The 20 best songs by The Doors

The Doors
(Image credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

One of America's most influential bands scored hits with some classic tracks, but there were plenty more real gems that were never released as singles. You'll find some of both here. 

So will The Doors' best ever track be a familiar single, or something you can only find hidden away on one of their albums? And how many of your favourites made our Doors Top 20? Read on and find out...


20. Not To Touch The Earth

Morrison’s girlfriend, Pamela Courson, claimed that on his last day on earth, Jim listened to tapes of his old songs and became fixated on this track, playing it over and over. The central part of Celebration Of The Lizard, the epic poem the band attempted to record during the Waiting For The Sun sessions, the line ‘Dead president’s corpse in the driver’s car’ now seems oddly prophetic of Jim’s death. The music is a sparse rhythmic mantra.

19. Moonlight Drive

A celebration of evening, sung in Morrison’s Young Lion baritone, it contains the lines that he recited to Ray Manzarek on Venice Beach which persuaded the professorial pianist that “we can form a group and make a million dollars”. It was featured in the 1971 cult road movie Two-Lane Blacktop (starring Dennis Wilson and James Taylor), which was released the week Morrison died.

18. Waiting For The Sun

Morrison once predicted: “A lot of people will go into theatre and musicals and opera and get further away from pure music, but rock, the primitive rock music, will reassert itself eventually.” Well, this is beautifully primitive. And cinematic. The shriek across the bridge matches one of Morrison’s finest lyrics, and the rest of The Doors mesh like clockwork.

17. Touch Me

Jim morphs into Frank Sinatra here with his god-like croon fronting a swinging big-band vibe. It’s on the eclectic and often reviled The Soft Parade album. More than 35 million people have watched the live-in-the-TV-studio Smothers Brothers version, with Curtis Amy’s blistering sax solo, on YouTube. So STFU, Mr Rock Critic.

16. Peace Frog

Short of material, the other Doors found two of Morrison’s poems – Dawn’s Highway and Newborn Awakening – and persuaded their frontman to meld the words into a song for the Morrison Hotel album. The lyrics mention the episode when the family car passed an accident that left ‘Indians scattered… bleeding’. Morrison said: “That was the first time I tasted fear. I musta been about four.” The intro is standout. According to Robby Krieger: “I like the distorted chords and the wah‑wah. I didn’t use that too often because [producer] Paul Rothchild told us: don’t use ideas associated with other people.” In other words, Hendrix.

15. Back Door Man

Willie Dixon’s tale of a philanderer who fucks married women contains all the innuendo and dirty grit of classic blues. It’s on The Doors’ debut album, but it could just as easily have appeared on L.A. Woman. Morrison was a not-so-old bluesman, after all.

14. The Crystal Ship

A lovely break-up song Morrison wrote for his girlfriend Mary Werbelow: ‘Before you slip into unconsciousness/I’d like to have another kiss.’ A notebook lyric, it dates back to their relationship in Clearwater, Florida in 1965. The melody of the song is both distant and delicate.

13. Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)

This track was suggested by Manzarek, who had Austrian vocalist’s Lotte Lenya’s version of the Brecht/Weill drinking song on vinyl. Morrison sang the line ‘Show me the way to the next little boy’ when The Doors played this song live at The Matrix in ’67, but he changed ‘boy’ to ‘girl’ for the recorded version. Manzarek plays a fretless zither called a Marxophone, and Paul Rothchild can be heard on the harmony singalong, which sounds authentically Weimar Republic.

12. Hello, I Love You

Originally one of the six demos The Doors recorded at World Pacific Jazz Studios in September 1965, Morrison wrote this about a dark lovely he’d lusted after on Venice Beach. Often said to be a Kinks rip‑off, Krieger and Densmore actually borrowed the finished version’s lurching rhythm from Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love. It became The Doors’ second No.1.

11. Love Me Two Times

Another Krieger gem written about the Vietnam war and being in a band: “You’re going off on tour or you’re going to war and you’ll leave your old lady behind. So get it while you can… I borrowed the lick from The Blues Project with Al Kooper. I was always stealing ideas.” Manzarek’s staccato organ wraps it all up.

10. Love Her Madly

Written by Krieger, this has a loose, semi-acoustic swing and a relaxed bar-room tempo with a menacing edge: “I fixed on the idea of a guy whose girlfriend is his obsession but she keeps on walking out and giving him the runaround. That was me, and I wrote it for Lynn, now my wife. It was an easy-listening song – producer Paul Rothchild called it ‘cocktail music’ and walked off the L.A. Woman sessions. But Jim loved it. His favourite part was about the ‘seven horses’. He told me: ‘Put something in that makes the listener confused.’ The seven horses were like a lucky omen, and Jim always loved horse racing from his Florida days.”

9. Five To One

‘No one here gets out alive’ sang Morrison on a tale of open revolution, thickened by masculine lust and the immortally stuttered, ‘Ya walk across the floor with a flower in your hand…’ which is addressed to a prostitute. At the 1969 Miami concert, Morrison used the song to inform the crowd they’d been fucked by the system and were “all a bunch of fuckin’ idiots and slaves”. Sonically, it’s almost anti-rock.

8. When The Music’s Over

Glorious on Strange Days and even better on Absolutely Live, this was the ideal final encore: that’s your lot. But by then you’ve already heard Jim screaming ‘Persian night, babe. See the light, babe. Save us. Jesus. Save us.’ According to Krieger, his two guitar solos were “a real challenge because the harmony is static. I had to play 56 bars over the same riff.” It was worth the effort.

