The Doors’ guitarist explains how the classic song emerged because he felt sorry for the obscure chords that rock’n’roll forgot
Some bands need no introduction, such is their enduring appeal and influence. The Doors definitely fall into that category. What’s less known is that wild child frontman Jim Morrison wasn’t the group’s sole writer. Not only did Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore help to flesh out Morrison’s compositions and create that distinctive Doors sound, they would also (particularly in Krieger’s case) come up with their own numbers.
Krieger was a superb writer who contributed the genesis of songs like Love Me Two Times, Touch Me and Light My Fire. Though Break On Through was the band’s debut single, it was Light My Fire that really exploded and properly introduced The Doors to the world.
Krieger tells us all about the creation of this genuine classic…
“I had the idea of writing about the four elements – earth, air, fire and water – and I picked fire because I liked the Stones song Play With Fire. I wanted to make this song a really good one, so I said, ‘I’m gonna use every chord I know.’ If you listen to the song it sounds fairly simple, but it really has a lot of chord changes in it, starting with the intro. I always thought there were a lot of chords that didn’t really get used in rock ’n’ roll and I kind of felt sorry for them, so I said, ‘I’ll use E flat and A flat and all those crazy chords’. So you’ve got G, D, F, B flat, E flat, A flat, A and then it goes to A minor, so that’s a whole bunch of chords right there.
“I wrote it at my parent’s house, in the room where the piano was, although I wrote in on the guitar. My first idea was that I wanted it to be something like Hey Joe. I really liked that song by The Leaves, before Hendrix had done it, but when I brought it to the guys they said, ‘Folk rock is going out.’ John had the idea to do a Latin beat on it and then Ray went crazy on that middle part, which eventually became the beginning.
“Jim also told me to write something that people can interpret in their own minds, so Light My Fire could be taken as a drug reference or a love interest. One guy even came up to me and said he knew it was about the fire in the third eye! I had all the lyrics except for the second verse, which Jim came up with about the funeral pyre. I said, ‘Jim, do you always have to talk about death?’! But he wanted that funeral pyre in there and it worked out pretty well. The melody I had was a little different to how Jim sang it, but then again he always changed my melodies a little bit, which was fine and is what a band is supposed to do. When you work up a song, everybody has their own two cents in there. He was pretty amazing for a guy that never had voice lessons – he could sing anything.
“We worked it out in a rehearsal space where Ray lived, down by the beach in Venice. Once we started playing it live, it started getting longer and changing, the same as The End. We started to stretch out the middle part: originally it was just a little transition thing, but then as we played it we kept making that part longer and longer, so that’s how it became a six-minute song. The intro wasn’t the intro at first: the organ part was actually in the middle of the song when we first used to do it, and it wasn’t until we recorded it that Paul Rothchild had the great idea to start the song off with it. And then we put it at the end too, so it comes up three times.
“I never got tired of playing it; nor did Ray, because that was our big solo. But Jim got tired of it and would say, ‘Do we have to do Light My Fire tonight?’ We knew it was good because whenever we played it live people would go crazy – that was definitely the best response we got from any of the songs. We knew it was our strongest song even before we went into the studio. Who knows why?”
EXPERT OPINION by James Linderman
“If we start a song with a series of strategic intentions, and logically work through the relative criteria, we are not necessarily writing without inspiration – it could just be that we are slowly talking our inspiration into joining us on stage or in the studio.”