Thursday, May 4, 2017

Tryna Set-tha Night on... Fire, yeah

When writing of 1967, picking the most influential single of the year is a seemingly sublime task. The greatest double-A sided single of all time, "Strawberry Fields/Penny Lane" is there in the mix; so is "Hello Goodbye" b/w "I Am the Walrus," and that's just Beatles. There was "Somebody to Love" and "To Sir, With Love" and "I Was Made to Love Her" and "The Beat Goes On," but if the Summer of Love is the essence of '67, then "Light My Fire" is its soundtrack. 

Although early in the band's recording career it was indicated that all songs were "written by The Doors, except as noted" (meaning "Alabama Song," for instance), "Light My Fire" was penned by Robby Krieger. Krieger was The Doors' guitarist and had self-studied flamenco music in his youth, primarily via albums issued by Elektra Records. The looming world-wide megahit was the first song Krieger ever wrote. He'd based the concept on one of the Four Elements (earth, air, fire, water), but it needed work, having neither an ending or an instrumental break, concentrating on only those Latin rhythms.


Krieger was both proud of his accomplishment and a bit shy/ashamed to show the rest of the band. While the flamenco minor chords were a big hit with Morrison, Manzarek and Densmore, the lyrics needed tweaking, with Morrison coming up with the "funeral pyre" line.
Krieger originally had a syncopated kind of Cowsills feel to his arrangement, which didn't go over well and was quickly edited into the major-chord rock 'n' roll format that had hit splattered all over it. Additionally, the band wanted to add some extended solos in their live gigs and "Light My Fire’s" new rock slant lent itself to the notion. Both Ray Mazarek and drummer John Densmore were jazz aficionados, and quite enamored by the saxophonist, John Coltrane's, rendition of "My Favorite Things" (from 1961 and the golden age of progressive jazz). That rock-steady jazz approach was well-adapted into the "Light My Fire" instrumental bridge, showcasing each member of the band, particularly Manzarek, who dove into his classical piano training to captured the "circle of fifths" featured in the intro, the bridge and the outro as well.  
When the band went into the studio in 1966, the song was originally meant as an album-only track based on its length of seven minutes. Subsequently, the song wasn't issued as a single when The Doors was released in January 1967. "Break on Through" was the band's first single, but after a few weeks, many DJ's began playing the song, despite its length. One was Los Angeles jock, Dave Diamond, who showed the band letters he received from avid listeners insisting that they release it as a single.
Given the demands of the AM radio industry for 2-3 minute songs, Elektra president Jac Holzman threw it into the lap of veteran producer Paul Rothchild, who The Doors considered a "member of the band." Rothchild argued against re-recording a shorter single, and decided instead to edit out an AM version (a practice that would become common in the 70s - think "Roundabout" or the Jefferson Starship's "Miracles").
Though the band was upset (read that as livid) when they found that Rothchild had nearly eliminated the instrumental break, they were persuaded to allow its release, as The Doors would gain an enormous audience by doing so.


Just after the single's release, The Doors were invited to perform "Light My Fire" on Ed Sullivan, though the producers insisted that CBS would object to the use of the word "higher." During rehearsals, Morrison altered the lyric, but then during the live performance sang the questionable word. They were subsequently banned from the show.
After the Sullivan appearance, Buick offered a lucrative contract ($75,000) for use of the song's title, which each band member but Morrison accepted, calling the song "Sacred."
"Sacred" wasn't the right word; "iconic" is, though. Despite The Beatles and The Stones, despite the Jefferson Airplane's rise to the top of the psychedelic era in music, and in light of 1967's insistence on being rock's seminal year, "Light My Fire" is the song that anyone who was there should hear first when thinking back to that summer 50 years ago.