7. People Are Strange

One night in early ’67, Krieger and Densmore found Morrison on their doorstep in a depressed state: “A really lousy, talking-about-killing- himself mood.” They walked him to the top of Laurel Canyon and dropped acid, before returning to Sunset Sound Recorders to capture his epiphany. It was probably the closest The Doors ever worked as songwriters, and the track was a US Top 20 hit. Which is strange indeed, considering its black, psychedelic mood is like tripping on an ice rink.

6. Roadhouse Blues

‘Fuck you’ rebellion incarnate. This song is wonderful for various reasons: the beery breakfast, the couldn’t-care-less-because-death-is-just-round-the corner philosophy, and that driving bass line played by session man Lonnie Mack, who was on the downturn at the time, working at Elektra Records and selling bibles. Altogether now: ‘dun dun dun dun dun dun durdlerr…’

5. Break On Through (To The Other Side)

What a way to introduce yourselves! An Elmore James riff slugs it out with Densmore’s crisp bossa nova break-beat, while Manzarek plays his left-handed keyboard bass and Krieger pays tribute to Paul Butterfield’s band’s guitarist Michael Bloomfield. Morrison’s vocal, which is a mixture of feral drawl and perfect diction, leads to the emphatic ‘She get high’ line, which had to be censored. Still awesome even 47 years on.

4. Light My Fire

Despite its familiarity, Light My Fire doesn’t smoulder. It’s a conflagration of über-cool acid rock. It’s Robby Krieger’s song in the main, but he credits Morrison for the second verse. “I asked him: “Why do you always have to talk about death?’” the guitarist revealed. “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.”

Buick offered The Doors vast sums to use the song in an car advert. Morrison’s reply was: “Only if I can smash a Buick on stage with a sledgehammer.”

3. The End

The first of The Doors’ epic songs, this was worked into an 11-minute frenzy during their residency at the Whisky A Go Go, although some of the lyrics came from Morrison’s time working on a student production of Oedipus Rex at Florida State University. “Every time I hear that song it means something else to me,” Morrison said in 1969. “It could be goodbye to childhood.” Was this the birth of rock opera?

2. L.A. Woman

In which Mr Mojo Risin’ declares his love for all the little girls in their Hollywood bungalows and the City of Light in particular. The original handwritten lyric has some interesting doodling in blue biro, depicting a kite in a lightning flash and a stylised straw man, and credits the song, which he actually called L.A: Woman, to J.M./Doors.

Unusually, it was recorded in the morning (it was unlikely that Morrison had been to bed). Afterward, he and rhythm guitarist Marc Benno went out to lunch – literally, since Jim consumed a bottle of Jack Daniel’s at the Blue Boar while scoffing a plate of oxtail.

The original album came with a yellow inner sleeve that showed a woman crucified on a telephone pole. The model was 18-year-old waitress/student and future singer Cher. The art director, Carl Cossick, provided a visual metaphor for the cultural exploitation of women. Morrison chose the maroon/burgundy coloration, and the embossed typeface is Bookman Bold.

Cher was never paid for posing naked. Instead she was given five copies of the finished album. The Amtrak howl and the chugging rhythm make this the ideal way to enter the City of Night.

1. Riders On The Storm

The last track on the final Doors album recorded while their frontman was alive, Riders On The Storm could be viewed as a portent of impending doom. Not surprisingly, since its eerie Jim Morrison whispered outro, accompanied by the wash of Ray Manzarek’s electric piano rain, indicates that Jimbo isn’t going to be around much longer.

That said, the song sprang from a studio jam based around Stan Jones’s cowboy epic Ghost Riders In The Sky. While Robby Krieger vamped surf-style, Morrison scribbled lyrics in his notebook. Once he had the verses, he asked the band to interpret the song and slow the tempo to a walking blues.

Morrison’s words were dredged from memories of hitchhiking down dusty Florida roads as a teenager en route to visit his girlfriend Mary Werbelow. The idea of a solitary road trip also emerged in his unfinished film HWY: An American Pastoral, where he looms like a deranged Charles Manson – the killer on the road. Ray Manzarek and bassist Jerry Scheff hit upon the loping A-minor-to-A-major riff underpinning a dark jazz figure. Engineer Bruce Botnick raided his effects library for the distant desert thunder that appears as a motif.

Krieger’s vibrato guitar solo is the perfect pathway leading from the deadly image of a slaughtered family to the invocation: ‘Girl, you gotta love your man’ – which is possibly the most romantic few seconds in Morrison’s 27 years on the planet. Viewed as either a paean to his partner Pamela Courson or as lyric poetry, it’s a snapshot of a man who knew he was leaving The Doors and moving to Paris to woo his lover back.

The Doors performed Riders On The Storm twice: in Dallas, and during their ill-fated final performance, at The Warehouse in New Orleans (December 11 and 12, 1970), both suitable cities for those with a death fixation.

The basic eight-track was cut in December 1970 at The Doors’ workshop at 8512 Santa Monica Boulevard, but Morrison’s haunting finale was overdubbed at the mix-down in Elektra’s studio in January, after which Jim went off to play softball with his pals and never sang on a Doors song again.

Released as a single in June 1971, it peaked at No.14 in the US chart shortly after Morrison’s death, and at No.22 in Britain in October. In an eerie coincidence, Riders On The Storm was playing on Radio Luxembourg when the singer’s death was announced. The rain fell like tears.

Max Bell

Max Bell worked for the NME during the golden 70s era before running up and down London’s Fleet Street for The Times and all the other hot-metal dailies. A long stint at the Standard and mags like The Face and GQ kept him honest. Later, Record Collector and Classic Rock called.