August 5th, 2017

He put his “Bach hat” on…

…and lit that fire.

Who’s the “he” who described himself as having put on his Bach hat? Ray Manzarek, who was the inspired and superlative keyboardist for The Doors, and co-founder of the group with Jim Morrison.

Recently it was the 50th anniversary of the monster Doors hit “Light My Fire,” a song made uniquely wonderful by Manzarek’s organ playing. John Hinderaker of Powerline offers up a post for the occasion that features an interview with Manzarek from 1998 that’s well worth listening to, particularly if you’re a fan. That’s where Manzarek talks about his Bach hat.

I can’t seem to embed the interview here, so please follow the Powerline link I just gave and listen to the audio there. In the interview, Manzarek explains how the song was made and then transformed into what we’ve heard for 50 years (Happy Anniversary!) as one of the greatest rock songs ever. It was originally popular in the “short” version, the one that gave short shrift to Manzarek’s solo (although the rest of his playing was still wonderful). A long time ago most people became familiar with the fabulous “long” version in all its crescendo-building glory.

I’ve long been a big Manzarek fan, but I had never heard that interview before. And I certainly never heard any Bach in “Light My Fire”—not that I was looking for it, although now that Manzarek mentions it, it’s pretty easy to spot.


[NOTE: Here’s my previous post on Manzarek, written on the occasion of his death in 2013.]

44 Responses to “He put his “Bach hat” on…”

  1. F Says:

    Great post, Neo. 50 years. Hard to believe it. Thanks for reminding us.

  2. kimo Says:

    For the life of me… all my favorite sites are extolling the brilliance and blazing glory of “The Doors” and the “Lite My Fire” anniversary… Am I the only one on the planet who was glad to have forgotten them, and it, for the last 50 year? The best version I ever saw of same was Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention destroy these guys in parody at the Fillmore back in the day… Hilarious – still brings a smile to my face.

  3. MollyNH Says:

    Light my fire was written by the Doors. so I have doubts that zappa would out do them, just sayin.

  4. Sean Says:

    Fifty years on and it’s still the only top 10 rock hit to feature only two chords in the main riff. Still hypnotic too.

  5. CGHill Says:

    In 2009, “Weird Al” Yankovic had this idea: suppose Jim Morrison had lived, and in his latter years was reduced to screaming about mundane stuff like craigslist? He wrote the song as a Doors pastiche, and to make darn sure he got the sound right, he hired Manzarek to play keyboards.

  6. rigeldog Says:

    I was a young child when the Doors were big…they were a group that the older siblings of my friends would listen to. Am I the only one who hears nothing but twisted bleakness in their songs? I was a happy kid but can remember feeling really depressed when forced to listen to them!

  7. Mac Says:

    Humph. I heard the album before the single was released, and always disliked the single because it cut out the only thing I really liked about the track, which was the guitar solo.

    Not to say that Manzarek wasn’t extremely gifted.

  8. MollyNH Says:

    @kimo, sorry didn’t quite read your saying it was a parody, .
    Alas every one is entitled to their own opinions., even if they are the wrong opinions. 😉

  9. Sean Says:

    The harpsichord solo’s my favorite part. Has a lot going on in it emotionally.

  10. neo-neocon Says:


    “Light My Fire” depressed you? I sure don’t get that vibe from it at all.

    Nor do I get it from “Love Me Two Times,” or “Love Street” or the somewhat humorous (to me, anyway) “Hello, I Love You.”

  11. Mac Says:

    I wouldn’t describe that song as depressing, but the album as a whole sure is dark.

    “Some are born to sweet delight / Some are born to the endless night”

    “Father, I want to kill you. Mother, …”

    It’s certainly a death-trip sort of album. A striking counter-note to the Sgt Pepper vibe of the time.

  12. neo-neocon Says:


    I never had a Doors album. I just listened to some of the songs, and “Light My Fire” (and those others I listed) were my favorites. The lighter side of the Doors.

  13. parker Says:

    well, about half the doors songs were brilliant and half forgetable. The keyboard (qnd the base foot pedals carried tha songs) by Manzerick . Light my fire and other Doors’ hits were powered by the keyboard. People are strange is the high mark.

