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Song Swarm: Light My Fire

December 30th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

The story goes that Jim Morrison hated Light My Fire, The Doors’ great breakthrough hit. Recorded in August 1966, it was released in January 1967, at the dawn of the so-called Summer of Love. If it was true that Morrison disliked it, I’d sort of concur with his judgment. In fact, he didn’t hate the song, but resented that he had only a small part in writing his band’s signature hit (most of it was written by guitarist Robby Krieger).

I don’t like The Doors much, and have more respect than affection for their version of Light My Fire. No, let me rephrase it. I dislike Jim Morrison and hate his mannered vocals on the song (as opposed to Ray Manzarek’s magnificent keyboard line). It is a great song that has been covered hundreds of times, usually to good effect. It is the mark of a fine song when it is difficult to fuck it up. And when a song is interpreted in so many different ways as Light My Fire is here, it incontrovertibly is a truly great song. I predict that the reader who will listen to all versions offered here in one go won’t get bored with it.

Of the 38 versions collated here, only one is gratingly bad: that by Train, which appeared, of all things, on a Doors tribute album (I have refrained from throwing Will Young’s chart-topping karaoke effort into the mix). I include Train’s version for the sake of curiosity, but the most curious interpretation here is that of Mae West, by then 79 years old. Clearly aiming for the gerontophile market, Mae purrs and pouts and outsexes Jim Morrision himself. The backing track, apparently by an outfit called The Hot Rockers, is quite good. I know nothing more about them, alas.

Some versions here take The Doors’ original as their template; more follow the path created by José Felicianio’s superior cover. The best of these, Minnie Riperton’s posthumously released take, sees Feliciano guesting (he turns up again later on a DVD rip of a Ricky Martin concert, when the somg morphs into Santana’s Oye Como Va)

Feliciano provided the blueprint for the pop and jazz vocalists, with Julie London’s flutey take and Shirley Bassey’s interpretation (which sounds much like a Bond theme) especially good. An early adopter was soul/jazz singer Spanky Wilson. I suspect that her version was as influential as Feliciano’s in attracting the many soul covers. Jackie Wilson, Clarence Carter, Rhetta Hughes (inspiring), Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band (surprisingly understated), Erma Franklin, Stevie Wonder (gloriously overproduced) and the Four Tops (“sizzle, sizzle, sizzle me, baby”) all recorded their covers in 1969; Al Green and Isaac Hayes did so in 1971 and ’73. A few years later Carol Douglas and Amii Stewart issued disco versions. So did Baccara, whom I hold close to my heart, but not for their horrible 1978 version which I decline to inflict upon the kind reader.

Light My Fire has lent itself to instrumental coverage. Some of it is quite excellent (Young Holt Unlimited; Booker T. and the MG’s slower interpretation; Ananda Shankar’s Indian take), some veer into easy listening territory (Edmundo Ros’ cha cha cha flavoured version; Helmut Zacharias’ bizarre violin-dominated James Last-goes-psychedelic job). The Ebony Rhythm Band in 2004 recorded a quite splendid psychedelic retro soul version. And then there is English violinist Nigel Kennedy giving it a classical twist, with the arranging help of former Killing Joke frontman Jaz Coleman.

Bringing the threads of these different versions together is Mike Flower Pops, the outfit that specialised in recreating the sounds of the 1960s, having been invented for that purpose by restyling Oasis’ Wonderwall, scratchy vinyl and all, as a gag on allegations of the Mancunians’ alleged plagiariasm.

It is fitting, I think, that the mix should end with two recent songs from the Latin genre – Tahta Menezes’ bossa nova take and Uruguayan singer/actress Natalia Oreiro’s moody rendition – signalling that Light My Fire is indeed Feliciano’s song. Can you spot whose version is missing?

The first Song Swarm covered By The Time I Get To Phoenix. Interestingly, five of the 23 performers on that mix return here: Erma Franklin, the Four Tops, Johnny Mathis, Isaac Hayes and, of course, José Feliciano.

