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Area Resident’s Classic Album Review: Ray Manzarek | The Whole Thing Started With Rock & Roll And Now It’s Out of Control

The keyboardist's 1974 LP makes you realize how bad The Doors could have been.

I have heard some really bad records in my time, and Ray Manzarek’s 1974 solo album is certainly now among them. Good lord. It’s about as enjoyable as cleaning a dryer vent with wet fingers. Being halfway through it is like piercing the dog-poop bag with one of your digits and getting a brown-finger poncho — but still having a few blocks to walk before you get home. Listening to The Whole Thing Started With Rock & Roll Now It’s Out Of Control makes you realize just how bad The Doors could have been. It’s actually shocking they weren’t worse, given the stupid garbage being released here.

Maybe the record being awful was the reason Manzarek didn’t make another solo record for a decade afterward. It also bombed. Ray had two solo albums out in 1974 — this one on June 1 and his debut, The Golden Scarab, which dropped on March 28. It’s just about as awful. The only reason you’d buy these albums would be for a laugh. They’re overthought, overplayed, dated as hell, cringe-whimsical and pretentious as fuck.

I bought The Whole Thing Started… because the artwork was cool. The rear photo of Ray sitting on top of his keyboard and speaker pit, in a pair of your grandmother’s sandals, is all kinds of awesome. I was fooled. I should have sampled it before I bought it. Normally, I wouldn’t feel ripped off spending $3 on a bad record, but this time I did. I could have bought a fritter with that $3. Don’t believe me? Here. Try to get beyond the first line of lyrics:

This reeks of an album of songs where the lyrics were written first. It has the feel of some dude with a binder of lyrics who never goes anywhere without them. Concepts, trilogies, pontifications. What it immediately reminded me of was late-’70s Alice Cooper stuff. From The Inside era. That Bernie Taupin shit. Turns out there’s a very good reason for this. Dick Wagner was involved in the songwriting. This is the dude who wrote or co-wrote Alice’s big ’70s power ballads Only Women Bleed, I Never Cry, You & Me, and How You Gonna See Me Now? There’s a lot of similarity between Ray and Alice’s vocal delivery on the non-banger, theatrical songs. The record was also produced by Bob Brown — his first as the sole, full-fledged producer — who produced Cooper’s Welcome To My Nightmare the following year.

The album opens with the title track, which is basically Burton CummingsMy Own Way To Rock, sung by one of those friendly Muppet monsters — but wearing women’s garters. The worst kind of glam. Bingo hall Meat Loaf. Caribou filler — with goddamned Flo & Eddie guesting on vocals. I thought Frank Zappa already drove that bus into a brick wall, but here they are just the same.

Stupid, awful The Gambler is next. It actually makes me cross that it kind of rips off Riders On The Storm until the wry, asshole vocal starts. Only a truly broken person would think this is a decent song.

After that comes Whirling Dervish. Pretentious crap. It’s basically scales. Scales and bad prog-fusion trying to be both snake-charmer music and Saxnado. Make it stop! Oh, Jesus. Please. It makes me want to pull the plug out of the wall the way a teenager unplugs the vacuum.

Begin The World Again gets me angry within 10 seconds. Stupid percussion and bird sounds, mixed with porn music. Farfisa armpit farts, followed by completely uncredited female vocalists.

The aptly named Wake Up Screaming borrows a bit of Jim Morrison poetry — because is there any other reason why anyone would be curious about Manzarek’s music other than the fact that he used to write songs with the Lizard King? Well, it gets weirder. Patti Smith recites Ensenada from Morrison’s The New Creatures (1969). Ray probably got to know her because some of his solo band played on Lou Reed’s solo albums of the period. Honestly, though, who cares at this point? It’s like figuring out that the drummer on Ray’s solo debut is the incredible Tony Williams. Like, how did the guy who made this…

… get involved in this?

If you want your mind blown, get a copy of Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy by Chick Corea’s Return To Forever (1973) or Turn It Over, the sophomore LP by the Tony Williams Lifetime (1970), featuring Jack Bruce. Both are bonkers. Not your father’s jazz fusion. Up there with Billy Cobham’s Spectrum, featuring pre-Deep Purple, post-James Gang Tommy Bolin breaking strings and shredding like a madman. No overdubs and mostly improvised, the album is wild. (Bolin breaks his high-E string at 1:45)

Anyway, back to Ray’s silly record.

Thing is, Manzarek was every bit as talented a musician as any of these fusion dudes. There is some incredible playing on The Whole Thing Started With Rock & Roll And Now It’s Out Of Control. The problem, mostly, is the lyrics and vocal delivery.

If The Gambler starts as a bit of a homage to Riders On The Storm, then Side 2’s second track — Art Deco Fandango — is definitely reminiscent of Roadhouse Blues. The major difference, right off the bat, is you get piano in place of the guitar. As you try to adapt, Ray throws a burlesque muted trumpet at you. Those who don’t bail, will soon get a clarinet as well.

Perhaps the album’s best song is next — Bicentennial Blues. It would be better, retrospectively, without the dated Latin percussion. The problem is, they sort of set up the descending, latin-style verses. Like the rest of the record, the best parts of when Ray keeps his trap shut. This one features a Wurlitzer electric piano, and it is quite awesome to hear Manzarek rip on one of my favourite vintage analog keyboards. There is a middle section on this, the album’s longest song, where we actually get the solo from Light My Fire. It’s like being on a Doors cruise.

The album wraps with Perfumed Garden. I don’t hate this one, either. But, like most of the songs on the record, it is really lacking guitar. And that is truly a bizarre thing to say, considering the guitarist on this album is none other than Joe Walsh. So here’s my main overall take: This would have been a much better record if Walsh had produced it, rather than Bob Brown. Or even Bruce Botnick, who did the previous Manzarek album, and is best known as the producer of The Doors L.A. Woman and the engineer of The Beach BoysPet Sounds.

I’d love to say I’ve learned my lesson, having bought this dud without listening to it first. But I find myself curious and tempted by what came next — Manzarek’s next band Nite City, who appear to have made two albums in 1977 and 1978.

How bad could they be?


More Really, Really Bad Records

Here’s a list of some other awful records I bought for under $5, but still should have listened to first. Some of these were quadraphonic copies and that’s my excuse.

Mike Oldfield | Ommadawn (1975)
Seals & Crofts | Diamond Girl (1973)
The Byrds | Dr. Byrd and Mr. Hyde (1969)
Steppenwolf | For Ladies Only (1971)
J. Geils Band | Sanctuary (1978)
Edgar Winter | Entrance (1970)
The Electric Prunes | Underground (1967)
T.Rex | Light Of Love (1974)
Bernie Taupin | Bernie Taupin (1971)
Robert Palmer | Double Fun (1978)
Boz Scaggs | Down Two Then Left (1977)
Nick Lowe | The Rose of England (1985)
The Animals | The Twain Shall Meet (1968)
Mason & Fenn | Profiles (1985)
Robert Palmer | Some People Can Do What They Like (1976)
The Kinks | Preservation Act II (1974)
The Paupers | Magic People (1967)
Debbie Harry | Koo Koo (1981)
Arthur Brown | Dance (1975)
The Love Machine | Electronic Music To Blow Your Mind To (1968)

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Area Resident is an Ottawa-based journalist, recording artist, music collector and re-seller. Hear (and buy) his music on Bandcamp, email him HERE, follow him on Instagram and check him out on Discogs.