Double Take: 'Light My Fire' - The Doors/Will Young

Robert Webb's guide to pop's most intriguing cover versions

Tuesday 31 December 2013 05:34

This 1967 Doors stalwart has been set ablaze by artists as diverse as Al Green, Amii Stewart and Massive Attack. It was written by the Doors' guitarist Robby Krieger, who presented his demo to Jim Morrison and the band as they pieced together their debut album. "I tried to write about universal themes like Jim did," Krieger has said. "I did it about fire, because fire was one of the four elements. I also wrote quite a few water songs."

In his autobiography, also entitled Light My Fire, the Doors' keyboard player Ray Manzarek explains how they worked on Krieger's prototype. "John [Densmore, drummer] came up with a very cool Latino beat for the verse and the four-on-the-floor hard-rock beat for the chorus. Worked like a mother." Morrison contributed a verse and Manzarek topped it all off with a rococo organ riff: "Run some back filigrees over the top in a kind of turning-in-on-itself Fibonacci spiral – like a nautilus shell – and you've got it."

Krieger's playing is just as serpentine: "The chords are based on [John] Coltrane's version of 'My Favorite Things'. He just solos over A minor and B minor, which is exactly what we did." It was a perfect vehicle for Jim Morrison's audacious sexuality and provided the Doors with the breakthrough they needed. "Everything was there," said Manzarek. "The song was great. The parts were great. The groove was in the pocket."

The yardstick by which all covers of "Light my Fire" are measured is the version by Latin star Jose Feliciano. This 1968 recording was prompted by Feliciano's A&R man, Rick Jarrard, who played Jose the Doors' track, suggesting he slow it down and inject it with a little soul, aided by strings, bass, conga drums and a jazz flute. It was an overnight hit and shifted a million. Will Young's producers take their cue from Feliciano. Sold largely on image though, Young's damp rendition lacks combustible material of any kind and smoulders more like a Home Counties barbecue than a nocturnal seduction in the Mojave desert. Krieger has claimed he's never heard the song covered properly. Certainly, the latest attempt is a long way from Fibonacci and Coltrane.

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