On July 29, 1967, The Doors’ “Light My Fire” hit number one on the Billboard charts, becoming The Doors’ first number 1 hit single, and the first number 1 hit single for Elektra Records after eighteen years of being in business.
Lacking original material after a rehearsal, Jim Morrison told the other Doors to write a song for the next rehearsal with the admonition that it be about one of the elements: earth, wind, water, or fire. Doors guitarist Robby Krieger was the only one who came back with a song which he reportedly wrote in twenty minutes. Inspired by Buffalo Springfield, “Light My Fire,” sounded more like a folk song. Although Krieger said he wrote it in twenty minutes he said some of the rough drafts were less than spectacular, like “come on baby breathe my air.”
“Light My Fire” is a truly collaborative song. When Krieger brought the song in he only had the first chorus, “you know it would be untrue/you know that I would be a liar/if I was to say to you/girl, we couldn’t get much higher,” the chorus and the guitar chords. Morrison quickly filled in a second verse of “the time to hesitate is through/no time to wallow in the mire”, drummer John Densmore suggested a Latin beat and they overlaid solos onto the structure, and Ray quickly worked out the now iconic opening to the song. As The Doors played venues like the Whisky a Go-Go they improvised and lengthened the solos.
After “Light My Fire” was finished it wasn’t guaranteed to go to number 1. In fact it wasn’t even Elektra Records’ first choice to be released as a single. That honor went to “Break On Through” with the flip side of “End of the Night.” “Break on Through” stalled out at number 64 on the Billboard charts in the early spring of ’67. Elektra starting hearing from radio stations that they would like to play “Light My Fire” but it was too long for their 2 minute 30 second formats. At first The Doors resisted, they didn’t want to try to record a shorter version, and they thought an edited version would cut the heart out of the solos in the song. The first side of The Doors’ debut album showcased the lyrics and singing of Jim Morrison. “Light My Fire” was the band’s chance to show the world The Doors were more than Jim Morrison’s lyrics, and “Light My Fire” was the proof of The Doors’ synergistic melding of words and music.
Elektra owner Jac Holzman wanted a “Light My Fire” single, and told Doors producer Paul Rothchild to make the edits. Within a half hour Rothchild had an edited version of the song and approached the band with the 3 minute version. After hearing Rothchild’s edits, The Doors approved the song. Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek to this day claims that when “Light My Fire” comes on the radio he can’t tell if it’s going to be the edited version or the full length version until it plays out. Elektra released “Light My Fire” as a single and it entered Billboard’s Hot 100 on June 3rd 1967 and quickly drove its way to number 1 on Billboard’s charts.
As a reward for “Light My Fire” becoming a hit single, Jac Holzman asked each member of the band what they wanted as a present. John Densmore chose a horse, Ray and Robby got some of the first Sony black-and-white reel-to-reel video tape recorders, Jim Morrison asked for and received a 1967 GT500 Shelby Mustang, and Holzman bought himself a new Rolex watch.
“Light My Fire” stayed in the number one position for three weeks and on the charts for fourteen. The success of “Light My Fire” propelled the sales of the album and The Doors’ self titled first album stayed on the charts for two years, making The Doors an internationally known band.
Originally published July 29, 2011. This article appears in “The Doors Examined”