Ed Driscoll

The Jim Morrison/Julie London/Gil Evans Connection

Mark Steyn’s Song of the Week is The Doors’ “Light My Fire“, which Mark notes was covered by everybody, back in the day:

It set the summer on fire four decades back. The single was edited down to under three minutes, but the disk jockeys played the original seven-minute album track anyway, from the Doors’ eponymous album The Doors. And within a few years it was established as one of those iconic long-form works – “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Stairway To Heaven”, “A Day In The Life”, “Like A Rolling Stone”, etc – that are regarded as the acme of rock. The crude formula seems to be: Length + psychedelic lyric = art. “Light My Fire” comes in at big hit sound 35 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Songs of all time, and places similarly on other lists of all-time blockbusters. But “Light My Fire” can’t be confined to the long-form psychedelia category. For one thing, unlike “Bohemian Rhapsody”, it’s one of the most “covered” songs of the last 40 years. Once upon a time, that was the natural expectation of a song: it would have seemed extraordinarily reductive to say, okay, some guy’s already sung “It Had To Be You” or “The Way You Look Tonight”, we better find something else to do. Yet, in an age of singer-songwriters, the idea of a song being particular to one artist became an iron law and deviations therefrom were regarded as “covers”, the very term indicating something less than an authentic experience. “Light My Fire” must rank as one of the most covered covers of the rock era, and oddly enough it was taken up by the same kind of singers who, a decade earlier, would have been singing standards: the easy listening crowd, the MOR set, the Europop VIP loungers. Who does “Light My Fire”? Everybody. Jose Feliciano. Astrud Gilberto. Jack Jones. Les Brown and his Band of Renown. Trini Lopez, Nancy Sinatra, Al Green, Minnie Riperton, Helmut Zacharias, Etta James, Woody Herman, Mae West, Johnny Mathis, Charo, Horst Jankowski, Edmundo Ros and his Orchestra, Ted Heath and his Orchestra, the Enoch Light Singers, the Burbank Philharmonic… As Mitteleuropean groovers like to say, “Gekommen auf baby, beleuchten sie mein feuer!”

My favorite “cool” version is by Julie London, who’s so blase about the whole business you get the feeling you could be rubbing sticks together all night and never get anywhere near to lighting her fire, notwithstanding the orchestral nudges she’s getting from the flutes and bongos. And my favorite live version is not the Doors in Boston but Shirley Bassey at the Royal Albert Hall in London a few years ago. Dame Shirl first sang it on her album Something back in 1970, and, while I’m not saying that inside every iconic psychedelic rock track is a faintly camp easy-listening classic trying to break out, for a select few of them that’s certainly the case.

Unlike the Summer of Love, the very early days of Blogcritics were only five years ago, not forty. But as I wrote back in August of 2002, in Out of the Cool, Stephanie Stein Crease