1967, as we have all been reminded ad infinitum via countless compilation albums and retrospectives, was the Summer Of Love. As a reaction to the US government sending many of its youths to die in the forests of Vietnam, peace, love, flower power and not washing a lot were the orders of the day. If a piece of gorgeous nonsense like A Whiter Shade Of Pale could make it to number one and cling on by its satin fingernails for an awfully long time, and Sgt. Peppers was the LP of the year, then there was no room for an underground movement. Surely not.
Enter a bunch of leather-trousered long hairs, turning the fairground organ of Procol Harum into a stabbing, atonal river of menace; warping the clean-cut freshness of the Monkees into full-on sexual abandonment; the blues of the recent past embraced rather than sanitised; and the use of subject matter that six years previously would have prompted an FBI investigation. The Doors were a band, but the talents of Ray Manzarek, Robbie Krieger and John Densmore were somewhat subsumed in the tidal wave of charisma given off by Jim Morrison.
Morrison got drunk a lot, attempted to spark onstage riots, consistently challenged authority in the wrong ways (such as apparently getting his JT out on stage) and styled himself the Lizard King and Mr. Mojo Rain: with such a pedigree, it’s tempting to view him as a spoilt, pretentious dick who dug his own grave.
I mean, each time that somebody gets up on stage, it’s theatre. We might do an actual play, one with a plot or story, and it wouldn’t be just a lot of songs, you know. I think that we’ll do that. That’s definitely where it’s going. I think that what’s going to happen now will be a crisis of music. It’s no longer primitive rock music, as it was. There’s been a split. A lot of people will go into theatre and musicals and opera and that kind of thing, and get further away from pure music, but rock, the primitive rock music, will reassert itself eventually. Eventually, there’ll come a need for that basic blues beat again. [Jim Morrison, Hullabaloo Magazine, 1968]
.Whatever one may think, he became a victim of the business he revolutionised, as has been written before on these pages. He died of a heart attack, possibly caused by a heroin overdose (see here if you wish to investigate further), on July 3, 1971, unenviably making him a member of the 27 Club (other artists who died at this age included Brian Jones and Jimi Hendrix), and he achieved a similar level of deification, ironically on the back of the group’s second biggest-selling LP.
Light My Fire (FF 1976 #45), however, still has the power to silence criticism. A paean to physical love, it enabled Morrison to piss Ed Sullivan off by singing ‘higher’ instead of ‘better’.
More than that, though, this song was a real band effort, with solos interpolated to perfection, and every nuance of the overheated words given punch and a frisson of danger by Jim’s most superbly-judged performance. There were many better things to come, but this broke the band, and makes it difficult to stomach Jose Feliciano’s after-hours cantina version after hearing it in the right frame of mind. Relish once more Ray’s weaving and subtly stressed melodies, Robbie’s delicious counterpoint, and through it all, John still rousingly keeping time with aplomb. One word: heavenly.
Doors, Light My Fire