Robert Alan Krieger was and still is The Doors’ lead guitarist. By his own estimation Robby “wrote about 75 per cent of the music and 25 per cent of the lyrics”, including some of the group’s singles – the legendary Light My Fire, for one.
With interest in all things Doors-related never waning and a series of lavish anniversary editions released in recent years, Robby guides us through some of his favourite Doors songs.
“This is the very first song we attempted on the studio. We recorded it in August 1966 at Sunset Sound Recorders in Hollywood [intended for the album The Doors], although we didn’t use it again until Morrison Hotel four years later. Why? We just didn’t know how to approach it properly. So we played it real soft, lit a bunch of candles, turned all the lights in the studio off so it was dark and mysterious. We were afraid to play loud in the studio, even though we were pretty loud in the clubs.
The recording was a revelation. It was so eerie and quiet that we didn’t want to put it on the first record. Jim [Morrison] and I came up with Indian Summer at the same time we wrote The End, but because both songs used Indian-style tuning we thought they sounded too similar. Although it’s a love song it still has an air of mortality.
"Why would a young man like Jim think so much about death? Sure he was a poet. But my theory was that he always felt he had something wrong. Not like a cancer, which people didn’t discuss in those days, but maybe he knew he was going to die young. He certainly gave that impression more than most people. He told me once: ‘I’m not obsessed with death, just interested.’”
Break On Through (To The Other Side)
"A song we’d played many times in the clubs. So it felt rehearsed. All we did was set the mics up and go. We didn’t have much money for recording anyway, and the first album was more or less like recording live. Jim was in the vocal booth so he could re-do his vocal, which he did here, otherwise it was straight ahead.
"It’s an opening statement song, one that springs our arrival on the scene. ‘Here we are,’ is what it meant. The title was used on the first billboard for agroup on Sunset Strip – ‘The Doors Break On Through With An Electrifying Album’ – and it was the first single. It kinda stiffed in the 40s [locally, not nationally].
"But when Arthur Lee and Love’s first single made the Top 40 everyone in LA was excited, so we certainly didn’t deem it a failure. Elektra [Records] made us change the line ‘She gets high’ to get it on the radio. I couldn’t believe Jim agreed to that. I got the lick on Break On Through from Shake Your Moneymaker by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.”
Light My Fire
“Every time we played this song, audiences went crazy. We held out against cutting the length down, until Dave Diamond started playing it on his little FM station out in the Valley. He told us: ‘Every time I play this the phones go fucking crazy.’ So we knew we’d be stupid not to release it. But it still wasn’t easy to get AM radio. We had to do a free concert for Humble Harve on KHJ to get airplay. That’s how it worked. Harve wasn’t exactly humble, either. He ended up in jail for murdering his wife.
“Light My Fire was my first Doors write. We didn’t have enough material, so Jim said: ‘You do something.’ He didn’t seem pissed off that I’d written our first big hit, although he was the academic English major. Actually, he was very secretive about his own songs. He never discussed his songs much. What they meant much less. He liked it because it could be about sex, or lighting a joint and having sex.
"In later years he made afew remarks about always having to play the song, but we did it anyway and it was never a hindrance, because it got the best reaction of anything we ever did, so… He did write the second verse. I asked him: ‘Why do you always have to talk about death? This is supposed to be a happy song, and you’re talking about funeral pyres and wallowing in the mire.’ But his lines were pretty funny, just rhymes to balance it off.
"Jim always liked songs that had multiple interpretations. I heard some odd ones. One guy said it was about lighting the fire in your third eye, which I enjoyed because it gave it a Buddhist slant. But actually, nah. It was just about sex.”
“By the time we did the second album we had eight-tracks and we knew our way around Sunset Sound. We employed backwards piano, all sorts of trickery, and we got Paul Beaver to play Moog synthesiser over Jim’s vocal. We also had Doug Lubahn [from Clear Light] on bass, who improved the sound and came up with great ideas for You’re Lost Little Girl and Love Me Two Times. On the first album, Larry Knechtel overdubbed bass, but Doug actually rehearsed with us and it was a vast improvement.
“The lyrics are claustrophobic and dark, which encapsulated Jim’s outlook on life: ‘Strange days have found us, they’re going to drag us down and destroy us’. It wasvery menacing.
