings, because I think we would have approached it differently, but you have an idea of what it sounded like. I think it’s kind of cool.”
Although he’s proud of the song, he remembers the time surrounding the recording of The Soft Parade as unpleasant. The group had more resources than ever before, and it meant they spent much more time in the studio working, especially with the orchestrations. Meanwhile, the musicians were growing apart from their singer. Once upon a time, he and Jim Morrison, who was similar in age to him, were very close and would take acid and smoke pot. But now Morrison was more interested in drinking.
“Jim was starting to drink too much,” Krieger says. “John and I were pretty close, I think we were living together, but Ray and [his wife] Dorothy were always off by themselves. The only time we came together was to work on the record. So we would spend all day on the drums in the studio, and Jim would get bored and go get drunk. If you needed him for a vocal, he was useless. But considering all that, I think it came out great.”
Even though Morrison was erratic and undependable, he embraced Krieger’s “Touch Me” — at least, once they agreed on the title. “Originally it was called, ‘Hit Me,’ about the idea of playing blackjack,” Krieger says. “Jim said, ‘I’m not saying that. People might take me literally.’ I said, ‘How about, “Touch Me”?’ ‘All right, “Touch Me.”‘ so then I wrote the words to fit ‘Touch Me.'” Krieger says it was one of the few times Morrison — “the expert at poetic writing,” as Krieger calls him — objected to one of the guitarist’s lyrics.
Krieger simply felt out the rest of the song’s words. He especially laughs at the line, “Can’t you see that I am not afraid?” “Afraid of what?” he says. “I don’t even know what that means.” He says he took the line “Now I’m going to love you ’til the heavens stop the rain” from a Joan Baez tune whose title he can’t remembers. (Internet searches don’t turn up a Baez song with similar lyrics.) Krieger says he once asked Baez if she was mad about him stealing a lyric but that she “didn’t seem to care one way or the other,” since she recorded mostly traditional songs.
Did Joan Baez like “Touch Me”? “To tell you the truth, I don’t know if she even ever heard it,” he says. “She probably hated the Doors.” He laughs and takes it back, adding that hers was the only autograph he ever asked for. “I had her sign my hand,” he says. Did he take a picture of it? “I wish,” he says. “That was stupid.”
Despite the tensions around making the album, Krieger still has a few happy memories surrounding The Soft Parade. Once, while Morrison was out drinking, the band jammed on Morrison’s “Roadhouse Blues,” and Manzarek sang on it. A recording of that jam, with a new bass line by Stone Temple Pilots’ Robert DeLeo, appears on the box set with vocals credited to Screamin’ Ray Daniels. “Ray was definitely a singer,” Krieger says. “Even before Rick and the Ravens, which was the precursor to the Doors, he was billed as Screamin’ Ray Daniels from Chicago. He was trying to be like Muddy Waters. He’s pretty good.”
And on another occasion, they all jammed together with Morrison for an hour on a tune they called “Rock Is Dead” that they never officially released. “After a big dinner with a lot of drinking, we all came back in and were just messing around,” Krieger recalls. “I think it’s been out on the internet but this is a better mix. Jim was pretty prophetic saying, ‘Rock is dead.’ I think he was right. In the next couple of years, disco came in and punk and all that stuff, so rock as we knew it was going to be dead.”
By the time they made their next album, Morrison Hotel, the band was having fun in the studio again. Although touring became a slog, due to Morrison’s drinking and the general pallor that fell upon them after he was charged with public indecency for allegedly exposing himself at a 1969 Miami concert, the studio was the place they could connect. “It’s kind of weird,” Krieger says. “But when we eventually did L.A. Woman, it was really good for all of us to be able to produce it ourselves and just have fun. That was probably the most fun we had, except for the first one.”