Today in Music History: ‘Light My Fire’ hits Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100

There is a moment in Cameron Crowe’s love letter to early ‘70s music, Almost Famous, where rock critic Lester Bangs denounces Jim Morrison as “a drunken buffoon posing as a poet.” It is a moment that rings true for a lot of us, though we may harbor a secret (or perhaps not so secret) affection for The Doors in spite Morrison’s high-on-his-own-art ethos.

Except Lester Bangs never said that in real life. Bangs actually praised the band quite regularly. So did the majority of rock critics working at the height of The Doors’ popularity.

The newer generations—that is to say, Millennials and possibly Gen Xers—have a more complicated relationship with The Doors than Baby Boomers do. In the late ‘60s, sexed up Morrison made all the other rock gods look a little frumpy, and The Doors’ synthesis of Beat culture, blues rock, and psychedelia was unique to say the least. For Boomers, The Doors represent a lot of what counterculture was about back then; free love and rebel rock in tight leather trousers.

No one song represented that idea better than “Light My Fire,” from their 1976 self-titled album. The song is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its rise to number one on the Billboard this month. Numerous publications (including the king of Baby Boomer worship, Rolling Stone) have included the song in best song lists, and you can still hear the opening organ hook on classic rock radio a least a couple times a day.

After so many years, it’s worth asking ourselves why the song has endured, even though there are plenty of people out there that wish the lizard king would just keep it in his pants.

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My parents are Boomers, and they both love The Doors. They have several unfinished portraits of Morrison stashed in the basement—courtesy of my mother—and probably a box full of records as well. My dad was in a laundry list of bands while I was growing up, with some original songs, but mostly covers. One song that they played over and over again was “Light My Fire.” At the time, I couldn’t understand what Jim Morrison’s lyrics meant, but they sounded mysterious and poetic, the sort of risky material that sometimes slips through the cracks when you’re young.

The band was unapologetic about their bad behavior, too. The Ed Sullivan show famously asked Morrison and co. to cut “girl, we couldn’t get much higher,” and replace it with “couldn’t get much better,” a suggestion that Morrison chose to ignore, something that was pretty scandalous for national television at the time. Talk about things falling through the cracks. Even The Rolling Stones acquiesced and changed “Let’s spend the night together” to “Let’s spend some time together.”

This is probably why people like The Doors and “Light My Fire.” Because Jim Morrison truly brought something unique to the table, but he also just did not give a shit. It must have felt good to let down your hair and take off your shirt after the straight-laced rule-abiding of the ‘50s and early ‘60s. However you might feel about them and Jim Morrison’s bloated self-important ego, it’s undeniable that they influenced the likes of Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, Joy Division, and Echo and the Bunnymen. And to that end at least, Millennials and Gen Xers will be eternally grateful.

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