Collette’s Corner: Light My Fire

09 Mar

There are only a few songs that I really despise. One of them is the seven minutes of hell known as Light My Fire by Jim Morrison and The Doors. However, in a sense of fair play and not desiring to limit music for anyone, I’m posting Colette’s ode to said same song. Because I’m open-minded like dat. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure….I must say that I do love the Latino version. 🙂

Light That Fire!

Michael Johns singing “Light My Fire” on “American Idol” got me thinking about this song that knocked my socks off when I was a kid, and has a special place in rock history.

“Light My Fire” is one of those tunes many people find so haunting, they can remember where they were the first time they heard it. (Me: at a school friend’s house, in the basement away from parents, rocking out.)

The song was written by all the members of The Doors — Robby Krieger, John Densmore, Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek — and released on their first album in 1967. There were two versions: one with a five-minute long instrumental jam (unheard of at the time for a pop single), and a shorter version. Both got tremendous airplay, and the song zoomed to No. 1 and stayed on the Billboard chart for 17 weeks. Later, Rolling Stone named it #35 in its list of the 500 best rock tunes.

The impact of the song is musical and visceral. The delicate, mock-baroque keyboard part, the catchy melody and simple mythic lyric with its William Blake imagery, and the tremendous vocal by Jim Morrison, all merge to create this sense of psychedelic/sexual euphoria. The song builds and builds to a fantastic crescendo, and it’s almost impossible not to move your body while listening to it.

No one, but no one, can sing this song as well as Jim Morrison. It was his anthem, his legacy. According to the insider biography of Morrison, “No One Gets Out ALive,” Morrison had a terrible drinking problem from his early adolescence right up to his untimely death at age 27. Since then, so many rockers have been influenced by his musical style, his incredibly sexy lizard king -look (black leather pants and jacket, mop of unruly curls), his Dionysian stage charisma. But Morrison wasn’t just some rock dandy — he wrote poetry (pretentious stuff, but he took it seriously), had a beautiful Irish baritone voice (listen close), and believed in the power of music to changed consciousness — or at least ignite the Dionysian spark in all of us.

Whoever sings and hears “Light My Fire” makes contact with Morrison’s spirit — terminally crazy messed-up and wildly exhilarating as it was. Here are some versions of the tune, starting with the Doors’ famous performance on The Ed Sullivan Show. They were told they couldn’t sing the word “higher” (“Girl we couldn’t get much higher…”) because of the drug implications. (!). See how obedient they were (not!), and how Morrison builds the song to its final, crashing climax, then just drops his mike, spent…..

— Jim Morrison and the Doors, “Light My Fire” on Ed Sullivan Show (1967)

The song is actually harder to sing than you’d imagine. The first hit cover, and the best (IMO) is Jose Feliciano’s (whatever happened to HIM?) with his fantastic acoustic guitar riffs and smoldering vocal. This is a terrific live performance of Jose with Ricky Martin (sue me, but I do love that guy) and Carlos Santana on electric guitar:

— Jose Feliciano, Ricky Martin, Santana, live “Light My Fire”

The most kitschy, bizarre (and terrifying) cover, is by the hyper-intense English pop diva Shirley Bassey. She ain’t kidding about lighting fires, either….

— Shirley Bassey, “Light My Fire” live

The current rocker who reminds me most of Jim Morrison, but much saner, is Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. Very similar look, voice and commitment. Here in a rare clip is the young, grungy Eddie at the Rock Hall of Fame with members of the Doors during their induction ceremony. Eddie seems a bit intimidated or something at the start, but after a long instrumental jam he finds his groove:

Eddie Vedder and the Doors, “Light My Fire”

Finally, there’s Michael Johns. It’s not an unmitigated triumph, but it ain’t half bad: (this from someone who is really soured on AI…)


Posted by on March 9, 2008 in colette's corner, Music History, oldies


4 responses to “Collette’s Corner: Light My Fire

  1. Shrewspeaks

    March 10, 2008 at 7:59 am

    This song is such a paradox to me. When I was younger, LMF was a thrilling anthem of sexual decadence…the raw animal vocals of Morrison coupled with Manzarek’s frenzied finger work was nothing short of dizzying electrical convulsions to a young pre-teen gal who was being fed the synthetic androgynous treats of make-up toting 80’s bands.

    Now, in the days when it seems everyone is more “alternative” and sexploration is considered the norm, the raw power of the song can be lost or perceived as schmaltzy. Perhaps, I have seen to many poor limp tributes that center in on a past glorified rather than an original internalization that transcends time and reaches across personal limitations. This is why I consider Feliciano’s version as the timeless classic. It is more personal, less pretentious. Feliciano let’s the lyrics tell the powerful story desire. I always felt Morrison seemed bigger than the tune and many who try get lost in trying to cover Morrison rather than the song.

    Ah well…my two cents.

  2. colette

    March 10, 2008 at 11:00 am

    Thanks Shrewspeaks, for your insightful response.
    Yes, it’s something of a time capsule now. And no longer “daring”!
    But for me, like many a great rock anthem of the past, it does still carry a powerful sense of moment for what it “ignited,” sorry about the pun, at the time it was released.
    It still puts me in touch with that crazy abandon that the song expressed, that sense of delirious ecstasy it tapped into — the power of youth culture, which now sounds so anachronistic! that’s one of the jobs of rock, I guess — look at “Smells Like Team Spirit,” “Rock Around the Clock,” “Born to Run”…..all such past anthems. And another oldie that I’ve heard way too many times, so much the flavor goes out of it, but if I close my eyes it can still take me somewhere….”Born to Be Wild.”

    anyway, take it for what it is/was….and thanks, MM, for overcoming your revulsion to “Light My Fire” enough to post this!

  3. somebody . . .

    March 12, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    Cibo Matto has the best version!

    30 seconds of it here

    Of course, this tends to show off the schmaltz that underlies the song. “Break on Through” and “L.A. Woman” are both vastly superior to this dreck aren’t they?

  4. Colette

    March 14, 2008 at 1:41 am

    Wow,y’all are big “LMF” haters! You’re making me feel so oooooold. Most Boomer rock critics and fans actually consider this song a pop milestone, so I’m not way out of step (at least with my own generation!).

    So just for fun — what do you think are watershed, transformative hard rock tunes of your
    generation?? Just curious!


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