It was 51 years ago this Sunday (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. Last year, in commemoration of its 50th anniversary, a new 45 r.p.m. single was reissued with the song's original B-side, “The Crystal Ship.”
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, 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, 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?” .
AUDIO: ROBBY KRIEGER EXPLAINS WHY HE PLAYS DOORS SONGS IN HIS SOLO CONCERTS THESE DAYS
AUDIO: RAY MANZAREK SAYS FANS GET THE DOORS MUSIC BETTER NOW THAN IN THE 60S
AUDIO: JOHN DENSMORE ON EARLY DOORS MEMORIES