Light My Fire at 50

If you are still cruising for news, you probably know that Mooch has been fired and are up to speed on the Awan scandal. If you are looking for something completely different, you have come to the right place.

Fifty years ago today, the Doors’ “Light My Fire” topped the rock and roll charts. It was the Doors’ first and biggest hit, and one of the classics of that, or any other, musical era. “Light My Fire” features one of the most famous keyboard riffs in rock history. The only challenger I can think of is the Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun,” but maybe I am forgetting something from more recent decades.

That unforgettable keyboard part was written and played by Ray Manzarek. In 1998, NPR’s Terry Gross interviewed Manzarek for the “Fresh Air” program. Last Friday, NPR re-ran the 1998 interview. (Manzarek, unfortunately, had died in the meantime.)

The interview is, I think, extraordinarily interesting. Manzarek relates how “Light My Fire” came to be, with the original version, which Manzarek likened to a Sonny and Cher song, coming from the Doors’ guitarist Robbie Krieger. The song needed a second verse, and vocalist Jim Morrison rapidly obliged, contributing a lugubrious bit of juvenilia:

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

Manzarek, who was a very smart guy, explains how he wrote his historic keyboard part. It derived from The Sound of Music by way of John Coltrane (“My Favorite Things”) with some Bach mixed in. Listening to this interview reminded me that world-famous musicians likely know what they are doing. Ray Manzarek certainly did.

On the whole, it is one of the more entertaining interviews I have ever heard, culminating with the story of how the Doors’ seven-minute song was cut down to two minutes and 45 seconds so it could be played on the radio. Where, of course, it became one of the greatest hits of all time.

Here is NPR’s interview with Ray Manzarek. I guarantee you will enjoy it:

And here is the seven-minute version of “Light My Fire” the way the band wanted it played, with keyboard and guitar solos intact. I heard it this way countless times after the 2:45 radio version had faded from the scene:

I can only add that those 50 years went by really, really fast.

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