He hadn't been sure to how to take it when I told him that I'd had a 'Manzarek' bumper sticker personally made for my car in the mid-1980s. At the time, Morrison bumper stickers were common and I thought it would be both funny and appropriate that someone recognize another member of the group. We agreed that 'Manzarek' sounded like someone running for county freeholder more than a rock musician with 100 million records sold.
On a reflective day, I'm inclined to think of The Doors as anything but a rock 'n' roll band. Sure, they played the blues and a couple R'n'R standards, but they did something far beyond what people think of as rock 'n' roll.
In all my years of writing around music -- I count 25 or so -- no band has generated the bi-polar love and rage that is an average discussion about the Doors. All I can say to people who think they were undeserving of the good words written about them: well, you're wrong.
Here are 25 songs that I associate with Ray Manzarek and his organ-y and piano-y skills.
25) Close To You: It wouldn't be a list of mine if I didn't start with a dick move. Ray Manzarek was a great organist for his band, but he wasn't an iconic singer. So while it's nice that Jim turned the microphone over to him for a tune, it probably wasn't so great on the nights when Jim was too drunk to perform and Ray handled all of the vocals.
24) Wild Child: If you sit at a keyboard that can dial up organ sounds, you'll likely stumble upon a Doors tune or two or three. In fact, you can play at least a half-dozen Doors tunes just by taking five notes and moving them around in different orders. This one sounds like you're moving mountains.
23) People Are Strange: The Doors understood you can do all the heavy stuff you want, but if you don't write a quick, catchy hit, you ain't goin' nowhere.
22) Summer's Almost Gone: No song breaks my heart like this one and until I get myself someplace where it's warm all year around I will continue to sing this song at the official end of the summer party on July 4.
21) Break On Through (To The Other Side): No matter how many times I hear this song, I hear it for the first time. There's something about the space between the instruments that makes it seem you can hear the anticipation between the musicians all waiting to get their shots in.
20) Twentieth Century Fox: The 1960s were constantly changing the rules and the Doors were a big part of that. Imagine yourself walking into the Whisky in L.A. in 1966 and hearing this band who had no bass player or second guitarist. All you heard was keyboard bass, a Vox Continental organ, bottleneck blues licks and a drummer. All you saw was Jim in his leather suit, back before anyone thought of it. What the hell is this?
19) The Celebration of the Lizard: "Lions in the street and roaming, dogs in heat, rabid, foaming…I want to be ready!" Well, that's the condensed "radio edit." Sadly, it leaves out some of the Doors' best playing and Jim's best words. "Hot dead prisons," "slow century of her moving," "cheek slide down the cool smooth tile," "Cool air heights!," "Mirrors Vacant!" "playing strange games with the girls of the island!" Listen to the full version today!
18) Who Scared You: Whenever you look at "The Complete Doors" collections, you'll likely find this song bumped off, due to the fact that it was a b-side and never made it to a proper album. Though the song was clearly from the Soft Parade sessions, it was listed for possible inclusion on the Morrison Hotel album by magazines from that era in place of "Maggie McGill."
17) Yes, The River Knows: This song brings the fistfights. Some consider it to be among the worst Doors songs. Not me. Then again, I like the songs where Jim croons and Ray plays pretty.
16) Strange Days: Manzarek played a Moog synthesizer to bring out the weirdness of the title track from their second album. Surely, at the time it was done to further the band's forward-thinking movement, but they must not have thought that much of the innovation considering how they never did much (anything?) with it.
15) Roadhouse Blues: Though the honky-tonk piano on the studio version of this tune is aesthetically the correct choice, it's the organ on the live version from An American Prayer that works to their advantage -- and the fact that playing it in front of a live audience is what the song needs most.
14) Universal Mind: Stuck in the middle of a double-live album with no known studio version (right?), UM is one of those easy tunes that suggests when a good band is in a groove they can make the simplest of ideas work wonders.
13) Light My Fire: Robby Krieger wrote the tune. Morrison added some words. But Ray gave it that opening and closing riff that made it something special. The long version of the song with everyone playing solos supposedly "meant something" when they first did it and the "single edit" supposedly bugged them. But seriously? The song couldn't survive without the long instrumental break? Guess again.
12) The Unknown Soldier: The idea that this was a single off the album just boggles the mind. They even made a film for it. But that just goes to show how times have changed. Once upon a time, it was important to be saying something with your music. These days, you collect the money and buy a big house! Morrison never owned a home and spent most of his time in hotels. Had he lived, he would've had a bad back.
11) The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat): What makes the L.A. Woman album so great is partially because Ray's kicking butt on the Hammond organ. The tones he's using on this cut just make it so much of a better tune. It really makes me wish Jimbo would've stuck around for at least one more album. Just to hear where they went next.
10) Love Her Madly: Ray's solo is fun but it's Jimbo's screaming in the bathroom of "Don't you LOVE HER?" that kills me every time. People talk about how serious these guys were, but they also had a lot of fun.
9) I Can't See Your Face In My Mind: Robby Krieger made things psychedelic with his trippy slide guitar but Ray added to the mystique with keyboard lines that sound like what Phantom of the Opera should've sounded like. Though I'm guessing since I've heard Phantom. That'll be your job.
8) Unhappy Girl: "You are locked in a prison of your own devise!" Right ON! Now please explain why there are no other rock bands with this line-up of drums-keys-guitar-vocal. Two guitar line-ups have been done to death. Even bands without bass players, but never anything with this much air.
7) Queen of the Highway: The electric piano is tricky. It can make you sound like you're in a hotel lounge. Ray's critics often said he sounded like a cocktail pianist, but if so I'd hire him. People are such jerks, you know?
6) Soul Kitchen: The Los Angeles band X, who Ray Manzarek produced and plugged, covered this tune and flatlined it. Just rode roughshod over the tricky parts and made it their own. You hear the original version and it's like "oh yeah, there are colors here!"
5) When the Music's Over: You're not supposed to like the 11-minute songs. That's why they put them at the end of the albums. Yet, I could never ignore this one. Too intense. Too dramatic. When the band finally get the chance to wig out at the climax, it's like what I want every jam to sound like. Except everyone I know plays without restraint all of the time.
4) Cars Hiss By My Window: Yet another fine tune from the L.A.Woman album that proved the band were blessed with magic. You've heard these progressions a million times and Jim wants to be Jimmy Reed, but it sounds like so much more. Bar bands don't come close.
3) The Crystal Ship: Most decent bands can rock. The Doors did a weird variation of it, but they managed. But a great band can handle a ballad and never let it lapse into yuck. The piano and organ solo here is sublime. You hear that guitar players? Wise up!
2) Riders On the Storm: Yeah, I know. Radio programmers grab this tune at the first sign of grey clouds salivating over their chance to be timely. But if you just listen to the song and let it take you away, it turns out Ray is the Calgon of his generation.
1) The Changeling: If all bands had used the organ as well as the Doors, sales of Hammond organs might still be mighty and brisk to this day. No, who am I kidding? Nothing can get people to stop staring at their phones. Thanks, Ray! You done it right.
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