  14. huxley Says:

    Late one summer night in ’67 I was drivin’ around with my best high school friend when I first heard “Light My Fire.”

    At the time there were lots of conservative folks wagging their fingers about the evil of rock music. Which sounded like hysterical nonsense to me.

    “I Want to Hold Your Hand” evil?
    “Surfer Girl” evil?
    “Hound Dog” evil?
    “Pretty Woman” evil?

    I could go on.

    But when I heard “Light My Fire,” my eyebrows raised and a chill went up my spine.

    “Light My Fire” might not have been evil, but it sure sounded like it was trying and like nothing I had ever heard before on the radio.

    Morrison was a buffoon but he was playing for stakes.

  15. huxley Says:

    Years later on a Doors documentary I heard Ray Manzarek explicate his astonishing organ work on “Light My Fire” and I nodded, yeah, I didn’t get the Bach and Coltrane then, but I sure hear it now.

  16. huxley Says:

    Light my fire and other Doors’ hits were powered by the keyboard.

    parker: Sorta. Manzarek’s organ and musical sensibility were distinctive and made Doors songs stand out.

    But Robby Krieger played a dynamite flamenco guitar and he, not Morrison, wrote “Light My Fire.”

    And of course, Morrison was Morrison. After he was gone, the Doors were too.

    The Doors had a special sound which was an amalgam of strong, disparate influences.

    That doesn’t seem to happen anymore. Or if it does, the record companies make sure to blunt it enough so new groups don’t sound much different from other songs in “Urban Contemporary” or some other bogus manufactured category where everything sounds more or less the same.

  17. Mac Says:

    Neo, just as an exercise in cultural history you should give that first Doors album a listen. It’s probably on YouTube. Also The Velvet Underground and Nico. The hippie culture had a very definite dark side which is typically glossed over. I’ve made pointing it out something of a personal mission.

  18. Matthew Says:

    I was at another site a few days ago just saying this. The Doors (along with the Who and the Stones) were much a better band than the Beatles ever were.

  19. Ann Says:

    There’s a headline over at National Review right now that captures perfectly what went through my mind as I read this post and the comments — “Western Culture Ain’t What It Used to Be”

  20. MollyNH Says:

    Neo, Don t forget their rendition. of the Alabama Song.
    ” must have whiskey or I will die” ( taken a little too much to heart by our anti establishment hero Morrison)

  21. Tom G Says:

    I loved the Doors, and right after Jim died, there was a fine double album: Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mine.
    I wore out needles listening to them — and Simon & Garfunkle.

    S&G were mostly light & lovely, the Doors were magical, poetic. At the Navel Academy I got Absolutely Live, with their Celebration of the Lizard.

    Narcissistic. Hedonistic. Sexy, & sex oriented (like Zappa … “call, and the vegetable will respond to you”).

    Manzarek & Krieger, together, around Morrison’s dark poetry sung by a voice full of emotion.

    I recall going from Stanford to LA a few times with my Mexican trailer-mate, who mentioned that after falling asleep to Doors a few times in the Buick, he got to liking them.

    A music, a sound, like no other before or since. Other Voices, their pathetic attempt after Morrison died, was terrible — despite how much magic was just the music w/o vocals in their other songs.

    “When the Music’s over, turn out the lights…”

  22. Tom G Says:

    Also, I understand that Ray did most of the bass lines, since it was John D on drums, Robbie K on lead guitar, and Ray doing most of the rest, keyboards & bass.

    Can’t decide between my two favorites, Riders on the Storm, or
    LA Woman.

    But the latter (8 min after watching it, more procrastination) has lots of all the musical talents, including Jim’s quotable lyrics and the hard-to-karoke keyboards, bass, & guitar licks; plus driving drum beats & moody dark:

    Motel, Money, Murder, Madness.
    Let’s change the mood from glad to sadness.

    Mr. Mojo Risin (5x?)

