For every idealistic dream of the summer of love and hippie counterculture, there is usually a far darker and uglier side. For every flower power moment, there is dirt under your fingernails and, for every enlightening and ground shaking anthem, there is a singer who absolutely hated it. All that and more is compounded within The Doors euphoric song ‘Light My Fire’.
The song is largely regarded as one of the band’s finest pieces of pop music, and it arrived at a time when the whole of the world was beginning to let their hair down. Released in 1967, amid the burgeoning hippie scene in San Francisco, it provided a powerful reminder of the art at the heart of the new counterculture movement. Propelled by the confrontational and confounding lyricism of Jim Morrison (quite possibly the only true heir to the throne of generational poster boy), the track has become a landmark moment in musical history. And, yep, you guessed it, Jim Morrison hated it.
It’s not unusual for a songwriter to end up on the wrong side of their own expression, just ask Radiohead’s Thom Yorke about ‘Creep’ or Kurt Cobain about ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, both of whom would end up detesting their own seismic singles. But what is perhaps most strange about Morrison’s disgust for the song is that it seemingly encapsulated the band more neatly than anything they had released before or since.
At the heart of the track is a lustful and youthful wail. It is a hedonists dream that seems to reduce the complexities of love, life and the human condition to an act as simple as flicking a match. Poetic and powerful at almost every note, ‘Light My Fire’ quickly found fame with its audience and became a sniggering anthem of rebellion. The song began in the simplest of ways — with the elements.
Robby Krieger was the main man behind the song, and he recalled to Uncut how the traditional elements of fire, air, earth and water had inspired his pen: “I was living with my parents in Pacific Palisades – I had my amp and SG. I asked Jim, what should I write about? He said, ‘Something universal, which won’t disappear two years from now. Something that people can interpret themselves.’ I said to myself I’d write about the four elements; earth, air, fire, water; I picked fire, as I loved the Stones song, ‘Play With Fire,’ and that’s how that came about.”
With a melody in mind and a folk slant on the song’s procession, Kreiger took the track back to The Doors’ “communal mind”, where the band would paw over the song and make some amends. When Morrison wrote the second verse of the track, including the infamous line “our love become a funeral pyre”, the song kicked into gear. Ray Manzarek would provide an organ lick like no other, and that allowed John Densmore’s pounding rhythm to come to the fore. It would be released on September 17th, 1967, as the autumn fell over the summer of love and reach number one in the charts.
Popularity does not always breed esteem, and almost as quickly as the song became a huge hit, it became a bugbear for the band’s singer. Morrison allegedly indicated in his personal notebooks that he didn’t care for the song at all and absolutely hated performing it, something which was backed up when one unlucky fan requested the track during a fateful performance.
Morrison’s best friend, January Jansen, has noted several different moments in the singer’s life when fame got a little too wild, including a female fan jumping from a roof onto the hood of their Rolls Royce. However, one moment confirmed Morrison’s distaste for ‘Light My Fire’. Performing with the band, a request from the song was yelled out from the crowd to which Morrison simply replied: “F*ck your mother.” It was clear that Morrison saw the song as a weight around the neck of his artistic direction. With the song’s popularity turning The Doors into the latest ‘pop sensation’, Morrison felt his message was being clouded by money, fame and intrigue. It would be an issue for him until his dying day.
In a twist of fate, ‘Light My Fire’ would be the final song Morrison performed live for his audience on December 12th, 1970. At this stage of his life, The Lizard King had become detached from his art, and fame had become an ever-present succubus. Beleaguered and drunken, Morrison became bored of the final song and smashed his microphone into the floor, breaking it, ending the show, and concluding his live performances.
Below, watch Jim Morrison perform The Doors song ‘Light My Fire’ live at the infamous Isle of Wight festival in 1970.