Top 10 Ray Manzarek Doors Songs
The Doors weren't just Jim Morrison's sexy, sweaty swagger and occasionally mediocre poetry. They were also late-'60s musical adventurers, especially keyboardist Ray Manzarek. In fact, most Doors songs are instantly identifiable not by Morrison's somewhat incomprehensible ramblings but by Manzarek's carnivalesque keys and classical-meets-jazz piano fills. He was an essential part of the band, perhaps the group's most important musical element, because he also supplied their songs with keyboard bass -- remember, the Doors didn't have a bass player. Our list of the Top 10 Ray Manzarek Doors Songs focuses on the tracks where his rhythmic riffs made all the difference.
Like many of the songs on the Doors' debut album, "The Crystal Ship," in addition to serving as vehicle for Morrison's cryptic poetry, doubles as a showcase for Manzarek's classically inspired piano playing. In a way, he and the other members are at their most reserved here, approaching nuanced jazz notes at times.
The Doors' last Top 40 hit, released a month before Morrison's death, is overlong and pretentious, and it verges on cocktail-jazz boredom. But Manzarek's electric piano, along with various studio sound effects, builds mood like very few of the band's other songs. "Riders on the Storm" is really a showcase for Manzarek's subtle shadings.
The Doors' last Top 10 hit is one of their liveliest, thanks to some horns and strings that join the usually insular band on the record. Manzarek's playful keyboard riff (lifted from a Four Seasons song) sets the tone for "Touch Me," a rare, baggage-free sex song by a band that was often weighted down by its seriousness.
Like many groups from their era, the Doors wanted to be a blues band. Just check out our list of the Top 10 Ray Manzarek Songs for proof -- many of the tracks are based on basic blues progressions. "Back Door Man," written by Willie Dixon and originally recorded by the great Howlin' Wolf in 1961, is the Doors at their bluesy best.
Manzarek's familiar organ is the first thing you hear in "Soul Kitchen," all alone and bubbling along peacefully, and it drives the song's rhythm for its entire three and a half minutes. It's such a strong, constant presence in the song, it's almost easy to miss Robby Krieger's great blues-inspired guitar solo. The Doors' debut album was filled with great performances. This is one of the best.
The Doors' first single, and the opening track on their debut album, is the perfect intro to the band. All of their signature moves are there: Morrison's wild-child howls, Krieger's economic guitar runs, drummer John Densmore's steady timekeeping and Manzarek's jazzy organ fills, which feed into a swaying solo midway through the song.
Manzarek hauls out a harpsichord for the second single released from the band's musically rich sophomore album. His solo halfway through the song nudges Summer of Love conventions with a dose of nostalgia. The Doors played around like this throughout their career (pick any song in our list of the Top 10 Ray Manzarek Doors Songs, and you'll spot it), but "Love Me Two Times" is first-rate hippie intellectualism.
The band's second No. 1 hit is built on another one of Manzarek's springy keyboard riffs. This one changes course midway, as the melody steers in a different direction before trailing off at the end of the song. The playground riff that Manzarek plays, and never stops playing, is there for the entire ride.
Strange Days, the Doors' second album, is their most musically exciting LP. Manzarek eases himself into the first single, which, like other songs on the album, is based on European music-hall traditions. By the time he checks in with his piano solo, he's leading the ale-swiggin' singalong.
Does any song inspire air-keyboard soloing as much as "Light My Fire"? The Doors' breakthrough song, a No. 1 hit, charges on for more than seven minutes, and not a second of it goes by without Manzarek's glorious keyboard riff pulling you along. If Jimi Hendrix led thousands of kids to pick up guitars, then surely Manzarek's work on "Light My Fire" did the same for kids with pianos and organs. "Light My Fire" made organs cool.