    Are you a lucky little lady in the City of Light?
    Or just another lost Angel?
    City of Night

  23. Richard Aubrey Says:

    I never cared for pop and rock. Never bought an album or sought out a radio station to listen. Never went to a concert. But it was, nevertheless, inescapable.
    In the Nineties, I attended a fraternity reunion of classes roughly 64-70. I was surprised at how many of the guys were still married to women I’d known in college, and how many had served–only lost one.
    On the way home, I got an oldies station and it was from just that era.
    While I still didn’t care for the music, I did enjoy the associations. Some reminded me of the time the spring came along, the madras came out and the women, not having to deal with slush and muck, were much more graceful than in the winter.
    One reminded me of Basic. When the CQ turned on the lights, Fred Stoll turned on his radio to a station doing top ten, news, weather and sports and endless ads for Denison the Men’s Clothier, Route 22 Union New Jersey open from nine a.m. to five the next morning. Fred’s older brother had been a Marine and lost one leg mid thigh. I used to wonder what their mother thought.
    “light my fire” didn’t impress me but I had been placed in an unfortunate situation with a woman and when that came on, I winced. Things worked out.
    Still don’t have any nostalgia for the music, although I miss some of our own lyrics;’
    “Hope you got yo’ s*** together,
    Hope you gots it all up tight.”
    And the associations are, as they would be bitter sweet.

  24. huxley Says:

    The hippie culture had a very definite dark side which is typically glossed over.

    Mac: True. As Joan Didion wrote in her piece “Waiting for Morrison” about her experience of a Doors recording session:

    On the whole my attention is less than entirely engaged by the preoccupations of rock groups … but The Doors are different. The Doors interest me. They have nothing in common with the gentle Beatles. They lack the contemporary conviction that love is brotherhood and the Kama Sutra. Their music insists that love is sex and sex is death and therein lies salvation.

    That was published in Didion’s collection, “The White Album,” an essential sixties document. She was one of our great essayists and surprisingly conservative.

  25. huxley Says:

    Don t forget their rendition. of the Alabama Song.
    ” must have whiskey or I will die”

    MollyNH: That song stood out on the Doors’ first album as carnival music gone terribly wrong. Dark. Ominous.

    I looked it up and discovered it was a Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill song from the 1920s. I found a recording of that version and it sounded like a thin, light-hearted ditty in comparison.

    The Doors were powerful.

  26. Mac Says:

    huxley, re Didion and The White Album: Yes. I must have been in a hurry when I wrote that earlier comment because I usually take the opportunity to mention that book when I talk about the ’60s and especially when I talk about the Doors. Also Slouching Toward Bethlehem.

  27. neo-neocon Says:

    Mac; huxley:

    I never thought “Light My Fire” was depressing, nor were those other Doors songs I listed as not being depressing.

    But there was never any question that they had a dark side, and that it was quite prominent. Some of their songs (for example, “The End” and “Riders on the Storm“) made it very explicit.

  28. huxley Says:

    Also Slouching Toward Bethlehem.

    Mac: Boy, howdy!

    I give “Slouching” the edge over “The White Album,” but for me those two books were Didion’s peak. Periodically I will pull one or the other off the shelf, open the book and start reading randomly. I’m always pulled in.

    neo, your style reminds me some of Didion.

  29. neo-neocon Says:


    That’s a high compliment indeed!

    I read both of those books around the time they were published, and remember thinking highly of them, but haven’t revisited them in recent years.

  30. Paul in Boston Says:

    Neo @ 12:55, Re: The End. Yes, it’s very dark. Dark enough that Francis Ford Coppola used it for a very long sequence in “Apocalypse Now”.

  31. huxley Says:

    The Doors were dark, but never depressing unless they were off their game, as happened given Morrison’s excesses.

    Still they went out on a high note with the “L.A. Woman” album and “Riders of the Storm.”

    One of my early tiny stands of conscience was as a National Honor Society student in the great state of Florida, when I wouldn’t join a campaign to condemn Morrison for alleged obscenity at that concert in Miami.

  32. Gringo Says:

    rigeldog: Am I the only one who hears nothing but twisted bleakness in their songs?
    Neo to rigeldog: “Light My Fire” depressed you? I sure don’t get that vibe from it at all.

