Original v. Cover — #10 of a Series

(midnight. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

The selection for this week has been one of curmudgeon’s personal favorites for more than four decades.  This song represented the first ever hit for the group that performed it, debuted on the charts on June 24, 1967, reached and remained at #1 for three consecutive weeks, and survived on the the Billboard Top 40 for thirteen weeks. The song is ranked #35 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It was also included in the Songs of the Century list and was ranked #7 in VH1’s 100 Greatest Songs of All Time list.

The Doors - Box Set [cd3] Pictures, Images and Photos

Oliver Stone would produce a movie documentary about the group in 1991.  Their lead singer was an incredibly talented musician, whose haunting voice is still instantly recognizable, and whose flamboyant life of excess led to his early demise at the age of twenty-seven. This legendary vocalist also refused to follow a directive to change “controversial” lyrics when they performed this song on The Ed Sullivan Show, angering the host, and consequently, were never invited to perform again on that program.

Jim Morrison Pictures, Images and Photos

This week’s featured song strikes a personal note for this writer as well.  Having started taking lessons in the second grade, he continued to frustrate his teacher by occasionally deciding to “improve” a song rather than playing it exactly as written.  It just seemed that changing a couple of notes, altering the tempo or rhythm, or changing it from a minor to major key (or vice versa) simply made the song sound more interesting.  So my interest in cover versions began at an early age.  In later life, one of this writer’s most valued pleasures is that of developing different versions of a familiar tune, sometimes playing them as a medley.  This week’s featured song is one that this writer has played since the late 1960’s, creating additional interpretations over the years.

In addition, the song this week hit the charts at about the same time as a young man from my hometown, Steve, was killed in the Southeast Asia, by small arms fire after his helicopter was shot down, on June 19, 1967, after forty days in Vietnam and a little over three months shy of his twentieth birthday.  I cannot hear this song without remembering him, pondering the meaning of his death, if one actually exists, and asking myself that elusive, never to be answered question, “Why”?  Steve was one of two young men from my hometown who were the subject of this writer’s very first ever Docudharma diary, entitled, “Steve and Kerry — Two Names on the Vietnam Wall.”

Without further ado, this week’s featured song is that immortal, haunting 1967 classic  by The Doors — “Light My Fire.”  The following excerpt from the relevant wikipedia article provides more detail…

When the song, which is 7 minutes and 5 seconds on the album, was released as a 2-minute 52-second single, the band appeared on various TV shows, such as American Bandstand, miming to a playback of the single. However, “Light My Fire” was performed live by The Doors on The Ed Sullivan Show broadcast on September 17, 1967. The Doors were asked by producer Bob Prech to change the line “girl, we couldn’t get much higher”, as the sponsors were uncomfortable with the possible reference to drug-taking.[2][3] The band agreed to do so, and did a rehearsal using the amended lyrics; however, during the live performance, Morrison sang the original lyric.[2] Ed Sullivan didn’t shake Morrison’s hand as he left the stage. The band had been negotiating a seven-episode deal with the producers; however, after breaking the agreement not to perform the line, they were informed they would never be on the Sullivan show again.[4]

John Densmore recalls[5] that when Buick wanted to buy the piece in October, 1968 for use in a TV commercial (“Come on, Buick, light my fire”[6]) and Morrison, who had been still in London (as an aftermath of the finished European tour which ended on September 20) and they could not reach him and only learned that other group members agreed, Morrison called Buick and threatened to have a Buick smashed with a sledgehammer on a TV show should the (presumably ready) commercial be aired. Various sources claim that this was a turning point in the band’s career and Jim somehow lost his faith in the other members who sold the rights for a quick cash-in.

The song’s chord progression, based on John Coltrane’s version of My Favorite Things, and catchy rhythm (particularly Ray Manzarek’s swirling, barrel organ-style keyboard motif) lent itself readily to pop or MOR styled cover versions.

Many great cover versions have been recorded, so limiting the list to five again this week would not do justice to several that would then need to be excluded from the list.

Here is the original from 1967 by the Doors, as featured on their eponymous album…

Julie London performs “Light My Fire” in her own inimitable style, as featured on her 1968 album, “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy.”  This represents a significant departure from the sound of the original…

José Feliciano’s cover version won a 1969 Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, the same year he won another Grammy for Best New Artist.  Feliciano enjoyed considerable international success when he released his 1968 version of this song.  This is arguably one of the most successful cover versions of an earlier hit, reaching #3 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts, only a year after the Doors original version reached #1 on the same chart.  