“I can see why people think that Strange Days is our best record, because it has the most cohesive mood, which stays throughout. We had enough songs left over from the first album, and we knew how to play ’em and we knew how to record. We’d improved, so it was like the best of both worlds. Confidence was very high. Paul Rothchild and Bruce Botnick had perfected their production for The Doors. We had a sound that was unique.
"Although Elektra boss Jac Holzman was still credited as production supervisor, that didn’t mean anything. Jac rarely came to the studio. We would have taken a suggestion from him because he was such a brilliant guy, but we knew what we were doing and Elektra was cool. They hardly ever told us what to do.”
People Are Strange
“We were in the middle of recording the Strange Days, album and Jim was in a really lousy mood – I mean he was suicidal, talking about killing himself. He came to the house I shared with [drummer] John Densmore, and we’d been listening to this stuff all night, so at 6am we said: ‘Look, let’s go out to Laurel Canyon and watch the sun come up and maybe you’ll be in a better mood.’
"So we did, it did, and a light suddenly went on in his head. He came up with the song there and then. We rushed home, he wrote it down, I put music to it and we recorded it that day. I like the guitar solo because I did it in one take without thought or mechanical interruption. The single was a hit, and people were singing it everywhere you went in Los Angeles, which was funny, considering its origin.”
Love Me Two Times
“Now this should have been a bigger hit, but Jim was busted in New Haven, Connecticut in December 1967 when a policeman found him making out with a girl in the backstage showers. He used a can of mace on them, and Jim mentioned it in the concert and was arrested for inciting a riot in the hall and outside the New Haven Arena. Charges were dropped, but the single was pulled off the airwaves immediately. Overnight it disappeared without trace.
“People were getting very uptight in America. I wrote the song about Vietnam and being in a band: you’re going off on tour or you’re going to war and have to leave your old lady behind, so get it while you can – ‘Love me two times, because I’m going away’. I borrowed a lick here from The Blues Project with Al Kooper. I stole plenty from those records [laughs], and from Koerner, Ray & Glover’s folk blues.
"Paul Rothchild produced all those records. I knew who he was when I was in high school. He produced all the records I liked, so having him produce The Doors was a complete bonus.”
Hello, I Love You
“This was originally one of the six demos the band did at World Pacific Jazz Studios in September 1965, before I joined three weeks later. It got a lot of flak because people said we’d sold out, it was bubblegum, teenybopper trash. It did get to number one, but the allegations were absurd if you listen to the lyrics. The second verse is something Jim wrote about watching a black chick on the beach at Venice and wanting to get it on with her.
"It was such an early song, we had no idea of commercialism anyway. People also said we copped it from The Kinks. That isn’t true. I actually suggested to John that he adapt the drum beat from Cream’s Sunshine Of Your Love for the beginning, so it was a Cream idea, not a Kinks steal.
Five To One
“Jim was wasted pretty much throughout the making of the Waiting For The Sun album, which was starting to piss producer Paul Rothchild right off. On this particular day Jim had been out all night and he’d drunk a bottle or brandy, or maybe two, and was slumped against the studio wall.
"The thing is, it takes so long to record that eventually he pulled it together. Jim had a knack of being able to stage a recovery and sing even when he was fucked up. But he sounds drunk on the song. The shows were getting like that too. You never knew which Jim you were gonna get.”
"This has the English horn solo by Champ Webb. Paul Harris, who worked with Tom Rush and Al Kooper, arranged The Soft Parade, and he’d done The Thrill Is Gone for BB King. He was great, although I didn’t think Doors records should sound like that. But I love his arrangement, and I’m proud of the melody. It’s one of my all-time favourite songs and I still play it live to this day.
"I suppose Soft Parade is a sore thumb – Jim Morrison with a big orchestra. But I shouldn’t complain, because I have more songs on the album than any other. In any case, Morrison was going through the whole Miami trial thing, so it was hard for him to concentrate on writing.”
Tell All The People
“One of my songs on The Soft Parade where we got a lot of criticism for using strings and horns. I wasn’t crazy about the idea, so I kinda agree with the comments, but when we heard it in the studios it sounded good. I wish we hadn’t done it, and yet I like it. Although I’d love to remix the record without the arrangements.