    Tom G: Can’t decide between my two favorites, Riders on the Storm, or LA Woman.

    That’s where you get “twisted bleakness.”

    Neo: But there was never any question that they had a dark side, and that it was quite prominent.

    For more “twisted bleakness” with an LA in the title: Lyle Lovett: LA County.

    Regarding the Bach and/or classical music connection -or simply higher level of sophistication-for Light My Fire, I recall the comment from 1967 of a friend on the 7 minute version- which he had on tape. “That song went through about every variation it could.” So you didn’t have to read the Mazurek interview to see the connection.

  33. Gringo Says:

    One of my early tiny stands of conscience was as a National Honor Society student in the great state of Florida, when I wouldn’t join a campaign to condemn Morrison for alleged obscenity at that concert in Miami.

    Memories, memories. I remember that incident.

  34. huxley Says:

    For those who like a good conspiracy theory — I certainly do — here’s a great trip down a peculiar rabbit hole:

    “The Strange but Mostly True Story of Laurel Canyon and the Birth of the Hippie Generation”

    Which claims that the sixties LA musicians, who clustered in Laurel Canyon, were remarkably well-connected to the military-industrial complex.

    Morrison’s father was a Navy admiral, who was the man in charge during the Gulf of Tonkin incident which provided the alibi for American involvement in the Vietnam War.

    Morrison went to kindergarten in Washington DC with Gail Zappa, future wife of Frank Zappa (whose father happened to be a chemical warfare specialist at the Edgewood base). Morrison went to high school with Cass Elliot and John Phillips of the Mamas & Papas.

    There’s more where that came from and it doesn’t prove anything but it is amusing.

  35. Gringo Says:

    Several years ago, I read an interesting book about the 1960s music scene: Wierd Scenes Inside the Canyon: Laurel Canyon,Covert Ops & the Dark Heart of the Hippie Dream. Following are excerpts from an interview with the author.

    David McGowan:To the extent that it has a central thesis, I would say that it is that the music and counterculture scene that sprung to life in the 1960s was not the organic, grassroots resistance movement that it is generally perceived to be, but rather a movement that was essentially manufactured and steered. expose.
    Thomas McGrath : How convinced are you by it and why?
    David McGowan: Very convinced. It’s been a long journey and virtually everything I have discovered – including the military/intelligence family backgrounds of so many of those on the scene, both among the musicians and among their actor counterparts; the existence of a covert military facility right in the heart of the canyon; the prior connections among many of the most prominent stars; the fact that some of the guiding lights behind both the Rand Corporation and the Project for a New American Century were hanging out there at the time, as were the future governor and lieutenant governor of California, and, by some reports, J. Edgar Hoover and various other unnamed politicos and law enforcement personnel; and the uncanny number of violent deaths connected to the scene – all tend to indicate that the 1960s counterculture was an intelligence operation.

    In the book the author notes that Jim Morrison was the son of an Admiral. Stephen Stills’s had a military father who spent time in Central America.
    I am just presenting this as conjecture.
    One place where the book messes up is that he tries to place Peter Tork/Thorkelson in the same group by noting that he was born in Washington DC. Peter Tork’s economics professor father had a decidedly un-military, un-right wing locale for memorial contributions.

    Peter Tork’s father died. Peter, my thoughts are with you….
    A memorial is planned for the near future. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Niebyl Proctor Marxist Library, 6501 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, CA

    Coincidentally, I used to live about a block from there. Not my favorite place of residence, it turned out.

  36. Gringo Says:

    OMG- Huxley just wrote about the same topic.

  37. neo-neocon Says:


    Great minds think alike.

  38. Mac Says:

    Neo, I don’t think “Light My Fire” is depressing, but I do think it’s dark–a Romantic love-death thing, as in the Didion quote huxley gave us.

  39. neo-neocon Says:


    Look at the lyrics.

    I understood them then and now to be an invitation to a girl to take some drugs with the singer and have wild sex. And the drugs aren’t hard drugs, it’s almost certainly pot, and the drug part (that they COULD get much higher) could actually just be referring to sex alone.

