Hello there! This week we take on the song Light My Fire. We will consider the original by the 60s group The Doors and a creative cover of that song by Jose Feliciano.
The Doors and Light My Fire:
The Doors were a quartet that formed in California in 1965. They featured Jim Morrison on vocals, Robby Krieger on guitar, Ray Manzarek on keyboards and John Densmore on drums. The Doors were rather unique among rock bands in that they did not have a bass player, although on nearly all their albums they brought in a bassist as a session musician. The Doors took their name from a novel by Aldous Huxley called The Doors of Perception. That name in turn referenced a poem by William Blake, “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”
The Doors circa 1966: from L, Jim Morrison, John Densmore, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger [note: the caption on the figure is incorrect].
The group eventually signed with Elektra Records. Their first song Break on Through to the Other Side gave the group some exposure but was not a big commercial hit. However, their next release Light My Fire became a gigantic smash, propelling the group to stardom. The Doors never looked back. Each of their first eight albums was certified gold and seven of those reached ‘platinum’ status (gold status initially meant $1 million in sales; currently gold represents sales of half a million units while platinum denotes a million units sold).
The group’s arrangements were complex and sophisticated, reflecting their familiarity with an eclectic range of music from folk and jazz to blues idioms. Ray Manzarek’s keyboard solos frequently provide vague references to classical themes, while Robby Krieger’s guitar work ranges from harsh and grating to lyrical. Jim Morrison’s vocals were extremely powerful and fit perfectly with the Doors’ style, in songs that dealt with themes of alienation and disaffection. For example, People Are Strange is a brilliant depiction of the lonely life of the nonconformist, while songs such as Light My Fire and Break On Through to the Other Side express extreme dissatisfaction with the status quo.
Lead singer Jim Morrison was the quintessential rock star, as shown by the photo at left. He was good-looking and charismatic, but at the same time he often came off as brooding or menacing. Morrison gave himself a series of nicknames; among these are The Lizard King and Mr Mojo Risin (an anagram of Jim Morrison, this phrase appears as a refrain in the Doors’ song LA Woman). As The Doors’ popularity increased, Jim Morrison became a superstar.
As their first big hit, Light My Fire became the group’s signature tune and was their biggest-selling record. The lyrics are directed to the singer’s girlfriend, and urge her to increase the dwindling passion in their relationship before it is too late.
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
[CHORUS] 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
The following video of Light My Fire is from the Doors’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in September 1967. At the time, Ed Sullivan’s variety show was the premier showcase for hot new musical groups. Elvis Presley, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones had all received tremendous publicity from their appearances on Sullivan, and a booking on that show was widely regarded as a guarantee of commercial success.
However, Ed was a bit of a prude, and was particularly sensitive to what he perceived as suggestive lyrics in rock music. For example, for a Rolling Stones appearance in January 1967, Sullivan forced the group to change the lyrics of their song Let’s Spend the Night Together to ‘let’s spend some time together.’ The Stones acquiesced, although Mick Jagger did sneak in the actual lyrics once.
For their appearance on Ed Sullivan, The Doors were told that they needed to alter the line ‘girl, we couldn’t get much higher,’ on the grounds that this might be interpreted as a reference to drug use. Although the Doors agreed to this request, during their performance Morrison sang the uncensored lyrics from the song. Following their performance, Sullivan did not give Jim Morrison his customary handshake; and despite the fact that the Doors had an agreement for multiple appearances on Sullivan, they were never invited back.
[click on link to obtain video]
Here is the 7-minute audio version of the album track Light My Fire. My guess is that many of you have never heard this album cut, or have forgotten it. The extended keyboard and guitar solos in the album version were dramatically shortened, in order to produce a 3-minute single that was played endlessly on rock radio stations starting in 1967.
What a true rock classic! In Light My Fire, both the instrumental and vocal treatments are nearly perfect. Robby Krieger’s composition works on every level, Jim Morrison’s rock vocals are incredibly powerful and a bit threatening, and Ray Manzarek’s keyboards provide a fantastic hybrid of classical and rock music.
Alas, The Doors lasted only four more years after their first big hit. Although the group continued to issue hit records featuring hard-rocking R&B songs, their live performances became progressively more problematic. A major reason for this was Morrison’s heavy use of alcohol and drugs. Perhaps as a result of this, his behavior onstage became more and more erratic. He collapsed during a concert in Amsterdam, and apparently suffered a breakdown during a performance in New Orleans in late 1970.
Perhaps the most infamous incident occurred in Miami in March 1969. Morrison was accused by local authorities of masturbating onstage or of simulated masturbation during that concert. He was taken to court and eventually convicted of profanity and indecent exposure for that incident. Here is Morrison’s mug shot following his conviction. In the photo at left he bears a fairly strong resemblance to Charles Manson.
The Doors disbanded in late 1970 when Morrison’s erratic behavior became too much for the group to bear. Morrison subsequently left for France with his girlfriend Pamela Courson, and he died in Paris in July 1971 at age 27. Apparently Courson found him dead in the bathtub at their apartment.
Pursuant to French law, no autopsy was performed because the medical examiner claimed to have found no evidence of foul play. The absence of an official autopsy and the death certificate’s having no reason of death besides heart failure, have left many questions regarding the cause of death. Morrison was buried in the “Poets’ Corner” of Père Lachaise Cemetery on July 7.
The group continued on as a trio for a couple of years, with the remaining members taking on Morrison’s vocals. They reunited for the occasional performance over the years, and for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. In May 2013 Ray Manzarek died of bile duct cancer.
Jose Feliciano and Light My Fire:
Jose Feliciano was born in Puerto Rico in 1945 and was blind at birth due to congenital glaucoma. At the age of five his family moved to Spanish Harlem, where he became obsessed with the guitar, reportedly practicing up to 14 hours a day. He loved rock and roll, although the greatest influences on his style were classical guitarist Andres Segovia and jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery. Both the flamenco and jazz influences would feature prominently in his guitar work.
Feliciano began his musical career by playing in clubs in the US and Canada and signed a recording contract with RCA Victor. He then traveled to Argentina and the UK, and became famous across Latin America. After moving to LA, he hooked up with producer Rick Jarrard. They released a Latin-style version of The Doors’ Light My Fire.
Jose Feliciano’s cover of Light My Fire is really inspired. This song is a jazzy take on the Doors classic, featuring Latin-style vocals by Feliciano and flute in the arrangement; however, it is Feliciano’s guitar work that is truly outstanding. His guitar playing is a blend of jazz and flamenco, with very impressive fingering. It’s not surprising that when this single was released in 1968, only a year following the Doors initial record, it shot up to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 listings. As a result, Jose Feliciano won Grammy Awards in 1969 for both Pop Song of the Year and New Artist of the Year.
Robby Krieger of The Doors provided a gracious summary of Jose Feliciano’s cover of their song.
“It’s really a great feeling to have written a classic. I think I owe a big debt to Jose Feliciano because he is actually the one, when he did it, everybody started doing it. He did a whole different arrangement on it.”
In October 1968, Feliciano sang The Star-Spangled Banner prior to a World Series game in Detroit. As was his custom, he produced a Latin-influenced, stylized version of the national anthem. His version became highly controversial, with traditionalists deeply criticizing his performance of the song. However, with the passage of time his version has become appreciated as a creative and sincere interpretation of our national anthem.
Feliciano made a splash in the charts once more in 1970 with his Latin-inspired song, Feliz Navidad, which has become a Christmas classic. Since then he has continued to record, to tour around the world, and to garner occasional awards for his records and collaborative efforts with musicians in many varied fields. And he has also returned a few times to reprise his version of the national anthem at major-league baseball games.