51 years ago “Light my fire” earns top spot in BillBoard Music Charts

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Few weeks after a spark which changed musical history forever was lit,  The Doors’ “Light My Fire” earned the top spot in the Billboard Hot 100 on this day in 1967.

This transformed The Doors from cult favourites of the rock cognoscenti into international pop stars and avatars of the 60s counterculture.

As “Light My Fire” climbed the charts in June and early July, The Doors were out on the East Coast, still plugging away as an opening act (e.g., for Simon and Garfunkel in Forest Hills, Queens) and as sometime-headliners (e.g., in a Greenwich, Connecticut, high-school auditorium). When the group topped the charts in late July, Jim Morrison celebrated by buying his now-famous skintight black-leather suit and beginning to hobnob with the likes of the iconic model/muse Nico at drug-fueled parties held by Andy Warhol.

Attempting to keep Morrison grounded were not only his fellow Doors Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek and John Densmore as well as the professional manager they had hired in part to “babysit” him, but also his longtime girlfriend Pamela Courson, who is quoted in Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugerman’s Doors biography No One Here Gets Out Alive (1980) as greeting the sight of Jim Morrison preening in front of a mirror at home before a show in the summer of 1967 with, “Oh Jim, are you going to wear the same leather pants again? You never change your clothes. You’re beginning to smell, did you know that?”

In the end, of course, Morrison’s heavy drinking and drug use would lead to increasingly erratic behavior over the next four years and eventually take his life in July 1971. During that period, The Doors would follow up “Light My Fire” with a string of era-defining albums and songs, including “People Are Strange,” “Love Me Two Times” and “The End” in 1967; “Hello, I Love You” and “Touch Me” in 1968; and “L.A. Woman” and “Riders on the Storm” in 1971.

The original version of the song was over 7 minutes long. The Doors’ record company, Elektra, thought this was too long to put on radio. In 2010, in an interview with Mojo magazine, Elektra founder Jaz Holzman stated

“We had that huge problem with the time length – seven-and-a-half minutes. Nobody could figure out how to cut it. Finally, I said to [producer Paul] Rothchild, nobody can cut it but you. When he cut out the solo, there were screams. Except from Jim. Jim said, ‘Imagine a kid in Minneapolis hearing even the cut version over the radio, it’s going to turn his head around.’ So they said, ‘Go ahead, release it.’ We released it with the full version on the other side.”

This ended up boosting sales of the album, as fans had to purchase the record to hear the extended mix.

Due to the fact that the Doors didn’t have a bass player, mystery surrounds the question of who played the bass on ‘Light My Fire’. When performing live, Ray Manzarek played the song’s bass line with his left hand on a Fender Rhodes Piano Bass, while performing the other keyboard parts on a Vox Continental with his right.

However, the question remains as to who played on the recording. Session musicians were not credited at the time, but Carol Kaye – a renowned LA bass goddess of the time – claims it was her.

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