    I don’t see any death in it at all, except for this part:

    Try now we can only lose
    And our love become a funeral pyre

    I never saw this as something to do with the prospective lovers dying. I saw it as saying “hey, let’s sleep together, the worst that can happen is that it doesn’t work out and we break up, which causes the death of our love.” That’s standard stuff for songs.

    Indeed, though, as I’ve said before, some of the Doors’ songs were about death. But not that one.

  40. MollyNH Says:

    @Huxley I was familiar with the history of the Alabama song. I had looked it up because I was perplexed at how the lyrics had nothing to do with Alabama ! The song immediately grabbed me, it was just so unlike what you would expect from a rock group. I never heard anything sinister in it just enjoyable foot tapping sing along wacky fun. I never saw the Doors as ” dark they just had many moods kinda like me at the time so they were a perfect fit !

  41. huxley Says:

    As I recall, Morrison added the “funeral pyre” line to extend Krieger’s lyrics and toughen them up.

    That aside there is nothing about death in the song, but I sure heard a dark ecstasy which took it way beyond, say, “Let’s Spend the Night Together” by the Stones — as though the singer and his lover might spontaneously combust at their sexual peak.

  42. neo-neocon Says:


    Well, the invitation to have sex is certainly not unheard of in rock songs. But each of these “let’s sleep together” rock songs has a different flavor, as it were.

    The most teeny-bopper and innocent-sounding one, a song of wistful longing, is the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t it Be Nice,” which looks forward to a future that goes like this:

    …You know it’s gonna make it that much better
    When we can say goodnight and stay together

    Wouldn’t it be nice if we could wake up
    In the morning when the day is new?
    And after having spent the day together
    Hold each other close the whole night through…

    The Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together” increases the raunchiness factor. It’s about doing it now, not waiting. And it doesn’t talk much about love—actually, not at all—and also mentions being high (like “Light My Fire”). It has more sexual innuendos than “Light My Fire,” too:

    “Don’t hang me up and don’t let me down (don’t let me down)
    We could have fun just groovin’ around, around and around
    Oh my, my”…

    It may not sound all that sexual, but if you’ve heard the Stones’ delivery (and I know you have!) it seems pretty clear what they’re talking about.

    The Stones are the bad boys who want to sleep with the girl. The Doors have a Byronic vibe, and they want to sleep with the girl, too.

    By the way, are you familiar with this poem? This discussion makes me think of it. It’s one of those somewhat mysterious poems that isn’t particularly accessible but is very compelling, I think.

  43. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Try now we can only lose
    And our love become a funeral pyre

    Wonder if it weren’t a matter of scratching around for a rhyme with “fire”. There aren’t all that many.

    Consider that there were about fifteen million veterans of WW II. Millions and millions of people–remember the reason for Baby Boomers?–were born to veterans.
    For a long time, and for reasons of military necessity, or because a congressman wanted it, there were far more military installations around the country than there are now.
    I recall, for example, having worked in the field briefly, that the Nike Ajax required sixteen firing batteries and a couple of control HQ type installations to defend Detroit. The later Nike Hercules required six firing batteries and two control/HQ installations to defend Detroit to Cleveland and whatever was in between.
    So the opportunity for ominousity due to the propinquity of one or another type of military installation was higher back then.

  44. Gringo Says:

    Richard Aubrey:
    So the opportunity for ominousity due to the propinquity of one or another type of military installation was higher back then.
    Good point about David McGowan’s book.

    Consider that there were about fifteen million veterans of WW II. Millions and millions of people–remember the reason for Baby Boomers?–were born to veterans.
    Ditto. Peter Tork’s father being a veteran illustrates this. David McGowan’s belief that Peter Tork’s also having been born in DC supports his “conspiracy” hypothesis is absurd, considering that Peter’s father wanted memorial donations to a Marxist library. McGowan’s belief that Peter Tork’s father’s link to Venezuela- sabbatical year- is ominous is likewise rendered absurd when I recall an academic I knew, also with ties to Venezuela, who considered Herbert Marcuse to the the greatest thing since sliced bread.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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