This is a tribute to a soul food restaurant Jim Morrison ate at on Venice Beach called Olivia's, located on 2618 Main Street, Santa Monica, California. Morrison often stayed too late at Olivia's, where he liked the food because it reminded him of home and warmed his "soul." They often kicked him out so they can close, thus lines like: "let me sleep all night, in your soul kitchen."
"Soul Kitchen" as a restaurant title, would have of course referred to "soul food." That's a traditional kind of cuisine popular with African Americans of the mid-20th century, named in harmony with other "soul" affectations. Soul food usually revolved around ham (cuts like hog's feet and hog jowls), beans, okra, hushpuppies, cornbread, collard greens, and other one-offs of standard American fair. The idea is to that the food is both economical and very filling. People in colder climates (from any culture) may also find soul food comforting in the heart of winter, since you're going to burn all those calories shoveling snow anyway.
According to the Greil Marcus book The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years, "Soul Kitchen" was The Doors' own "Gloria," comparing the steady climb toward a looming chorus. It also quotes Paul Williams' May 1967 article in Crawdaddy! opining that it was more comparable to "Blowin' in the Wind," in that both songs have a message, but the message of "Soul Kitchen" is of course "learn to forget."
Meanwhile, John Densmore's book Riders on the Storm: My Life with Jim Morrison and the Doors declares that the title restaurant Olivia's was a "small soul food restaurant at the corner of Ocean Park and Main." The author describes a meal there with Morrison, commenting that the restaurant "belonged in Biloxi, Mississippi" and resembled "an Amtrak dining car that got stranded on the beach" and was packed with UCLA film students. Another famous diner was Linda Ronstadt.
He is not credited on the album, but Larry Knetchel was brought in to play bass. The Doors usually did not use a bass player, but producer Paul Rothchild felt this needed it.
This song was used as part of the soundtrack to the 1994 blockbuster film Forrest Gump and in the 2003 documentary Mayor of the Sunset Strip. The song "I'm a Tree" by alternative hip-hop artist Imani Coppola samples this song, and Coppola's song appears in many more film and TV episode soundtracks.
Jim Morrison sang lead and harmony. His vocals were overdubbed.
The punk rock band X released a cover of this song on their 1980 debut album Los Angeles, which was produced by Ray Manzarek of The Doors. Manzarek first encountered the band when he saw them play at the Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles, where they included "Soul Kitchen" in their set. Manzarek tried to get X a deal with The Doors' label, Elektra, but they wouldn't bite so the album was released on an independent label. Elektra finally did sign the band after their second album; Manzarek produced that one and also their next two.
This runs just 3:35, but it's still longer than every other song on The Doors' debut album except for "Light My Fire
" (7:06) and "The End