TRACKLISTING
1. José Feliciano – Light My Fire
2. Spanky Wilson – Light My Fire
3. Johnny Mathis – Light My Fire
4. BJ Thomas – Light My Fire
5. Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & The Trinity – Light My Fire
6. Julie London – Light My Fire
7. Jackie Wilson – Light My Fire
8. Clarence Carter – Light My Fire
9. Rhetta Hughes – Light My Fire
10. The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band – Light My Fire
11. Erma Franklin – Light My Fire
12. Booker T. and the MG’s – Light My Fire
13. Young Holt Unlimited – Light My Fire
14. Nancy Sinatra – Light My Fire
15. Astrud Gilberto – Light My Fire
16. Stevie Wonder – Light My Fire
17. The Four Tops – Light My Fire
18. Edmundo Ros – Light My Fire
19. Ananda Shankar – Light My Fire
20. Shirley Bassey – Light My Fire
21. Larry Page Orchestra – Light My Fire
22. Al Green – Light My Fire
23. Free Design – Light My Fire
24. Helmut Zacharias – Light My Fire
25. Mae West – Light My Fire
26. Isaac Hayes – Light My Fire
27. Carol Douglas – Light My Fire
28. Amii Stewart – Light My Fire
29. Minnie Riperton feat José Feliciano – Light My Fire
30. Massive Attack – Light My Fire
31. Mike Flowers Pops – Light My Fire
32. Ricky Martin with José Feliciano & Carlos Santana – Light My Fire/Oye Como Va
33. Nigel Kennedy & Jaz Coleman – Light My Fire
34. Train – Light My Fire
35. Cibo Matto – Light My Fire
36. Ebony Rhythm Band – Light My Fire
37. Tahta Menezes – Light My Fire
38. Natalia Oreiro – Light My Fire

GET IT
(PW in comments)

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  1. halfhearteddude
    December 30th, 2010 at 01:12 | #1

    PW = amdwhah

  2. Geoviki
    December 30th, 2010 at 06:21 | #2

    *Mwaaah* Many thanks, and I sent you an email with a few more.

  3. Elvis
    December 30th, 2010 at 07:08 | #3

    Thanks Dude! I will definitely be checking this one out.

  4. Sonic
    December 30th, 2010 at 16:37 | #4

    Great job! Can’t wait to drive the office crazy today.
    Ever hear the Templeton Twins version? Sounds like Rudy Vallee.

  5. December 31st, 2010 at 01:19 | #5

    Love these. I’m rather fond of following the song around different artists myself, as you know. So I’ve heard quite a few of these (my fave is Al Green’s), but there are some I’ve never heard, so I’m looking forward to listening!

  6. Michael
    January 2nd, 2011 at 03:16 | #6

    I myself love the Dread Zeppelin version. Probably not a lot of people ever heard of them.

  7. January 3rd, 2011 at 22:18 | #7

    I’ve heard some of these before but there’re some intriguing ones left to hear, and I’m looking forward to them. One of my fave versions is the Clarence Carter. Thanks and – belatedly – Happy New Year!

  8. r
    January 5th, 2011 at 21:29 | #8

    “Mannered Vocals”? Don’t think so, dude. It’s true, Morrison was a bit of a ham and went over the top sometimes, but his delivery of “Fire” was pretty straight forward. Great post though, thanks.

  9. January 8th, 2011 at 11:37 | #9

    Mick Karn, bass of Japan died this month.

  10. David
    March 7th, 2012 at 20:50 | #10

    Trawliing through the web I come across your site & this post, which is just up my street & has a few versions I’ve never heard & would really like to. Of course depositfiles have killed, (as they have everything else). Wondered if you would consider reupping it. Could offer to send you Tami Lynns version which I rate & is the rudest I’ve heard.

  11. halfhearteddude
    March 8th, 2012 at 20:56 | #11

    New link is up, David.

  12. Keith_Michards
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