DiscoverA History of Rock Music in 500 SongsEpisode 148: “Light My Fire” by the Doors
Episode 148: “Light My Fire” by the Doors

Episode 148: “Light My Fire” by the Doors

Update: 2022-04-30
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Episode one hundred and forty-eight of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Light My Fire" by the Doors, the history of cool jazz, and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode.

Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on "My Friend Jack" by the Smoke.

Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/



Resources

As usual, I’ve put together a Mixcloud mix containing all the music excerpted in this episode and the shorter spoken-word tracks.

Information on Dick Bock, World Pacific, and Ravi Shankar came from Indian Sun: The Life and Music of Ravi Shankar by Oliver Craske.

Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, and Robby Krieger have all released autobiographies. Densmore's is out of print, but I referred to Manzarek's and Krieger's here. Of the two Krieger's is vastly more reliable. I also used Mick Wall's book on the Doors and Stephen Davis' biography of Jim Morrison.

Information about Elektra Records came from Follow the Music by Jac Holzman and Gavan Daws, which is available as a free PDF download on Elektra's website.

Biographical information on Maharishi Mahesh Yogi comes from this book, written by one of his followers.

The Doors' complete studio albums can be bought as MP3s for £14.

Patreon

This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them?

Transcript
There are two big problems that arise for anyone trying to get an accurate picture of history, and which have certainly arisen for me during the course of this podcast -- things which make sources unreliable enough that you feel you have to caveat everything you say on a subject. One of those is hagiography, and the converse desire to tear heroes down. No matter what one wants to say on, say, the subjects of Jesus or Mohammed or Joseph Smith, the only sources we have for their lives are written either by people who want to present them as unblemished paragons of virtue, or by people who want to destroy that portrayal -- we know that any source is written by someone with a bias, and it might be a bias we agree with, but it's still a bias.

The other, related, problem, is deliberate disinformation. This comes up especially for people dealing with military history -- during conflicts, governments obviously don't want their opponents to know when their attacks have caused damage, or to know what their own plans are, and after a war has concluded the belligerent parties want to cover up their own mistakes and war crimes. We're sadly seeing that at the moment in the situation in Ukraine -- depending on one's media diet, one could get radically different ideas of what is actually going on in that terrible conflict.

But it happens all the time, in all wars, and on all sides. Take the Vietnam War. While the US was involved on the side of the South Vietnamese government from the start of that conflict, it was in a very minor way, mostly just providing supplies and training. Most historians look at the real start of US involvement in that war as having been in August 1964. President Johnson had been wanting, since assuming the Presidency in November 1963 after the death of John F Kennedy, to get further into the war, but had needed an excuse to do so. The Gulf of Tonkin Incident provided him with that excuse.
On August the second, a fleet of US warships entered into what the North Vietnamese considered their territorial waters -- they used a different distance from shore to mark their territorial waters than most other countries used, and one which wasn't generally accepted, but which they considered important. Because of this, some North Vietnamese ships started following the American ones. The American ships, who thought they weren't doing anything wrong, set off what they considered to be warning shots, and the North Vietnamese ships fired back, which to the American ships was considered them attacking. Some fire was exchanged, but not much happened.

Two days later, the American ships believed they were getting attacked again, and spent several hours firing at what they believed were North Vietnamese submarines. It was later revealed that this was just the American sonar systems playing up, and that they were almost certainly firing at nothing at all, and some even suspected that at the time -- President Johnson apparently told other people in confidence that in his opinion they'd been firing at stray dolphins.

But that second "attack", however flimsy the evidence, was enough that Johnson could tell Congress and the nation that an American fleet had been attacked by the North Vietnamese, and use that as justification to get Congress to authorise him sending huge numbers of troops to Vietnam, and getting America thoroughly embroiled in a war that would cost innumerable lives and billions of dollars for what turned out to be no benefit at all to anyone.

The commander of the US fleet involved in the Gulf of Tonkin operation was then-Captain, later Rear Admiral, Steve Morrison:

[Excerpt: The Doors, "The End"]

We've talked a bit in this podcast previously about the development of jazz in the forties, fifties, and early sixties -- there was a lot of back and forth influence in those days between jazz, blues, R&B, country, and rock and roll, far more than one might imagine looking at the popular histories of these genres, and so we've looked at swing, bebop, and modal jazz before now.

But one style of music we haven't touched on is the type that was arguably the most popular and influential style of jazz in the fifties, even though we've mentioned several of the people involved in it. We've never yet had a proper look at Cool Jazz.

Cool Jazz, as its name suggests, is a style of music that was more laid back than the more frenetic bebop or hard-edged modal jazz. It was a style that sounded sophisticated, that sounded relaxed, that prized melody and melodic invention over super-fast technical wizardry, and that produced much of what we now think of when we think of "jazz" as a popular style of music. The records of Dave Brubeck, for example, arguably the most popular fifties jazz musician, are very much in the "cool jazz" mode:

[Excerpt: The Dave Brubeck Quartet, "Take Five"]

And we have mentioned on several occasions the Modern Jazz Quartet, who were cited as influences by everyone from Ray Charles to the Kinks to the Modern Folk Quartet:

[Excerpt: The Modern Jazz Quartet, "Regret?"]

We have also occasionally mentioned people like Mose Allison, who occasionally worked in the Cool Jazz mode. But we've never really looked at it as a unified thing.

Cool Jazz, like several of the other developments in jazz we've looked at, owes its existence to the work of the trumpeter Miles Davis, who was one of the early greats of bop and who later pioneered modal jazz.

In 1948, in between his bop and modal periods, Davis put together a short-lived nine-piece group, the Miles Davis Nonette, who performed together for a couple of weeks in late 1948, and who recorded three sessions in 1949 and 1950, but who otherwise didn't perform much. Each of those sessions had a slightly different lineup, but key people involved in the recordings were Davis himself, arranger Gil Evans, piano player John Lewis, who would later go on to become the leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet, and baritone sax player Gerry Mulligan.

Mulligan and Evans, and the group's alto player Lee Konitz, had all been working for the big band Claude Thornhill and his Orchestra, a band which along with the conventional swing instruments also had a French horn player and a tuba player, and which had recorded soft, mellow, relaxing music:

[Excerpt: Claude Thornhill and his Orchestra, "To Each His Own"]

The Davis Nonette also included French horn and tuba, and was explicitly modelled on Thornhill's style, but in a stripped-down version. They used the style of playing that Thornhill preferred, with no vibrato, and with his emphasis on unison playing, with different instruments doubling each other playing the melody, rather than call-and response riffing:

[Excerpt: The Miles Davis Nonette, "Venus De Milo"]

Those recordings were released as singles in 1949 and 1950, and were later reissued in 1957 as an album titled "Birth of the Cool", by which point Cool Jazz had become an established style, though Davis himself had long since moved on in other musical directions.

After the Birth of the Cool sessions, Gerry Mulligan had recorded an album as a bandleader himself, and then had moved to the West Coast, where he'd started writing arrangements for Stan Kenton, one of the more progressive big band leaders of the period:

[Excerpt: Stan Kenton, "Young Blood"]

While working for Kenton, Mulligan had started playing dates at a club called the Haig, where the headliner was the vibraphone player Red Norvo. While Norvo had started out as a big-band musician, playing with people like Benny Goodman, he had recently started working in a trio, with just a guitarist, initially Tal Farlowe, and bass player, i
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Episode 148: “Light My Fire” by the Doors

Episode 148: “Light My Fire” by the Doors

Andrew Hickey