Most of The Doors’ repertoire feels like it’s removed from any other rock and roll at the time. As the rest of the Flower Generation was talking about the utopia they wanted to create in the midst of the Summer of Love, Jim Morrison was showing the darker effects of LSD, painting graphic pictures in the listener’s mind every time he stepped up to the microphone. Then again, every member of The Doors was a child of their influences.
When the band were first coming up in the California rock scene, each member had a different musical background, with pianist Ray Manzarek being a child of classical music, basing his opening piano showcase on ‘Light My Fire’ from one of Bach’s inventions. After getting Robby Krieger in the group, the band also got a healthy dose of the folk rock scene, with Krieger always favouring singer-songwriters and never playing his Gibson SG with a pick.
Once Morrison proposed starting a band with Manzarek on a beach in Los Angeles, the group started mining their first few songs from old blues records, playing staples such as ‘Crawling King Snake’ and ‘Back Door Man’ at their earliest shows. While their covers eventually found a way onto their studio albums, their first song ‘Break on Through’ did have a few elements of borrowing from other artists.
As Krieger explained, the song’s main riff was taken from a tune by The Paul Butterfield Blues Band called ‘Shake Your Money Maker’, using the same notes but changing around the accents to sound different. Once Manzarek got the tune, he quoted one of the original kings of rhythm and blues.
During a performance on Classic Albums, Manzarek admitted to basing the piano figure for the chorus on ‘What’d I Say’ by Ray Charles. As he plays through the track, Manzarek says, “It’s Ray Charles, but I play ‘break on through to the other side’. We’d steal from anybody”. As much as The Doors may have liked to copy some of their heroes, they could still spin them into something original once they got everything together.
Outside of their first original song, their version of the Broadway tune ‘Alabama Song’ remains one of the most singularly weird tracks to come out of the 1960s, putting a German oom-pah beat behind a decent rock song about wanting to have just another drop of whiskey before Morrison leaves the bar. Some of their tracks landed them in hot water a few times, with ‘Hello I Love You’ being called out for sounding a little too much like The Kinks’ single ‘All Day and All of the Night’.
While The Doors may have had the basis of other people’s songs behind their own, no one was going to mistake them for anyone else, as Morrison tore down the preconceived notions of rock and roll and opened the listener’s third eye to show them what was going on in society underneath all of the flower power. For all of the strangeness throughout Morrison’s words, fans can still pinpoint the different musical veterans of rock’s past in the music behind him.