“Light My Fire” by The Doors

From the onset, let it be known that the lyrics of The Doors’ “Light My Fire” are open to interpretation by the listener. They were conceived so by The Doors. That is why they based the song on a metaphor as ambiguous – or as Jim Morrison would say “universal” – as fire. And generally speaking, the way this element is used within the context of the song points to the idea of the singer wanting to engage in something extremely exciting, or perhaps we can say excitable.

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for The Doors's Light My Fire at Lyrics.org.

But that being said, “Light My Fire” has been widely interpreted as being romantic/sexual in nature. This would be the logical conclusion considering that the singer is apparently addressing his girlfriend. And based on that premise, he admonishing her to ‘light his fire’ would be synonymous with the vocalist encouraging her to turn him on.

A song about getting high?

However Robby Krieger, the primary writer of the track, has also said that in its entirety it “could be taken as a drug reference”. Indeed this is how some people, such as the late Ed Sullivan, at least partially interpreted the lyrics. 

But honestly interpreting the song as pointing to some type of romantic interlude is more logical. Thus the second verse for instance would center on the singer relaying a sentiment to the addressee akin to tonight being the night they take their love to the next, more-amorous level. And when he advises her to “try to set the night on fire” that can also be an allusion to sex – or drugs, if the listener wants to take it there.

Lyrics of "Light My Fire"


Indeed when it comes to musicians from the 1960s who were known for being stoners, like Jim Morrison, then any song they dropped from that era is going to be understood by some people as having drug references. The Beatles have gone through the same thing, even with tracks that on the surface have nothing to do with getting high. But again, “Light My Fire” is a tune in which, by design, you are free to take any which way you like. For example, Krieger has also stated that some people even understand it as having some sort of metaphysical connotation.

When did “Light My Fire” come out?

This is the second single from The Doors self-titled debut album.  And the official release date of the song was on 1 April 1967.

The album version of “Light My Fire” is approximately seven minutes long. Despite its length it was still getting plenty of requests to be played on radio. So at the request of Elektra Records, the label that put the track out, its producer Paul A. Rothchild came out with a single/radio cut that was under three minutes. However, some radio DJs still preferred to play the longer, album version since fans had developed an affinity to it.

Writing of “Light My Fire”

This song was written by The Doors late frontman Jim Morrison (1943-1971) and the band’s guitarist, Robby Kreiger. But it is the latter who is recognized as the main writer of the tune. And his inspiration were the songs “Hey Joe” (perhaps as rendered by Jimi Hendrix in 1966) and The Rolling Stones 1965 track “Play with Fire”.

More specifically in terms of the latter, Krieger (and the band in general) was encouraged by Jim Morrison to write “something universal” which could withstand the test of time and be interpreted by fans themselves. So Krieger decided to pen a tune about one of the four elements – which are earth, fire, air and water. And he chose fire because he was digging the aforementioned Rolling Stones’ song.

It was Jim Morrison though who wrote the song’s second verse. And Ray Manzarek (1939-2013), who plays keyboard on the track, came up with the famous organ intro, which he attributes largely to an act of improvisation. Indeed Krieger conceptualized “Light My Fire” as a folk-rock tune, which was how it sounded before the contributions of his bandmates.

Notable Live Performance

The Doors famously or infamously, depending on one’s perspective, performed this song on The Ed Sullivan Show dated 17 September 1967. It was a famous rendition for two primary reasons. The firs was because said program was one of the most-popular programs of its day. And the second was also due to the fact that, unlike prior television performances, The Doors actually played the tune live (as opposed to lip syncing it). 

However, it was infamous because beforehand, The Doors had agreed to omit the word “higher” from the lyrics, since some people deemed it as a reference to drugs. But Jim Morrison broke the agreement and still sang it anyway, to a live television audience. Ed Sullivan (1901-1974) himself did not take kindly to this apparent act of betrayal, and it resulted in The Doors being banned from the show.