As described on wikipedia…

Feliciano’s remake blended Latin influences, including a mixture of classic Spanish guitar and flamenco, with American pop sounds and Feliciano saying “Light my fire light my fire light my fire” over and over again. The single helped to spur the worldwide success of its album, Feliciano!, which was nominated for multiple Grammy awards in 1969. Feliciano’s arrangement of “Light My Fire” has influenced several subsequent versions, including that by Will Young and same writer Robbie Krieger says in an interview about the cover: “It’s really a great feeling to have written a classic. I think I owe a big debt to Jose Feliciano because he is actually the one, when he did it, everybody started doing it. He did a whole different arrangement on it”

Although The Doors’ version of “Light My Fire” did slightly better on the U. S. charts than Feliciano’s remake, his rendition may well have been even more successful on an international scale.  Feliciano’s “Light My Fire” reached the following rankings in these countries:  Canada – #1, Brazil – #2, United States & Australia – #3, United Kingdom – #6, Ireland – #14, Netherlands – #24 and France – #62. By contrast, even though The Doors’ original version reached #1 in the United States, it only reached #22 in Australia and #47 in the U.K., although it was reissued in 1991, coinciding with Stone’s biopic, reaching #7.

Haven’t heard of Emma Franklin?  This talented artist’s career apparently took some unfortunate twists and turns, but she turns in a fine performance of this song, as featured on her 1969 album, Soul Sister

Here is Stevie Wonder’s 1969 effort, bearing his own unique stylings, as featured on the album My Cherie Amour

A disco version of “Light My Fire”?  Amii Stewart turns in an interesting rendition on her 1979 album, Knock on Wood – Light My Fire is the first of a two-part medley which also includes 137 Disco Heaven

Will Young’s 2002 rendition  reached #1 on the UK Singles Chart, remaining at that position for two consecutive weeks, and sold 177,000 copies during the first week of release. As mentioned previously, his version seems to pay homage to Jose Feliciano’s stellar 1968 effort…

Here is a soulful version by Al Green, as featured on his 2004 album entitled, “Love, The Essential Al Green”…

Here is an instrumental performance by pianist Friedrich Gulda, date of performance unknown, however, it was posted on youtube in 2008…

Patricia Barber, a Chicago-based jazz vocalist and composer, as heard in concert in Poland, April 1, 2009…

Is the Pony/Pie/Hide rating system too cutsie?

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11 comments

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  1. Here’s a cover of a cover from 1979.  Jose Feliciano’s arrangement and performance represents a significant departure from his 1968 version of “Light My Fire.”  He is joined by the late Minnie Riperton on vocals…

    • Edger on January 30, 2010 at 3:06 am

    I had forgotten how unbelievably good a piece of music the original Doors song was is.

  2. Thank you Curmudgeon for this weeks cover.

    I`ve been a Doors Fan since before this came out, & have never wavered in my appreciation for how they made music sound differently than much that came before them in rock.

    Now I get to go listen to all the covers, but will keep the first for the last, since the Doors cannot be bettered although I do enjoy others versions at times, but never comparably.

    And thank you for including some personal history into this essay.

    I remember many things of those times when listening to different tunes by the Doors, though none so tragic as yours.

    Now I`m off to relive some of the past.

  3. I so regret that I hadn’t found this earlier.  This fascinating video includes film clips of Robby Krieger, John Densmore and Ray Manzarek, describing the creation of the song, their difficulties in cutting the song down for radio airplay, and the controversy surrounding their performance on the Ed Sullivan Show.  Don’t miss this!

  4. Just stumbled across this rendition by a trio based in Haifa.  While I’m extremely hesitant to criticize anyone’s artistic efforts, I can’t really bring myself to give it my recommendation.  

    My reaction simply cannot be translated into the English language. Although the words “shock” and “disbelief”, and possibly “sacrilege” come to mind, they are still inadequate descriptors.

    Apparently someone likes this rendition, since it has recieved one rating on youtube and five stars at that.  Perhaps it was the mother of one of the band members.

    Listening to it is like entering an alternate universe. In fact, you might feel right at home in The Twilight Zone after hearing this.

    If this version had been performed on “The Gong Show”, is there anyone out there who thinks the audience would have heard the entire song?  Where are you, Chuck Barris?

    • RiaD on January 31, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    interesting breakfast music.

    i always learn so much from visiting these posts.

    you feed my soul and my brain!

    ♥~

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