I reflected back on Doors of Opportunity yesterday for a reason. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the release of the Door’s Light My Fire, one of the songs that was playing while I painted out loud in the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center. It was a song that almost didn’t get released.
It wasn’t the lyrics or the tune that record producers and radio stations found objectionable. It was the song’s length. The original, album version of the song was 6 minutes and 50 seconds long. It was way, way too long for radio air time. And so the producers chose a song called Break On Through (to the Other Side) for the band’s first single. It didn’t do much, only reaching 126 on the record charts. At that point, it looked like The Doors would remain an underground band that was popular in the Los Angeles area, but nowhere else.
Then fate played a hand in the situation. Radio stations began receiving requests for the song from people who’d purchased the album. The station managers contacted the group’s record label, Elektra Records, begging for a shorter version they could play on the radio.
“We had a huge problem with the time length – seven-and-a-half minutes,” Elektra founder Jaz Holzman acknowledged in a 2010 interview for Mojo magazine. “Nobody could figure out how to cut it. Finally I said to [record producer Paul] Rothchild, ‘Nobody can cut it but you.’ When he cut out the solo, there were screams. Except from Jim [Morrison]. Jim said, ‘Imagine a kid in Minneapolis hearing even the cut version over the radio, it’s going to turn his head around.’ So they said, ‘Go ahead, release it.’ We released it with the full version on the other side.”
The song rocketed to number 1 and became The Doors’ signature song. Funny thing, though. Jim Morrison indicated in his notebooks that he disliked the song and hated performing it. He resented the popularity of the band derived from this song, maybe because he had just a small part in writing the song, which was written by the band’s guitarist, Robby Krieger.
The song was actually a tribute to the creativity that can arise from collaboration. Morrison told Krieger to write something that has a universal appeal, that would last more than just a year or two. When Krieger provided his first draft, Morrison added that famous line that goes “our love become a funeral pyre.”
The image evokes spirituality, ancient mythology and death, which was one of Jim Morrison’s favorite topics. Robby Krieger objected to the line at first, but Morrison convinced him it would work in opposition to the love-based lyrics that dominate the song.
The song was released in April of 1967 and topped the charts for the first three weeks of July, selling over one million copies.
While I was never a fan of The Doors or Jim Morrison, the making of Light My Fire does illustrate a point I often make. In order to be successful, you have to be willing to be unconventional, to think outside the box, to take risks. If the group had insisted on keeping the guitar solo or refused to cut the song’s length, they’d have never become the big band that they did. And that’s why I tell everyone to make your life a work of art. It’s the only way to be.