The Doors' 15 greatest songs, ranked
7 December 2023, 12:42
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Their blend of rock, poetry and psychedelia defined an era.
The Doors' original founding lineup was only together for a total of six years, yet they became one of the most impactful and significant groups throughout that period.
Formed in 1965, Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore infused the acid-drenched sentiment of the counterculture movement with literary references and mysticism - no wonder they were dubbed the 'Kings Of Acid Rock'.
Morrison - with the help of his sultry baritone voice, leather trousers, penchant for poetry, and outrageous stage antics -propelled the band to heady heights, concurrently creating the archetypal anarchistic 'rock star' template.
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Mired by legal issues and controversy in their latter days, The Doors were still one of the most prominent and influential bands of their time.
They've gone on to sell over 100 million records worldwide as well as an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, despite the premature death of Jim Morrison in 1971 at the age of 27.
Their spooky and seductive back catalogue remains as enthralling today as it has ever been, so we've ranked The Doors' fifteen greatest songs from top to bottom:
'When The Music's Over'
The Doors - When The Music's Over (Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival 1970)
With an organ intro which keys player Ray Manzarek said was inspired by Herbie Hancock's 'Watermelon', this song from The Doors is more fiery than fruity.
Morrison wrote the song around the theme of fire, and once it stops, so does life's spirit.
Appearing on their 1967 sophomore album, Strange Days, 'When The Music's Over' was also slightly prescient.
Especially this performance from the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 - the UK's answer to Woodstock - as it was Jim's final performance on these shores before his death in 1971.
The Doors - Touch Me (Live)
1969 song 'Touch Me' was originally written as 'Hit Me' by The Doors' guitarist Robby Krieger after his constant fighting with his then-girlfriend, though Morrison suggested changing it.
The new title was unfortunate, given Morrison's altercation with the police on stage and legal issues after supposedly exposing himself, which led radio stations to ban it.
Despite fans initially rejecting 'Touch Me', feeling they'd 'sold out' after including unfamiliar horns and string sections.
But it's undoubtedly one of The Doors' most memorable moments, with Morrison embodying an Elvis Presley-indebted tomcat throughout.
The chorus of 'Soul Kitchen' was actually inspired by a soul food restaurant Jim Morrison adored, hence "let me sleep all night, in your soul kitchen."
Featuring on The Doors' debut album in 1967, the restaurant Morrison frequented - where singer Linda Ronstadt was also a regular - was also supposedly haunted, which fits the band's spooky aesthetic.
'Soul Kitchen' also feels like a song about needing a lover's embrace, likely why it's been covered by bands like Echo and the Bunnymen and punk band X, who Manzarek also produced.
'Love Me Two Times'
The Doors - Love Me Two Times
Though Jim Morrison wrote the lion's share of lyrics for The Doors, guitarist Robby Krieger also had a knack for songwriting too.
Take 'Love Me Two Times' for instance, which Manzarek later called: "Robby's great blues/rock classic about love and loss, or multiple orgasms."
It became a hit for the band, despite not making the cut for The Doors' debut album that same year.
Seemingly people couldn't get enough of the hectic harpsichord bridge combined with Jim Morrison's suggestive delivery.
One of Robby Krieger's meatiest riffs, 'Peace Frog' contains the kind of bloody imagery that made The Doors stand out.
In one of the highlights from 1970 album, Morrison Hotel, Jim Morrison referenced both political dismay as well as his own encounters with the law in the song's lyrics.
"Blood in the streets of the town of Chicago" refers to police brutality at the 1968 Democratic convention, and "Blood in the streets of the town of New Haven" nods to when he was pepper sprayed by the police for calling an officer a "little man in a little blue suit and a little blue cap".
Referring to himself with his anagramatic pseudonym, 'Mr. Mojo' Risin', Jim Morrison gets loose on 'L.A. Woman', the title track of the 1971 album of the same name.
A return to form for a band struggling with various issues in and out of the studio, 'L.A. Woman' really drove home the point that The Doors were still a creative force to be reckoned with.
Added a bonafide bass player to album sessions for the very first time - rather than Manzarek playing the bass organ - the band recorded this street-speeding romp totally live with no overdubs.
It's as rough and ready as the imagery Morrison talks of - "city of night" referring to the wild underbelly of Los Angeles.
'People Are Strange'
The Doors - People Are Strange (Official Audio)
Up there with the eeriest of The Doors' compositions, 'People Are Strange' was written when Jim Morrison was dealing with a bout of depression.
Writing the lyrics about feeling alienated from society, his sentiments made their way into the song: "People are strange, when you're a stranger."
Despite the downtrodden theme and overall sombre mood of the centrepiece of the 1967 album, Strange Days, its circus-like swing buoys and bops throughout this psychedelic pop gem.
The Doors - Roadhouse Blues (Official Video)
'Roadhouse Blues' is The Doors' at their most rambunctious, largely down to Jim Morrison's booze-fuelled direction.
He'd frequently wail blues standards at the band's jam sessions when inebriated, the result of which was this liquor-drenched bar-dwelling blues rock number.
