Set the Night on Fire: Ray Manzarek's Radical Riffs

Ray Manzarek
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When it comes to the music of The Doors - and we’re talking about the music, mind you, and not the vocals - there’s no real argument that the instrument that immediately tells you that you’re listening to a Doors tune is the keyboard. That’s the work of the late Ray Manzarek, of course, and if you’re looking for 10 tracks which truly spotlight Manzarek’s work at the keyboards, we’re happy to oblige.

“Break on Through (to the Other Side)” (from The Doors, 1967): Well known for its placement as the first song on the band’s first album, Manzarek is responsible for providing the bass on this song, since The Doors didn’t have a bass player, and if you think the bass notes sound familiar, then you’re probably recognizing them as being from Ray Charles’ “What'd I Say,” which is where Manzarek “borrowed” them from.

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

“Soul Kitchen” (from The Doors, 1967): The first thing you hear on this track is Manzarek’s keyboards, so there’s little question that he’s the one dominating this track from a musical standpoint. Thirteen years later, he would produce X’s version of this song for their debut album Los Angeles.

“Light My Fire” (from The Doors, 1967): Although Robby Krieger famously came up with the melody and most of the lyrics, the iconic keyboard intro was all Manzarek’s doing. In an interview with About.com, he explained, "It was exactly what we were doing at the time at Whisky a Go Go - letting the music take us wherever it might lead in a particular performance, just improvising. And that’s exactly the same way that solo came about."

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

“Love Me Two Times” (from Strange Days, 1967): Another Krieger composition, one which came about after Manzarek harangued the other band members to go home and write some songs. As it happens, this was the same occasion that inspired “Light My Fire,” too. Clearly, Ray should’ve made this request more often.

“People Are Strange” (from Strange Days, 1967): In another instance of Manzarek providing street cred to another artist’s cover of a Doors song, he also produced Echo and The Bunnymen’s version of this song, which - as any child of the ‘80s knows - can be found on the soundtrack to The Lost Boys.

“Hello I Love You” (from Waiting for the Sun, 1968): Funnily enough for a song that became one of the band’s most famous singles, this track was actually written back in 1965 and was included on the band’s six-song demo that they recorded before Krieger even joined the band. The reason they finally decided to give it another go was because the plan to record “Celebration of the Lizard” for the entire first side of the album didn’t go as planned, leaving them in the lurch and in need of material. The end result: the second No. 1 of their career.

READ MORE: August 1968: The Doors Hit #1 with "Hello, I Love You"

“Love Street” (from Waiting for the Sun, 1968): Although it got a fair amount of play as a result of being the B-side to the aforementioned “Hello I Love You,” this song got a major increase in its profile by being included on the soundtrack to Oliver Stone’s biopic of the band.

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

“Touch Me” (from The Soft Parade, 1969): Released seven months before the album on which it ultimately appeared, this horn-laden, string-dripped tune was definitely a different sound for The Doors, and it’s a fair cop, since they later admitted that it was an attempt to broaden their audience and sell more records. It did, so...mission accomplished!

“Waiting for the Sun” (from Morrison Hotel, 1970): It’s long been a head-scratcher for many as to why this song is on Morrison Hotel rather than the album for which it would’ve been the title track, and the answer is surprisingly simple: they tried recording it then but didn’t like how it came out at the time, so they tried it again later, at which point they liked it better.

“Riders on the Storm” (from L.A. Woman, 1971): Infamously known as the last song Jim Morrison ever recorded, it emerged out of a jam session when the band was fooling around with the cowboy classic “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” with Morrison suggesting the title. The rain sound on the track is actually from Manzarek’s Fender Rhodes electric piano, and the song was - perhaps unsurprisingly - one of his favorites. In 2010, he told the Somerville Journal that this was a song that he always turned up when it came on the radio. “Are you kidding?” said Manzarek. “Living up in Northern California, it rains a lot, so they play the heck out of ‘Riders on the Storm.’ And when that comes on, I crank that sucker, man!”

READ MORE: April 1971: The Doors End An Era with 'L.A. Woman'

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