The Golden Scarab

Ray Manzarek

Polygram, 1974

REVIEW BY: Ben McVicker


One of the lost albums of the mid-70s, The Golden Scarab is a colorful amalgam of psychedelia and jazz rock. The first solo album from Doors keyboardist and co-founder Ray Manzarek, it boasts an eyebrow-raising lineup of esteemed jazz players Tony Williams (ex-Miles Davis, Lifetime) on drums, and Larry Carlton of “Kid Charlemagne” fame on guitar. Rounding out the band is Elvis Presley’s former bassist, Jerry Scheff, and a trio of percussionists who employ a variety of items ranging from congas and tuned woodblocks to African cowbells.

On first listen, the album is quite dated. Manzarek’s spoken-word narrative, often delivered to a backdrop of archaic synthesizer effects, is unintentionally comedic at times. Try as he may to make a concept album, Manzarek’s spoken-word delivery of such phrases as "But now we must descend... for there is another side to this vision!" sound awkward and stilted, somewhat reminiscent of William Shatner’s readings of Shakespeare. The music, however, is generally quite good.

Things kick off with “He Can’t Come Today,” an almost-tropical-sounding number with elements of rumba and old-school rock and roll, interspersed with odd percussion breaks. It’s a bizarre opener. Commenting on the vast spectrum of percussion, Manzarek stated that he had “two guys playing klicky-klackys, bingers and boingers, scrappers and slappers, strange, loose tambourines that would go baro-o-om and all kinds of things.” (Down Beat Magazine, Nov. 7, 1974) And that’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s more of a novelty item than anything, though Tony Williams adds some very tasteful drumming. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Solar Boat” is a vast improvement. It features some cosmic keyboard effects and has a rather jazzy chorus with some great fills from Williams. Manzarek’s pleasant baritone vocals and interstellar lyrics make this a virtual successor to “Riders on the Storm.” The words are a trip in themselves, often featuring veiled references to past Doors songs ("Let’s ride / Let’s take a moonlight drive / We’re on a tightrope ride / Into the sun.") Manzarek’s appreciation for the psychedelic was still front and center for this album. Songs like this one will have listeners wondering if Manzarek deserves more credit for The Doors’ sound.

The title track is another standout. Another spacey number closer in style to some of the later Doors material, one could easily hear Morrison singing this tune. Eventually it leads into a bizarre percussion interlude, as Manzarek details how "All of life is sunlight / Osiris is the night…" Carlton does a nice job of accenting the song with some good background licks and rhythm playing.

“The Purpose of Existence Is?” is another long song, this one a stripped-down, midtempo affair featuring some lounge-lizard style vocals. Williams does a great job of holding down the beat while Manzarek turns in a nice organ solo. Larry Carlton, mysteriously quiet for most of the album, finally gets to cut loose on this song with a grooving, jazzed-up solo. The mishmash of musical styles is bizarre, and doesn't always flow together, but it certainly allows the band to show off their versatility.

The trio of closing songs is less remarkable: “The Moorish Idol” is hard not to chuckle at. A dated, meandering instrumental carried by hokey synthesizers, the drums may be great, but overall it feels like a needless addition to the album. “Choose Up and Choose Off” is a pleasant but forgettable throwback to early 60s rock, lacking the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink formula of the earlier songs. “Oh Thou Precious Nectar Filled Form” is an upbeat but sadly pedestrian affair. As the song winds down in an outro of horns and handclaps, most listeners will be asking "what the hell did I just listen to?"

The whole album is such a mishmash of styles and ideas, that it’s a difficult question to answer. As was often the case with The Doors, Ray Manzarek’s solo debut is a frustrating, pretentious and at times incoherent affair. That being said, it is certainly a cut above the two post-Morrison albums (Other Voices, Full Circle), and worthy of repeated listens if only for the talent involved.

Rating: B-

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© 2007 Ben McVicker and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Polygram, and is used for informational purposes only.