"I wrote it with Jim in mind, as usual, and he liked this one. He wasn’t so keen on Touch Me, which was originally called Hit Me. He thought people would take it literally! I stole the idea for the ‘follow me down’ line for this from a Leadbelly song. It didn’t have any political connotation, although Jim did think people might assume he was telling them to follow him. That was never the intention.”
“The Morrison Hotel/Hard Rock Café album was the Jim Morrison comeback. To begin with, Jim and the whole band dug around his notebooks to find some poems we could put to music. This was taken from Dawn’s Highway and Newborn Awakening, with the lines about ‘the Indians cattered on dawn’s highway bleeding’ after Jim witnessed the aftermath of a car wreck in the Californian desert when he was a child.
"He said that was the first time he tasted fear. He changed a lot of the words for the song. I like the distorted chords and the wah-wah. I didn’t use that too often, because Paul Rothchild told us don’t use ideas associated with other people – i.e. Hendrix.”
“This was also adapted from a modified poem of Jim’s, and I came up with the lick and the drop tuning. His father and his grandfather were both naval men, and this song goes together with Ship Of Fools. They’re both about seafaring and pioneer spirits and life on the ocean. They’re about people leaving earth, and the idea of the first people to come to American shores. Land Ho! sounds biographical. I always thought he wrote it about his own grandfather, but you’d have to ask him."
Car Hiss By My Window
“That was recorded on the ‘blues day’ sessions for L.A. Woman. We always loved Jimmy Reed, and the whole band wanted to do a Reed-type song. It’s a simple arrangement, although the words aren’t simple. We used to jam to a lot of Jimmy’s stuff, and whenever we did Jim would always change the lyrics. He was either too lazy to learn the real ones or he thought he could do better. I don’t know.
"I turned Jim on to a lot of blues and so did Ray [Manzarek, late keyboard player], who was from Chicago and grew up with that, and was always a huge Muddy Waters freak. Jim grew up in Florida, in the south, and he also heard blues when he moved to California in the late 50s. I played him the Delta sounds, Robert Johnson and Chuck Berry, and he liked it when I did the Delta slide or bottleneck. On L.A. Woman he was totally into the blues, which he had by default. It was inside him, in his blood.”
“Summer of 1969 we were at my house where I lived with my wife Lynne, and Jim came over with our mutual friend Babe Hill. We played cards – which is in the song as conversation: ‘Why did you throw that jack of hearts away? It was the only card in the deck I had left to play’ – and then Babe disappeared into the bathroom for hours. I don’t want to know why. Eventually he emerged, which gave Jim the line about ‘the bathroom is clear’, because he was desperate to go.
“We had a big glass wall, and lots of hyacinths growing in the yard outside and the cats were running among them – the lions in the lyric. We also had a pet bobcat – a lynx. It wasn’t legal but we’d found it in a pet store. It was like: ‘Oh, what a cute kitty’. Two years later it was 40lbs of terror. The bobcat was called Bobby and she wasn’t too friendly. You had to wear gloves.
"Eventually I felt bad about keeping her so, I gave her to a guy in Malibu who specialised in rehabilitating animals and setting them free in the hills. He was amazing. He taught them how to hunt. He let real lions and leopards loose out there. Anyway, Bobby inspired the lyric about ‘the lions’. Morrison liked animals.
“We recorded an acoustic demo in my home studio with guitar and tom-toms. It was just a fun song based on the afternoon’s activities, but Jim’s words gave it a mysterious appeal.”
She Smells So Nice/Rock Me
“Originally we were just going to remaster L.A. Woman [for the 40th Anniversary Edition], until Bruce Botnick found an innocuous-looking box that happened to contain all the outtakes that appear on the expanded version, the alternative versions and studio chatter. Everyone had forgotten them or didn’t even think they existed. We’d certainly never heard them until Bruce’s find.
"The best one is this ‘new’ blues song that we did first thing on the blues day, along with Crawling King Snake, Cars Hiss By My Window and Been Down So Long. It was just an improvised jam with funny lyrics: ‘I’m gonna switch on the television, I’m gonna drown’.
"Shortly afterwards we vamped around on Rock Me, another try-out, which we wouldn’t have released on the album, except this is where Jim first comes up with the line about ‘Mister Mojo Risin’, keep on risin’…’ which he then used in the song L.A. Woman itself. That was the first time we ever heard him sing that phrase. I’m glad we found that.”
The original version of this feature appeared in Classic Rock 168, in March 2012.