Light My Fire: Sonic Psychedelia to the Tune of a Vox Continental

The Doors single of Light My Fire

Once we get into another Doors phase, we really go off on one. Previously we took a look at People Are Strange (1967), surprisingly released as a single despite its troubled lyrics.

There’s no surprise Light My Fire was released as a single (in truncated form).

About as iconic as it gets with America’s Sixties hippy scene, The Doors couldn’t have been more perfectly primed to latch onto that and catapult themselves to superstardom.

Brooding and Instrumentals in Light My Fire

Arguably The Door’s most famous song, it was recorded in August 1966 and launched on the band’s eponymous debut album. Its erotically charged lyrics, and psychedelic nature, immediately made it a hit.

Funny thing is, though, Jim Morrison wasn’t the principal songwriter.

Nope, that went to the band’s underrated guitarist—Robby Krieger. We want to flag that up, as we feel most people will (naturally) attribute the song’s lyrics to Morrison. Because he wrote pretty much all the other songs, of course.

Despite that, the song was credited to the whole band.

Krieger said he was inspired by the melody from Hey Joe, with a little bit of The Rolling Stones’ Play With Fire being another inspiration.

As with many of the best lyrics, they’re simple but effective:

You know that it would be untrue,
You know that I would be a liar,
If I was to say to you,
Girl, we couldn’t get much higher.

Come on, baby, light my fire,
Come on, baby, light my fire,
Try to set the night on fire.

The time to hesitate is through,
No time to wallow in the mire,
Try now we can only lose,
And our love become a funeral pyre,

Come on, baby, light my fire,
Come on, baby, light my fire,
Try to set the night on fire.

The song triggered controversy, and something of a moral panic, in America due to the use of “higher” in the lyrics. With many more conservative sorts believing this was a nod towards mind-bending drugs (see Huxley’s The Doors of Perception).

Plus, the whole openly erotic nature of the song was enough to make any decent, morally righteous individual foul themselves in horror.

As the album version is just over seven minutes long, Light My Fire was then released as a three minute single on April 24th, 1967, and spent three weeks at #1 in the US.

That pretty launched The Doors there and then and made the members one of the hottest bands on the rock music scene.

We prefer the full version of the song as it shows off the incredible talents of the three musicians working flat out—Ray Manzarek (perched behind his Vox Continental keyboards), guitarist Krieger, and drummer John Densmore.

They really work wonders across the song. We listen to them and it makes us think of a hot summer’s day in ’60s LA with people larking about in the heat.

Light My Fire is so very evocative of that Sixties psychedelic era.

Manzarek’s contributions aren’t to be understated with that whirling keyboard intro. He was so skilled on his Vox Continental he could control the rhythm with his right hand and a Fender Rhodes Piano bass on his left.

The Doors didn’t use a bassist as they felt it’d interfere with the sonic sound they were aiming for, allowing them to pursue unusual avenues with their work.

It all builds towards one of Morrison’s iconic growls (despite being so young, he did have an incredibly powerful voice), which rounds off what you’ve probably forgotten is an exciting and dramatic song.

It’s the instrumental that does it for us. This wasn’t some two-bit band of amateurs hitting it lucky, these guys were very skilled. And working together they delivered that unique Doors sound.

Genre-blending, uncompromising, and steeped in Morrison’s enigmatic wording. Really, there’s not been a band like them since.

Notable Live Performances of Light My Fire

Here’s a performance from 1967, played live (many others they had to do on TV were mimed). Excellent stuff, though, and a band really finding peak form.

But watching the clip now, you can’t help but notice the singer. One of the reasons The Doors got picked up by a record label was because of the rather sellable nature of Jim Morrison’s appearance.

When you’ve got a frontman looking like that, studio execs felt they didn’t need to worry about marketing the band.

You can hear (briefly) the hysterical screaming of young women in the audience as the above clip starts. A sound that’d follow the band around annoying them as they tried to be taken seriously.

But Morrison did look like a rock God, with the hair and leather pants.

Whether he enjoyed the attention to begin with or not, it rapidly frustrated him. As Morrison wanted to be taken seriously as a poet. Yet a lot of the press around the band (and those attending their concerts) was about gawping at him.

Some announcers before gigs introduced them as, “Jim Morrison and The Doors.” To his credit, the singer ordered them to reintroduce them as just The Doors.

By 1970 Morrisons’ drinking and drug use led to significant weight gain. He grew out his beard and became unpredictable with his behaviour, leading to his band members refusing to tour with him by late 1970.

This makes The Doors’ performance at The Isle of Wight Festival in August 1970 all the more noteworthy. Thankfully, the set was recorded for posterity.

Within a year Jim Morrison was dead (July 3rd, 1971). If you read what he was up to during his final 12 hours (taking an enormous amount of drugs), that’s no big surprise.

And he joined former Rolling Stones multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin in the notorious “27 Club”. All of whom had succumbed to various addictions in a brief period from 1969-1971.

That early death does, sadly, tend to overshadow some aspects of his brief career.

It’s still often not just about the music, you also have to discuss his hedonistic lifestyle, general behaviour, and bowing out at age 27.

The big irony with Light My Fire, which we do think is the band’s most famous song, is Morrison didn’t write most it. But the Lizard King delivered the lines like a shamanic SOB, so it’s kind of a moot point.

6 comments

  1. A great band with an iconic sound. Too bad Morrison didn’t live long enough to pull himself together. It’s surprising, the drug abuse that some of his contemporaries survived who are still alive today. I visited his grave at Père Lachaise in Paris a few years ago.

    Did you ever see the movie about The Doors by Oliver Stone? I’m not a fan.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have seen the film! I thought it was okay. But it’s been 20 years since I watched it, so perhaps it’s time to revisit it.

      I’d definitely like to visit Morrison’s gravestone someday, that’d be like a pilgrimage now.

      And it was the norm really, all the rock star drug taking, but Keith Richards is somehow still going. Ginger Baker made it to 2019. Just luck of the draw in many instances, really.

      Like

  2. I always felt that the Doors captured much of the late 60’s zeitgeist and, to a large extent, also helped define it. Manzarek’s keyboard chops were a totally iconic period sound. Duly parodied by Mr F. Zappa Esq on his ‘You are what you is’ album. The penultimate track on side 4, ‘If Only She Woulda’ is an explicit Manzarek homage/parody, keyboards by Tommy Mars. (Zappa also lampooned Morrison’s infamous ‘organ solo’ via the ‘Mothers of Invention Anti-Smut Oath’.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Now weirdly, I’ve not listened to much of Zappa’s work. Which I should rectify rapidly I think, can’t understand why I haven’t. Maybe because I went to Captain Beefheart instead first when I was younger.

      I shall have a listen to that album today, thank you kindly!

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      • It’s worth a listen for sure – that album ‘did in’ not just the Doors (via ‘If Only She Woulda’) but also generic C&W (‘Harder Than Your Husband’), corporate drug culture (‘Any Downers?’), Televangelists (‘Heavenly Bank Account’ and ‘Dumb All Over’), etc. Razor sharp, no-holds-barred social satire mixed with a level of music-as-comedy that only Weird Al has ever matched. Oh, and tons of ultra-accomplished, ultra-tight musicianship.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I thought it sounded like a Weird Al kind of thing, so yeah I ended up busy yesterday. Gonna have a blast of it tonight though.

          The main thing I know about Zappa is that awful incident when he was pushed offstage. Not the best thing to know someone by.

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