Featuring on the 1970 album, Morrison Hotel, the song was inspired by an actual roadhouse situation in the countercultural enclave of Topanga Canyon where Morrison lived.
The drive was treacherous, especially if alcohol was consumed, which Jim references with "keep your eyes on the road, your hand upon the wheel."
'Love Her Madly'
Love Her Madly
A beefed-up, bearded Jim Morrison goes full crooner on 'Love Her Madly', channelling Frank Sinatra whom he was listening to a lot during the time of recording.
Robby Krieger wrote the song after his girlfriend, Lynn Veres, threatened to leave him after having an affair with bandmate Morrison. They stayed together and married in 1972, so the song worked to win back her affection seemingly.
Though, the band's long-time producer Paul Rothchild loathed 'Love Her Madly', and wouldn't go near it during recording sessions for the 1971 album, L.A. Woman.
"That's exactly the song I was talking about that I said sounded like cocktail music," Rothchild later told BAM Magazine. "That's the song that drove me out of the studio. That it sold a million copies means nothing to me. It's still bad music."
The Doors - Moonlight Drive (Live)
The song that supposedly started it all for Jim Morrison and The Doors, after he sang the lyrics to UCLA classmate Ray Manzarek and convinced him to start a band.
Having written the lyrics during an acid trip on his Venice Beach rooftop, Morrison could see his neighbours and their television sets at night as it was so clear, which proved inspirational.
Though 'Moonlight Drive' was one of the first demos The Doors sent off to record labels, they left it off their debut album, deeming it too "rock tango".
They rectified that decision for the 1967 album Strange Days, with Krieger's slide guitar and Morrison's mystical lyrics making it one of their finest releases.
The Doors The End Live at "Isle of Wight Festival" 1970
No artists would've been bold enough to merge the Greek myth of Oedipus - who wanted to kill his dad and shag his mum - with a languid psychedelic jam, but The Doors made it happen.
'The End' is all fire and brimstone throughout its 11-minute run time, featuring on their 1967 debut album.
The psychedelic odyssey has a funeral-ish feel, and is a despairing reflection of the times
That's likely why Francis Ford Coppola used it in his war epic Apocalypse Now - it's a song that immediately conjures imagery of Vietnam, the needless death and the decade-long destruction that occurred there.
'The Crystal Ship'
The Crystal Ship (2017 Remaster)
Mistaken for an ode to drugs, the gorgeous 'The Crystal Ship' proved Jim Morrison could lament about love as much as act the louche.
Written about Jim's first love and soon-to-be ex-girlfriend, Mary Werbelow, in 1965, it suggests he'd already broken up with her, yet couldn't uncoupled subconsciously.
The classical piano and dreamy aesthetic sets 'The Crystal Ship' apart from much of The Doors' work, conveying genuine heartache about a past love.
It also exhibited Morrison's literary muscle - the title was taken from a Celtic legend in The Book Of The Dun Cow, a collection of stories compiled by Irish monks around the 9th century.
'Break On Through'
The Doors - Break On Through (To The Other Side) [Official Video]
This song embodies The Doors' entire modus operandi, and was the band's debut single.
Lifting their name from Aldous Huxley's 1954 autobiographical book, The Doors Of Perception, it fit The Doors' psychedelic and anarchistic outlook.
'Break On Through (To The Other Side)' was about breaking established rules in life, art, you name it.
In 1966, Jim Morrison said: "I like ideas about the breaking away or overthrowing of established order. I am interested in anything about revolt, disorder, chaos, especially activity that seems to have no meaning."
'Riders On The Storm'
The Doors - Riders on the Storm (Official Audio)
A swan song befitting Jim Morrison, as 'Riders On The Storm' was the final song recorded from The Doors' final album before his 1971 death.
The imagery of a lone, menacing hitchhiker trekking across the desert and praying on unsuspecting victims was typically macabre, but came from an autobiographical place.
He'd often hitchhike hundreds of miles to see his then-girlfriend Mary Werbelow, where became fascinated by the characters on the road, the dangerous, drifting strangers.
Referencing a serial killer and his own love life in one song is trademark Morrison, and it's a mysterious ending to the artist's short-lived but consistently admired career in music.
'Light My Fire'
The Doors - Light My Fire - Ed Sullivan Show 1967 (HD Remastered)
The first song from The Doors to breakthrough into the mainstream consciousness, and it's arguably their most enduring.
Their signature song 'Light My Fire' was in fact conceived by guitarist Robby Krieger, after Jim Morrison invited him to write "something universal".
Featuring on their 1967 debut album, 'Light My Fire' propelled The Doors toward superstardom, despite the band's protestations at becoming a pop sensation.
When bands appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, it was a gateway to international success. However, Morrison attempted to sabotage their mainstream career before it barely began.
Refusing to censor the word "higher" because of its druggy connotations, Morrison sang it anyway which infuriated Sullivan and led to a lifelong band from his show.
Not that it affected the band's trajectory - they still went on to become one of the most influential and intriguing rock acts of all time.