Under Cover: X Open the Doors’ ‘Soul Kitchen’
That darkened corner of the room, where poetry meets rock ‘n’ roll, is not always a place most bands feel all that comfortable. From the very start, it was clear that the Doors were quite at home there.
A decade later, that corner was home to another band of wayward souls from Los Angeles, X — even though at first gaze it might have appeared the two bands had little in common. One traded in rock-god, leather-clad mystique, accompanied by moody, jazzy rock ‘n’ roll; the other had a blistering razor edge steeped in ’50s rock ‘n’ roll by way of the Ramones.
X and the Doors were both beacons of light shining from the streets of L.A., and it’s no surprise their paths would ultimately cross along the way. When X were looking for a producer for their first album, they turned to a genuine fan. Doors’ keyboardist Ray Manzarek had seen the band play live and was instantly blown away by what they had to offer.
After reading an article about them in the L.A. Reader, Manzerek sought out X. “[There were] lyrics from the X song, ‘Johnny Hit and Run Pauline,'” Manzarek recalled in the X documentary ‘The Unheard Music.’ “I read the lyrics, and I thought, ‘These are good lyrics, this is some serious poetry going on here.'”
Manzarek went on to produce the first four X albums. On ‘Los Angeles,’ their debut, the circle was complete when they included a cover of the Doors’ ‘Soul Kitchen.’
The Doors’ original is soulful, slithering and sexy. The subtle jazzy rhythms are hanuted by Manzarek’s signature keyboard runs while Jim Morrison does his best Jim Morrison. It was one of many great songs on what is certainly one of the greatest debut albums in history. In X’s hands, the song takes a very different road to get to the same place, but still hits home.
The driving rhythm section of John Doe and DJ Bonebrake power full steam ahead, while guitarist Billy Zoom shines from above. The distinct harmonies of Doe and Exene Cervenka are at their best here. The brew they stir up is, like the bulk of those first four albums, irresistible.
The sure mark of a good cover song is to remake it in your own image. X does that here, and even though it doesn’t really sound like a Doors song in their hands, the connection is still felt. Both versions are great and personal. It’s one of rock’s great couplings.
“He understood punk, he got the punk thing and understood it wasn’t the hippie thing,” Exene said of Manzarek after he passed away in 2013. “He was happy we existed, and we felt like kindred spirits. We said we were going to be making a record, and he said, ‘I’ll produce if you want.’ We said, ‘OK,’ and that was pretty much it. A lot of the punk people were trying to distance themselves from the hippies, from the dinosaur bands, but X was never really orthodox when it came to punk ideology.”