The Story Behind The Song: Ray Manzarek explains The Doors anthem ‘Riders on the Storm’
We’re taking you back to 1971 and the iconic hit from The Doors, ‘Riders on the Storm’, as we continue our weekly feature The Story Behind The Song. A beautifully dark jazz-rock anthem, which would go on to soundtrack the lives of a generation. The song remains a crucible of deeply thematic music, rock and roll esteem, and the sad end of Jim Morrison’s life. Here we look back at the late Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek as he explains the song’s inception.
After a meeting between Manzarek and Morrison on a sunny Venice Beach in California had sparked an instantaneous creative connection between them, they formed The Doors and were a powerhouse before Morrison’s untimely death in ’71. In a 1997 interview as noted by Open Culture, Manzarek explained their chemistry “We just combined the Apollonian and the Dionysian. The Dionysian side is the blues, and the Apollonian side is classical music. The proper artist combines Apollonian rigor and correctness with Dionysian frenzy, passion and excitement. You blend those two together, and you have the complete, whole artist.”
‘Riders on the Storm’ remains one of their most pertinent tracks and a mark of the pair’s infallible connection. In the video below, Manzarek touches on Morrison’s link to the music, and how he and the rest of the band were “jamming in the studio,” before their spark ignited one of rock’s best songs. Ray shares that they began to play around with a country bop on twang guitar, when “Morrison lept up and said, ‘I got lyrics for that!’ and he had… uh… ‘Riders on the Storm’.” Manzarek then uses the video to take you through the creative process which led to the song’s fruition and the legacy it would leave.
The song remains a beautiful allegory of the pair’s relationship and personas, Manzarek a dedicated and practised musician adds layer upon layer of sonic elevation, adding jazz textures that left a distinct smoothness. While Morrison was a firey poet performing his words with a yearning intensity. Lyrically, this song holds a key to Jim’s talent, while crafting storylines of serial-killing hitchhikers he manages to keep the tone one of triumphant love and daring, it’s magnificent songwriting and performance.
His performance does hold another insight into the life and times of Jim Morrison. The track was recorded just before Jim Morrison would depart for Paris with his girlfriend and love of his life Pamela Courson to get clean and rid himself of an increasingly toxic inner circle. It was this love that triumphs in the song’s lyrical landscape that drove Jim to start a new life in the French capital. Manzarek says in the video that “Jim knew he was going to Paris then” and so the tones and nuances of that infatuation feel all the more potent.
Manzarek goes into some wonderful detail about the song’s construction. When that construction is matched with the song’s lyrics, which are below, there is something truly special about to happen. And happen it did. While the tragic passing of Jim Morrison will always weigh heavy on the content of The Doors, the beauty of both his and Manzarek’s life and light together on this iconic record is something that is simply heavenly.
Watch below as Ray Manzarek tells The Story Behind The Song of The Doors’ iconic hit ‘Riders on the Storm’
The Doors ‘Riders on the Storm’ Lyrics:
Riders on the storm Riders on the storm Into this house we’re born Into this world we’re thrown Like a dog without a bone An actor out on loan Riders on the storm
There’s a killer on the road His brain is squirmin’ like a toad Take a long holiday Let your children play If you give this man a ride Sweet family will die Killer on the road, yeah
Girl, you gotta love your man Girl, you gotta love your man Take him by the hand Make him understand The world on you depends Our life will never end Gotta love your man, yeah
Riders on the storm Riders on the storm Into this house we’re born Into this world we’re thrown Like a dog without a bone An actor out on loan. Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm Riders on the storm Riders on the storm Riders on the storm Riders on the storm