So farewell then, Ray Manzarek
This is a post from the weareoca.com archive. Information contained within it may now be out of date.
Sometimes an introduction becomes as famous as the piece that follows. The dramatic chords at the beginning of Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto in Bb minor are instantly recognisable in their own right, even though their principal purpose is simply to command our attention for what follows. It’s much the same with the organ introduction to ‘Light My Fire’ by the Doors.
Although the song itself was covered by many others (José Feliciano’s version won a Grammy), it’s the 4 bar introduction played by keyboard player Ray Manzarek in the Doors’ original that transports us immediately back to California in the mid ‘60s.
Fascinatingly, the chords that Manzarek ranged through in the opening passage have little to do with the chord structure of the song itself. The underlying chords of the introduction are G, D, F, Bb, Eb, Ab and A – a far richer mix than the repeated switch between Am7 and F#m7 which characterises the verse of the song. Manzarek said later that this introduction was inspired by JS Bach’s Two and Three Part Inventions – and this provides a rather more subtle link to Procul Harum’s Whiter Shade of Pale than the more obvious connection (they are both highly successful pop songs from the mid 60s which feature instantly recognisable organ introductions).
A Whiter Shade of Pale is built on a distinctive harmonic structure which is almost identical to the bass line of Bach’s Air from the Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major (BWV 1068) – rechristened much later by August Wilhelmj as ‘Air on a G String’ (and also famously adapted by Jacques Loussier and used to advertise a famous brand of cigars). In fact, the organ introduction of A Whiter Shade of Pale, repeated as an instrumental break between verses, gave rise to much subsequent controversy since the song was credited originally to Gary Brooker and Keith Reid, both of whom went on to enjoy considerable income from the royalties. Four decades later, the organist on the session (Matthew Fisher) argued that he should be credited as a co-writer/composer, a case he eventually won after several law suits.
So farewell, then, Ray Manzarek… and, yes, that does sound like the first line from a poem by E J Thribb, the poetic genius who adds distinction to the pages of Private Eye. Sadly Ray died yesterday (20th May 2013), which is why his organ introduction to Light My Fire was played on BBC Radio 4 this morning.
Two questions come to mind:
- Which other organ introductions are immediately recognisable? Booker T’s riff on Green Onions, perhaps?
- Which other introductions are memorable in their own right, especially if they don’t use material from the substantive piece? Mozart’s Dissonance Quartet, perhaps?