Break On Through: John Densmore's Best Beats for The Doors

L-R: John Densmore plays as Jim Morrison looks on at a concert by The Doors, 1968
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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Across all the work of The Doors, there's at least one constant: the rhythm of John Densmore, the gentleman sitting behind the band's drum kit. Check out some of Densmore’s best and/or more memorable performances during his time with The Doors, including a song from the short-lived period of their career after the death of frontman Jim Morrison.

READ MORE: John Densmore Opens Doors in New Book, Podcast Interview

“Break on Through (to the Other Side)” (The Doors, 1967): Enamored with the bossa nova craze that had recently made its way up from Brazil, Densmore incorporated that sound into his drum groove into the track. While the song never made much headway as a single, failing to even crack the Hot 100, it’s often cited as one of the greatest album openers of all time, and with good reason.

READ MORE: January 1967: The Doors Release "The Doors"

Light My Fire” (The Doors, 1967): While written predominantly by Robby Krieger, it’s well documented that Densmore was responsible for two very specific aspects of the classic track. He suggested that the song should have more of a Latin rhythm - but perhaps more famously, he’s the only who suggested that it should kick off with that classic single snare drum hit.

READ MORE: April 1967: The Doors Release "Light My Fire"

“People Are Strange” (Strange Days, 1967): While it might be overstating things to say that Densmore was responsible for this song, he can legitimately take credit for providing a certain amount of inspiration. While Densmore and Krieger were roommates, Morrison stopped by, acting pretty bummed out. In turn, Densmore suggested that the three of them go for a walk along Laurel Canyon, and by the time they got back, Morrison had already come up with an early draft of the song’s lyrics.

READ MORE: A Sunset Helped The Doors Get "Strange"

“When the Music’s Over” (Strange Days, 1967): For as much success as The Doors found with their pop songs, they were very much a band that wasn’t afraid to offer up some truly epic tunes, too. This is definitely a classic example from the latter category, and it provides Densmore with some time to shine.

“The Unknown Soldier” (Waiting for the Sun, 1968): Given the title, it won’t surprise you that there’s a military precision to Densmore’s drumming on this song, and it makes all the difference in the effectiveness of the track.

READ MORE: Summer 1968: The Doors Shine at No. 1 with 'Waiting For The Sun'

“Touch Me” (The Soft Parade, 1969): A contentious album amongst Doors fans, this LP found the band exploring a jazzier sound, but this tune in particular is a real corker of a pop song, and Densmore’s drums are particularly prominent in this Doors-only mix of the track.

“Peace Frog” (Morrison Hotel, 1970): The word “funky” is not necessarily one which comes up a lot when discussing the music of the Doors, but there’s no question that it’s an applicable adjective to describe Densmore’s drumming on this track.

“L.A. Woman” (L.A. Woman, 1971): Morrison’s sex appeal was one of the key attributes that made The Doors so appealing to audiences, but there was a certain amount of sexuality in the music, too, as with the title track of the band’s final studio album with Morrison. "I knew that 'mojo' was a blues term for sexuality and I slowed the tempo way down, and then gradually increased it, like an orgasm," Densmore explained in an iHeartRadio interview. "The problem is that I wanted to arrive, when we got back to the top at the end, at the same tempo I started five minutes ago. That's the difficulty. I gotta get back...I had to approximate it. We overshot it a little, between you and me, as a technical musician, but the feel is heaven...primal, sexual."

READ MORE: The Doors Announce Deluxe Version of 'L.A. Woman'

“Ships with Sails” (Other Voices, 1971): While we realize that the two post-Jim Morrison albums released by the Doors are rarely cited among fans’ most beloved works by the band, we still wanted to include at least one track in the mix, and that’s this one, which was co-written by Densmore with Krieger. Since it was also released as a single, it seemed like the perfect token selection from the era, not to mention an opportunity to educate some readers on the fact that the band indeed had two albums after Morrison’s death.

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Collaborators and friends Steven Gold (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), Jody Porter (Fountains of Wayne), Robert Smigel (Saturday Night Live, TV Funhouse) and more joined the Rhino Podcast to remember the acclaimed songwriter and producer Adam Schlesinger.
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We'd recognize that voice anywhere!
Roadrunner Records
The band's bestselling album in America.

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