The Doors App (review)

The Doors App (Rhino Entertainment / Warner Music Group)

The best five bucks a music fan will ever spend in the App Store

The Doors helped pioneer underground FM radio in the late Sixties with their blend of long-form psychedelia and poetry.  Now, over 45 years later, they’re blazing another trail with The Doors App, exclusively for the iPad.

While there have been other apps devoted to bands, most of them are glorified linking programs, pointing you to the artist’s content on the web. That’s what makes The Doors App unique – so much of it is exclusive content that can be viewed offline.  The App takes up a hefty amount of space (almost 1GB), and features rare photos, essays, interviews, videos, memorabilia and music – a full-on multimedia attack on the senses – all helping to tell the most complete story of this legendary band.

The App is organized into categories: The Story, Cast of Characters, Timeline, Map, Gallery, and Music Room; all offering their own unique way of further discovering the group.

The Story is the section with the most content, divided into areas corresponding to each of their seven albums (six studio, one live). This is where you can literally lose yourself as you explore the Doors’ catalog.  Each section of The Story contains an essay written by longtime Rolling Stone contributor and Doors’ fan, David Fricke.  Far from being plain text, these pieces feature a new level of interactivity – photos, interviews, audio and video are interspersed with the writing, and are all clickable, allowing you to zoom in and read documents, or play the media – helping the band’s history come alive right before your eyes. So, when they’re covering the band’s beginnings, you can watch a video of keyboardist Ray Manzarek talking about meeting Jim Morrison on the beach. And, when they’re discussing “Break on Through,” you can hear a snippet of the song as you read.  Many of the albums have other additional essays from the likes of Hunter S. Thompson, Patti Smith, and Greil Marcus. There’s even a category labeled Tech Nuggets, which gets into the nuts and bolts of recording – discussing the microphones, tape machines and other audio equipment utilized for each album’s creation.

Because the app is only $4.99, it wouldn’t make sense for them to give you every Doors’ song for that price.  But, don’t worry, there’s still an enormous amount music here. In an area marked Music Room, you can browse the group’s catalog and listen to 30-second iTunes’ snippets of every song.  Clicking on these samples brings up that track’s lyrics as well.  There’s even a link to purchase the mp3.  But, there’s more – embedded in the essays in The Story are tons of longer samples – most containing at least a verse and chorus – giving you a better idea of whatever song is being discussed.

The Cast of Characters area gives a brief description of people instrumental in the band’s history, from group members, supporting musicians, managers, and even biographers, while The Timeline offers a linear history of the band, not only including items like Morrison’s baby photo, but also historical references, like Altamont and stats from the Vietnam War, which give you a better idea of the tumultuous time that this music was recorded in. The Gallery allows you to just view the hundreds of photos that are also embedded into either the Timeline or The Story.  Many of these have never been seen before.

The Map is an interesting touch. Focusing on the band’s hometown of Los Angeles, there are many pin points which, when clicked, show important places crucial to the Doors: locations of bars, venues and recording studios, all in the Southern California area.  There’s also a Social Media tab which allows you to connect with The Doors on Facebook & Twitter, as well as an email function, where you can share your experience of The Doors App with your friends. Finally, there’s a section titled Records, Books & Videos, which provide avenues for further exploration of the band.

Among the many highlights is a video of guitarist Robby Krieger showing how he wrote “Light My Fire” originally on Flamenco guitar.  There’s also a pretty disturbing video for “The Unknown Soldier,” where Morrison gets shot and falls to the ground.

Also of note is the extensive coverage of The Miami Incident, where Morrison purportedly exposed himself onstage, and was subsequently arrested.  Here, you can actually delve into once-sealed FBI court documents containing evidence, testimony and notes from his trial.  There’s also a graphic novel retelling of the events surrounding the notorious concert, which includes actual audio of the singer provoking the crowd (but no video – no evidence has ever surfaced).

Another curious area is The Music’s Never Over, which tells the forgotten tale of how the remaining members did in fact put out two more studio albums after Morrison’s death: Other Voices and Full Circle.  These two LPs have been extremely hard to find, and it’s interesting to hear them carry on without their fearless leader.

When you consider how long it took to transfer all this material to the digital format, it’s a wonder it only costs five dollars.  The brainchild of Jac Holzman, the man who signed the Doors to Elektra Records in 1966, the app is a monumental collaboration between the surviving members of the Doors, as well as Manzarek, who recently passed away, and the estate of Morrison.  Material was culled from numerous sources – family members, vintage magazines, recent autobiographies, and label archives.

Even if you already own every Doors’ album, have read every book, and watched every movie, you still need this app – there’s just so much here.  And, you’ll want to show it off to your friends because it’s just so cool.

The Doors App is, in a word, phenomenal.  After spending several hours with it, I felt somehow closer to the band, like I’ve been allowed into their inner circle. Every classic rock artist should have an app this incredible.

This is the must-have music app of 2013.  –Tony Peters