Today we remember legendary Doors frontman Jim Morrison on what would have been his 73rd birthday (Dec. 8). Not only did he pave the way for psychedelic blues/rock music, Morrison was regarded by critics and friends as a respected poet as well as a true artist who believed in the music he performed over his short but impactful four years of leading The Doors.
With seven records released between 1967 and 1971, revisit 10 classic and deep-cut tracks below with tales explaining how each song came to be that capture the iconic sound that led The Doors to become a staple of rock history.
1. “People Are Strange”
What started as a simple walk through the Hollywood Hills eventually turned into inspiration for Morrison. According to The Doors Commentary by Jac Holzman, who discovered the band in 1966, drummer John Densmore ran into Morrison on Laurel Canyon Boulevard in Los Angeles when a poem began to take shape. Morrison began to recite the partial lyrics and Densmore quickly scribbled down what became the chorus: “When you’re a stranger, faces come out of the rain/ When you’re strange, no one remembers your name.” The song eventually peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1967.
2. “Break on Through (To the Other Side)”
Critically acclaimed as one of the greatest opening album tracks of all time, “Break on Through” was the first single released by the band in 1967. The track featured the controversial lyrics “she gets high” during the bridge of the song but the line was cut to Morrison singing just “she gets” four times before letting out a signature wail, according to the biography Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend by Steven Davis.
3. “The End”
As the last track on the band’s debut album, Holzman describes this song as “clearly the closing statement The Doors wanted to make — an exclamation point.” Its controversial lyrics — “Father I want to kill you. Mother, I want to…” — stemmed from Morrison’s fascination with Oedipus Rex and the mythological complex it spawned.
4. “Hello, I Love You”
Inspired by a woman they stared in awe at during the summer of 1965 in Venice Beach, Morrison told keyboardist Ray Manzarek that if he had the courage to go up and talk to her, he would say exactly what the chorus says: “Hello, I love you, won’t you tell me your name?,” according to Davis. This eventually became their second No. 1 on the Hot 100.
5. “Roadhouse Blues“
The line “woke up this morning and got myself a beer” is not what it appears to be. According to the book Light My Fire by Ray Manzarek, the Doors keyboardist explains that Morrison was actually singing “woke up this morning and I got myself a beard,” in reference to waking up after an alleged three weeks of drug-induced sleep.
6. “Light My Fire”
Written by guitarist Robby Krieger, Morrison’s only lyrical contribution was adding “and our love become a funeral pyre” to rhyme with previous lyric “no time to wallow in the mire,” according to Davis. “Fire” was the band’s first No. 1 on the Hot 100 and they performed their hit single on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1967. After being instructed by producers and agreeing to change “girl we couldn’t get much higher” to “girl we couldn’t get much better,” the band refused to comply with Federal Communications Commission requirements. Morrison ended up singing the original “higher” lyric, and the band was banned from returning to the show.
7. “Spanish Caravan”
With Krieger having such a deep admiration for flamenco and classical guitar, some may assume that this was one of his favorite songs to perform. According to Holzman, “He played with a nonchalance that made it all look so easy.” With its central focus on Krieger’s flamenco-inspired guitar rhythm, “‘Spanish Caravan’ demonstrates how well tonalities and rhythms of world music can be assimilated into rock,” Holzman added.
8. “Riders on the Storm“
The final song on L.A. Woman, the last album they would create with Morrison, was a song described by Holzman as “their richest work since their debut album — ending both the album and their careers together by inviting each one of us to join them as one of the riders on the storm.” The song entered the Hot 100 in 1971 the day Morrison died (July 3) and peaked to No. 14 later that same year.
9. “Love Street”
Written about Morrison’s infamous girlfriend Pamela Courson, “Love Street” is another track that has a story behind its love-induced lyrics. While most people are familiar with the lyrics “she has robes and she has monkeys, lazy diamond-studded flunkies,” these are not the original lyrics Morrison had in mind. Instead, Morrison originally wrote “she has robes and she has junkies,” referencing Courson’s dealings with heroin, according to Davis.
10. “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)”
Even though this song was not a widely known hit, it still helped define what The Doors stood for in terms of musical and creative direction. Holzman describes the first time he heard the band perform “Alabama Song” in 1966 at the Whisky a Go Go in L.A.: “Sometimes a song comes at you from a totally unexpected angle and through the prism of that strangeness you catch elements within that song that illuminates the rest of their work, and ‘Alabama Song’ did that.”