Morrison’s beef with Buick over “Light My Fire” usage

In 1968 automobile company Buick decided that they wanted to make a commercial featuring “Light My Fire”, though with altered lyrics promoting their brand. The Doors, in Jim Morrison’s absence, agreed to the deal which paid them $75,000 (which adjusted to inflation as of the year 2021 would be the equivalent of over $560,000). However, Morrison, upon hearing the news, totally did not approve. And to dissuade Buick from airing the commercial, and likewise threatened to level one of their vehicles with a sledgehammer, on television, if they decided to do so.

Achievements of “Light My Fire”

This track topped both the Billboard Hot 100 (remaining on top for three weeks) and Cash Box Top 100, in addition to charting in a handful of other countries. It has also been certified platinum in the United States.

“Light My Fire” modestly peaked at number 49 on the UK Singles Chart when it first came out. It was reissued in 1991 in lieu of The Doors, a film by Oliver Stone which served as a biopic of the band. And that time around it reached number seven in the UK and number one in Ireland.

As far as the history of Elektra Records goes, this was the first song they put out that reached number 1 on America’s Hot 100.  And it also achieved a top 40 position on Rolling Stone’s list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.

“Light My Fire” also holds the distinction of being the first rock song that features a keyboard and guitar being played side-by-side during its instrumental section. And that particular interplay was inspired by a couple of John Coltrane (1926-1967) tracks, including his cover of “My Favorite Things” (1961) from the classic 1950s’ film “The Sound of Music”.

Popular Renditions

In July of 1968 Jose Feliciano dropped a cover of Doors’ classic. It performed impressively on the following important charts:

  • Billboard Hot 100 (3)
  • UK Singles Chart (6)
  • Canada Top Singles (1)  

More importantly it earned Feliciano a 1969 Grammy Award in the category of Best Male Pop Vocal Performance

Another successful rendition of this song came out in 2002 via Will Young, a British singer whose claim to fame is having won a reality-TV music contest called Pop Idol. His version actually topped the UK Singles Chart as well as the Scottish Singles Chart. And it has also been certified gold in the UK and Italy.

Other musicians who have notably covered this song include thte following:

  • Stevie Wonder (1969)
  • Nancy Sinatra (1969)
  • Amii Stewart (1979)
  • The Beastie Boys (1995)
  • Shirley Bassey (1999, though recorded in 1970) 

On the tribute album “Stoned Immaculate: The Music of The Doors” it was covered by a rock band known as Train. And it has been sampled/interpolated by the likes of Lauryn Hill, Kid Cudi, A Tribe Called Quest and Frank Zappa.

Band Members reacted differently to “Light My Fire”

The Doors were a highly-successful albeit short-lived band, due primarily to the premature death of Jim Morrison. And “Light My Fire” was not only their signature song but also the one that put them on the map. However, it has been noted that Morrison himself wasn’t overly fond of it. This was primarily because it took the spotlight off his own, exclusive work. In other words, whereas he normally served as the band’s songwriter, in this particular case did not contribute as much, in addition to the track featuring extended instrumental sections.

Meanwhile his bandmates Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek enjoyed playing it since it gave them a chance to shine. And somewhat ironically , this was also the last song Morrison ever performed in a live setting. Said performance took place on 12 December 1970 in New Orleans. And Morrison left the stage prematurely, before the completion of the song, in a fit of rage.

The Doors performing “Light My Fire” live in 1970. The performance took place in England at the iconic Isle Of Wight Festival.

Who played bass on this song?

It is somewhat common for there to be debate and confusion concerning who contributed what to hit songs from the 1960s, especially as far as session musicians are concerned. In this particular case, no one knows exactly who played bass on the track. However, one well-known bassist named Carol Kaye has claimed it was her. Meanwhile Larry Knechtel (1940-2009) of The Wrecking Crew has also tried to take credit.

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