It was 55 years ago today (July 29th, 1967) that the Doors‘ breakthrough hit “Light My Fire” began its three-week run at Number One, launching the Southern California band internationally and immortalizing the band’s iconic frontman, Jim Morrison. Although the 2:52 single version of the track, which was edited from the 7:02 album version, was created specifically for the AM market — many stations decided to spin the full version with keyboardist Ray Manzarek and guitarist Robby Krieger‘s sprawling solos. Upon its initial release, the Doors’ “Light My Fire” sold over a million copies and scored Elektra Records its first Number One single. When the group performed “Light My Fire” on The Ed Sullivan Show on September 17th, 1967, they were asked to change the line “girl we couldn’t get much higher.” The band agreed, but when they went onstage, Morrison went ahead and sang the line anyway.
The song, which ended the Association‘s month-long dominance of the Billboard Hot 100 with the soft pop of “Windy,” was ultimately knocked out of the top spot by the Beatles‘ own classic “Summer Of Love” anthem, “All You Need Is Love.” Robby Krieger recalled how the band-credited “Light My Fire” came to be composed, telling Billboard’s Fred Bronson, “Ray had the idea fore the opening, part, which was the real hook. Jim helped me out on some of the lyrics. . . and the beat was John (Densmore’s) idea.”
Although Jim Morrison’s in-concert antics have become the stuff of rock legend, many of his outbursts during the Doors’ recording sessions have been kept quiet over the years. Back in 2010, the now-late Ray Manzarek recalled the “Lizard King” losing his cool on August 21st, 1966 during the Doors’ session for “Light My Fire” at Hollywood’s Sunset Sound Recorders.
Manzarek remembered that producer Paul Rothchild and engineer Bruce Botnick had rigged a TV set to play silently facing them in the studio, so the pair could catch a bit of that night’s Dodgers game while recording the band. Manzarek told Mojo magazine that there came a point when Morrison simply went berserk: “Everything went into slow motion, like a cartoon. I saw Jim go over to the TV, pick it up and throw it at the (studio control room) window. Rothchild and Botnick had the most fearful look on their faces. The TV bounced off the window, hit the floor, sputtered for a few minutes and died. And Jim is going, ‘No TV set while we’re recording. No baseball!!!'”
In 1968, the Doors actually turned down a massive offer from Buick to use the song in a TV commercial. In 2013, drummer John Densmore recalled to Rolling Stone that he, Manzarek, and Krieger seriously considering a $75,000 payday for a Buick ad in which the car company would change the song lyrics from “Come on baby light my fire” to “Come on Buick light my fire.” Densmore remembered, “Jim told us he couldn’t trust us anymore. We had agreed that we would never use our music in any commercial, but the money Buick offered us had been hard to refuse. Jim accused us of making a deal with the devil and said he would smash a Buick with a sledgehammer onstage if we let them (change the lyrics.)”
We asked John Densmore to recall the earliest days of the Doors before he, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, and the legendary Jim Morrison had become household names: “Ray and I were listening really carefully to each other, ’cause his left hand was the bass. So, Ray and I kind of laid down the bed for Jim and Robby to float on top of. And then we get a record deal and that’s another stage; but really, I would say, when we started playing small concert halls, second bill, or something — out of the clubs — I thought, ‘Oh my God. . . I’m gonna make a living and this is gonna. . . this train is leavin’ the station!’ That’s really almost more exciting as playing Madison Square Garden, because it’s this dream coming true, y’know?”
Shortly before his 2013 death, keyboardist Ray Manzarek admitted that he was sick and tired of all the sensationalizing, which comes at the expense of Jim Morrison’s true legacy: “Certainly we wouldn’t want to — we wouldn’t want to talk about the art of Jim Morrison or the poetry of Jim Morrison, would we?”
Robby Krieger told us that today, he fully embraces his Doors past: “Y’know, at first when I would play alone, I didn’t do any Doors ’cause I’d had albums come out and stuff. But then I used to go see those Doors tribute bands, and boy, were they having fun, and the audience was having fun, and I was, ‘Wait a minute — those are my songs.’ So I started playing them more and more, and we do a lot of Doors stuff now.”
“Light My Fire” was is ranked Number 35 on Rolling Stone‘s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In 1968, newcomer Jose Feliciano‘s ballad version of the song topped out at Number Three and snagged him the 1969 Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance and helped earn him the award for Best New Artist.
Including their two chart-toppers — “Light My Fire” and 1968’s “Hello, I Love You” — between 1967 and 1971, the Doors scored a total of eight Top 40 hits: “People Are Strange” (#12), “Love Me Two Times” (#25), “The Unknown Soldier” (#39), “Touch Me” (#3), “Love Her Madly” (#11), and “Riders On The Storm” (#14).