Normally, I save these for the end of the month, but when a giant of rock walks on, why not remember him during the week that happens? Especially when, as his obituaries say, he founded The Doors with Jim Morrison (actually, convinced Jim Morrison to found the Doors), and they recruited the other members later (they met the other members, drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger, at a transcendental meditation session). Manzarek was the keyboard player, which was unusual for the rock groups of the period, and he also played bass, which means that we'll be remembering the songs with the most present keyboards. This also means that I'm going to be forced to play their greatest hit.
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Please come in. You're invited to make yourself at home!
Because in the summer of 1967, this is what, if you will, turned us on to the Doors, and really, the star of their greatest hit is Ray, not Jim.
Incidentally, there have been cover versions of this song. They are all absolute complete garbage.
Then, Strange Days, the title cut of the second album. Not a solo, as in Light My Fire, but Ray provides what in classical (by which I mean 17th and 18th Century) music is called a continuo. Like the drums, he's holding the song together. Here we have a music video from 1967 - testimony to the fact that Jim and Ray met at the UCLA Film School. Video, incidentally, posted by Robby Krieger.
From the same album, here we have Ray on the piano in Moonlight Drive. Continuo AND keyboard bass. You get to see the Doors playing at the Hollywood Bowl, July 5, 1968, with Ray on your left on the keyboards.
Ray on the piano again, from the third album. The song is Yes, the River Knows. The Doors, yes, complicating what you think of as what the Doors sounded like.
And throughout their time together, Ray's contribution to the Doors was indeed what made The Doors sound like The Doors, even in ballads like the one above. Even on a wildly overproduced album like The Soft Parade. But then,the lead singer died of an overdose in 1971 From the obituary at Rolling Stone:
"Morrison required all three of us diving into his lyrics and creating music that would swirl around him," Manzarek told Rolling Stone in 2006. "Without Jim, everybody started shooting off in different directions. . . The Doors was the perfect mixture of four guys, four egos that balanced each other. There were never any problems with 'You wrote this' or 'I wrote that.' But [after Jim died] the whole dynamic was screwed up, because the fourth guy wasn't there."But Ray had a lot of other projects and interests. Here is an excerpt from his 1983 attempt, aided by the minimalist composer Philip Glass, to make Carl Orff's Carmina Burana into a rock opera. Yes, that's Ray on the piano.
Ambitious, yes, and also strange, but really. A few years earlier some enterprising people had taken songs Ethel Merman sang in the 1930s and put them over a disco bed for Ethel Merman's Disco Album. Is this really worse than that?
Finally, for these purposes, because Ray and Robby Krieger kept performing as the doors until a lawsuit by the drummer, John Densmore, made them cease and desist, it turns out that Ray produced the four albums the punk group X released in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Here are Exene Cervenka and John Doe of X on Ray:
Cervenka: He was part of the gang. It was like a big clubhouse, a big party, and we would have a good time. It was just like the '60s and '70s where everything mixed: the art, the spiritual side, the serious side, the fun side. I think he had a tougher job reining us in — especially me — because we were crazy and pretty wild. A lot of people wouldn't have been able to do what he did with us.And here's your chaser for the evening:
Doe: Ray understood that you needed to tell your story. If anything, I remember Ray as an incredible storyteller. He was always bringing in the spiritual and the far-flung, which we needed. We needed that sort of vision, instead of just the cold, hard streets of L.A.
Rest in peace, Ray, and thank you!
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