A.Song.A.Day – Light My Fire

light my fireIt was some time towards the fag end of 18th century that William Blake wrote the book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. A line from this poem – “If the doors of perception were cleansed, every thing would appear to man as it is: infinite” – inspired the author Aldous Huxley to name his 1954 book describing mescaline experiences, The Doors of Perception. Later when Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore decided to form a rock band in 1965, they called themselves The Doors borrowing from the book’s title. And in 1966-67, as part of the band’s self-titled debut album, was born this now classic number called Light My Fire. Ranked #35 on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and #7 on VH1′s 100 Greatest of All Time, this was the song that catapulted The Doors from an underground band known in the LA area into a worldwide phenomenon.
With a chord progression inspired by John Coltrane‘s landmark version of Rodger-Hammerstein‘s My Favorite Things from Sound of Music (Manzarek and Densmore were heavily into jazz at that time), Light My Fire had a major part written by Krieger who wanted to write about one of the elements. Rest of the band then expanded upon this, Morrison writing some of the second verse and Manzarek coming up with the organ intro. It is said that when the 1991 movie on The Doors was being made Krieger insisted that the scene showing the band rehearsing Light My Fire make clear that it was him not Morrison who composed the song.
Controversies were something that followed Morrison till his untimely death in 1971, at the age of 27 (in fact even post his death, as with his estate which he bequeathed to his girl friend Pamela Courson). Even Light My Fire had its share of tussles, the first one involving Ed Sullivan. When the band was to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show in September 1967, the producers of the show asked the band to change the line “Girl we couldn’t get much higher” due to the obvious reference to drug ingestion. After agreeing upon changing it, Morrison went ahead and sang the same lyrics on the show. Quite understandably, Ed Sullivan wasn’t really happy and never called the band again on the show. Not that the band cared anyways, Morrison’s famous reply while informed of this being something along the lines of “Who cares? We just did the Ed Sullivan show!” The second instance involves Buick. In 1967 Buick offered The Doors $75,000 to use Light My Fire to advertise their latest offering, the Opel. Morrison was out of town and the other three agreed to the offer. But when Morrison got back he was totally against the deal and threatened Buick to smash an Opel on television with a sledgehammer if they aired the ad!
A lot of artists have covered Light My Fire over the years. The most successful version to date has been Jose Feliciano‘s Latinised one which came out in 1968. Employing the classical and flamenco elements to splendid effect, the song went on to win Jose Feliciano two Grammy awards the following year, and was used as a base arrangement in many subsequent covers. Another brilliant variant came in Stevie Wonder‘s soul music for his 1969 album My Cherie Amour. And a third one, my favourite, is Ananda Shankar‘s sitar-based cover, which was released as part of his debut self titled album in 1970. Though we have restricted ourselves to speaking about just these three cover versions, there have been a lot of other successful covers in varied genres.
Below is an audio clip on the story of the song, straight from the horses’ mouths (just in case the embedded player doesn’t load, you can listen to the clip here.Make sure you don’t miss it; it is a wonderful audio), and videos of a few songs mentioned above. I couldn’t find a video of Ananda Shankar’s version anywhere. So you can listen to a small snippet of that here and buy it too, if you are interested. So long!

The story of Light My Fire

John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things, which inspired the chords.


VIP says:

@chunni babu: not all have been written by me though, all along the watchtower for instance is by vivek nenmini.. thats not to say they are not my faves obviously.. such classics.. :)

Chunni Babu says:

Wow!! can’t believe you have just written a series of articles about some of my fav songs..taste kuch milta hai..Manzarek’s improv in the interludes is just mindlowing…of course the starting caravan solo is every keyboard players fav..very nice blog..please keep it up.