The Doors…”Light My Fire” & FM Radio

“Light My Fire”…the difference between AM & FM radio.

Jim Morrison (lead vocals), Ray Manzarek (keyboards), Robby Krieger (guitar), & John Densmore (drums)

FM Radio was developed in the 1930’s.  I collect old radios, and had a Sonora table radio from 1948 that was AM/FM and could receive today’s FM stations.  But in reality, it wasn’t until the mid to late 1960’s that FM radio started becoming popular.  FM stands for Frequency Modulation, and AM is Amplitude Modulation.  By modulating the frequency of a radio wave instead of it’s size, FM allows for greater fidelity, stereo, and as Steely Dan said “no static at all”.

(Funny fact:  Steely Dan’s song “FM” actually had an edited version played on AM stations.  The FM was edited out, and the song was simply called “No Static At All”.)

In January of 1967 The Doors released their first album.

The album was not an instant hit, and the first single “Break On Through”… didn’t.  It stiffed at #126.  What to do?  There was this great song on the album, “Light My Fire”, but it was 7-minutes long.  The radio stations with the most listeners were AM, and they mainly played singles that were about 3-minutes long.  No new group was going to get a 7-minute single on the charts.  So, an extremely smart decision was made.  Elektra edited the long instrumental section out of “Light My Fire” to make a single that was under 3-minutes.  It’s one of the great singles…exciting and dramatic.  It went to #1, stayed there for three weeks in July & August of 1967, and sold nearly a million copies.  By September, The Doors album went to # 2, pulled to that position by the power of “Light My Fire”, and only held out of #1 By Sgt. Pepper.

AM radio stations played the 3-minute single of “Light My Fire”, and FM stations played the 7-minute album track.  This was the first time there was such an obvious difference in the versions of the same song being played on AM & FM.  It was a big draw for FM, because Doors fans felt FM stations were playing the “real” version of the song.  It was about this time I bought a Kenwood Receiver/Amplifier that only had the FM band.

  My late 1960’s Kenwood FM Receiver/Amplifier (click to enlarge)

Basically, I listened to FM at home (KFMQ), and AM in my car (KLMS & KOMA), because like most cars, mine only had an AM radio.  AOR (Album Oriented Rock) FM stations began to grow in popularity, FM tuners became more plentiful, and album sales increased.  Originally, FM stations could feature more music and longer songs because they didn’t have as many advertisers as the more popular AM stations.  They also featured less news and information.  Listeners liked the “more music” of FM, as well as the stereo and superior sound quality.  By 1978, FM Radio surpassed AM Radio in the number of listeners, and by the end of the 1980’s most AM stations had shifted from music to the News/Talk format.

It’s interesting that The Doors broke into the mainstream because of the single version of “Light My Fire”, and yet The Doors didn’t include that single on any of their many “Hits” albums.  Fifty years after it was #1, It finally found the light of day in The Doors’ The Singles collection this September.  It’s great we have both versions of the song, but if I could only have one version, I’d choose the single.  Sure the album cut is innovative, but the instrumental kind of meanders for a little too long, and it simply doesn’t pack the power of the single.  The only problem with the single is that it’s mono.  Almost everyone prefers stereo over mono, but they’ve only officially released the mono version, even on the new collection.  There is one rare exception.

When I bought some “jukebox singles” for our vintage 1964 jukebox (in the late ’80’s), I came across this stereo single!  The mix sounds great, and of course I have a digital copy of it on our computer.  Since this stereo mix exists, why not make it readily available and let fans choose it if they wish?  Here’s the stereo single:

Besides “Light My Fire”, some other famous songs that had shorter edited versions for AM radio include:  Bob Dylan’s (6:00) “Like A Rolling Stone” in 1965, Iron Butterfly’s (17-minute) “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida in 1968, and Crosby, Stills & Nash’s (7:23) “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” in 1969.  Even today, there are still “radio versions” that include edits or special mixes in order for artists to get their songs on the air.

The most classic “Light My Fire” story comes from The Doors’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.  That show provided the greatest exposure a musical act could get at the time.  Ed Sullivan and the producers decided “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher” must be a drug reference, so they said the lyrics needed to be changed.  After all, they got The Rolling Stones to sing “Let’s spend some time together” instead of “Let’s spend the night together”.  So The Doors agreed to sing “Girl, we couldn’t get much better“.  However, when The Doors performed, Jim Morrison defiantly sang the original “higher”.  The group was told they’d never do the Sullivan show again.  Jim Morrison responded “We just ‘did’ Sullivan”, and that was all they needed.  That’s the version as it was told by Ray Manzarek.

In his book, Set The Night On Fire, Robby Krieger writes that The Doors were told not to sing “higher”, but didn’t take it too seriously.  He says Jim Morrison just sang the song the way he always did, and it wasn’t really a big defiant move.

Once “Light My Fire” ignited their career, The Doors had five years of recording success, with 8 Top-40 hits, and six studio albums.  Their career shockingly ended with the death of Jim Morrison at the age of 27 in 1971.  The group officially disbanded in 1973.  The fact that The Doors are still so highly regarded, speaks to the originality and quality of their songs and recordings.

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