Musician Ray Manzarek passed away yesterday. He is known for his work with the band The Doors as their keyboardist. Ray was pretty cool and pretty talented, often playing two different instruments one with each hand, at the same time, one playing the base line and one playing the melody. He also was a cinematography student at UCLA, which is actually where he met Jim Morrison, the troubled lead singer from the Doors. The two met on Venice Beach one day, got to talking, and the rest, as they say, is history. He died of bile duct cancer at the age of 74.
In honor of Ray Manzarek, here are my top 5 favorite Doors songs:
5. Land Ho! – I have always loved this fun song. I think it makes the list because of it’s fun and playful nature. The Doors were a band that were often dark and brooding and not so ‘fun’. At least that was their persona…But there have a number of songs that were fun and silly. This one is about a sailor who just keeps traveling and sees a bunch of things on his travels…When they spot land, the mood changes! There is one point where he talks about just getting a dollar so he can buy a bottle (of Rum i guess) to drink his fill. He is just so excited to find a woman and make his trip worth it. Again, it is just a fun song I have always loved.
4. Touch Me – This is probably the Doors best ‘love’ song. At least that’s what most people perceive The original title was “Hit Me”, written by the Doors guitarist Robbie Krieger after all the fights he used to have with his girlfriend. Lead singer Morrison insisted on changing it into Touch Me though to make it more of a love song. Many people back in the 60′s felt this was the band selling out though. They were talking about loving someone forever and were using horns and saxaphones in their songs now? Where was the band that was psychedelic and rocking? Where was the band calling people to arms in songs like 5 to 1? What about that sex crazed man from Backdoor Man?! Regardless of all of that, this still stands as a really good song, even though it is a much lighter brand of music from this band.
3. The Wasp (Texas Radio and the Big Beat) – This song gets on the list for pretty much one reason: It was the very FIRST song I ever heard from this band. It is all spoken word, a piece of poetry put to music. I first heard it in a car with a friend’s older brother driving us. The sound was so different from The Rolling Stones, Billy Joel, Johnny Cash or Bruce Springsteen. This was just raw sounding…I had to have more.
“Texas Radio” refers to high power Mexican radio stations that blasted into Texas in the 1950s. Not restricted by American regulations these stations, whose call letters started with X, could have up to 150,000 watts. Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek both would listen to these and one show in particular, that of Wolfman Jack. This song certainly does have the big beat, as well as some other cool tidbits, one being: The phrase “Stoned Immaculate” came from a lyric in this song: “Out here we is stoned immaculate.” That phrase became the title for a 2000 Doors tribute album featuring the surviving members as well as Aerosmith, The Cult, Chrissie Hynde, and others.
2. Peace Frog – A real funky song, one that is talking about blood in the streets all across the US. From Chicago to the palm trees of Venice, there is blood everywhere! Of course, it is set to a beat that makes you want to get up and dance. But what the hell does all that mean? Well, the reality is a little gross I guess: The lyrics were based on two of Jim Morrison’s poems, one called “Abortion Stories,” which is where the bloody images came from. The other poem provided the lyrics about the Indians and refer to an auto accident involving a group of Indians that Morrison’s family came across on the highway. Morrison, who was a child at the time, felt that the ghosts of the Indians took up residence in his soul. This is why he was often referred to as a “Shaman”.
The part of New Haven is just as interesting. The lyric “Blood in the streets of the town of New Haven” refers to Morrison’s arrest in New Haven in 1967. From the stage, the enraged singer explained that he was with a girl before the show, and, “We started talking and we wanted some privacy and so went into this little show room. We weren’t doing anything. You know, just standing there talking, and then this little man in a little blue suit and a little blue cap came in there. He said ‘Whatcha doin’ there?’ ‘Nothin’.’ But he didn’t go away, he stood there and then he reached round behind him and brought out this little black can of something. It looked like shaving cream. And then he sprayed it in my eyes. I was blinded for about 30 minutes.”
At this point, 3 police officers came onstage and arrested Morrison for breach of the peace, giving an indecent and immoral exhibition and resisting arrest. He managed to strike a crucifixion pose before he was taken away, and some audience members fought with cops. The clip below, at the 2:17 mark, there is a quick shot of the New Haven scene where the cops take away the microphone.
How awesome were concerts in the 1960′s?! Check out the video for the song but also for some of the crazy antics on stage! People think Cochella is cool? I think the 1960′s were cool.
1. LA Woman – Is this a cop out taking this song number one? I don’t think so…especially since I now live in LA! I even visit Venice Beach quite frequently and walk the same streets this band did. This song might be the perfect song for LA. LA’s theme wouldn’t be some in your face rap song like California Love (although it is an awesome song) or Straight out of Compton…It would be far more relaxed along the lines of this song. This is a city of night, but it has a ‘cool’ factor that is hard to describe. It is laid back, slow, and good looking. This song runs the spectrum from first arriving to the big city to changing from “glad to sadness”. If you have never driven down a beach side road with this song blaring and your windows down, you simply haven’t done LA right yet. Don’t believe me? Keyboardist Ray Manzarek explained the song’s meaning to Uncut magazine September 2011: “A song about driving madly down the LA freeway – either heading into LA or going out on the 405 up to San Francisco. You’re a beatnik on the road, like Kerouac and Neal Cassady, barreling down the freeway as fast as you can go.” But there is also a lot to this song as well. Check this:
“Mr. Mojo Risin’” is an anagram for “Jim Morrison.” He repeats the phrase at the end of the song faster and faster to simulate orgasm. Early blues musicians often referred to their “Mojo,” like in the Muddy Waters’ song “I Got My Mojo Workin’.” A mojo is a voodoo charm, usually a bag filled with various plants and items. Different plants would be used for different purposes. If the bag were red, it would be a mojo for love and you would have to put a personal item, such as hair or bit of clothing in order for the mojo to work. If the mojo were made out of a black bag it would be for death. Many white listeners, including Jim Morrison, thought mojo meant sexual energy, and that is how it’s usually interpreted today, in part due to Austin Powers movies.
This song was also recorded live in the studio with no overdubs. The craziest part about it? Morrison recorded his vocals in the studio bathroom to get a fuller sound. He spent a lot of time in there anyway because of all the beer he drank during the sessions. So, as he is sitting there singing about taking downers an hour ago and looking for the little girls in the Hollywood Bungalows, just know he is sitting on the can singing…
Jim Morrison would end up dying before this song and album were released in France. The three remaining members would go on to release Jim’s recorded poetry over music with songs like “Ghost Song”. Now, there are only two remaining members of the Doors alive.
The Doors, to me, are a band that you have to hear at the right moment in your life. For me, it was in that shitty grey car that was my friend’s brothers. It was on a CD that Texas Radio was playing, sandwiched between Moondance by Van Morrison and Buffalo Soldier by Bob Marley. But unlike those other songs, Texas Radio struck me musically like an NFL linebacker. It was so different, so in your face. I immediately had to BUY THE CD (before Napster even existed) and played the double album greatest hits over and over. Did I understand everything they were saying or the concepts being conveyed? Certainly not. But did I know that I was on to something good? Something ‘door’ opening? Absolutely. Are the Doors the best band ever? Probably not…but they do kick some major ass. RIP Ray Manzarek!