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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 Information contained within it may now be out of date.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.

Ray Manzarek, Photo by D. van Bloppoel

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?

Posted by author: Andrew Fitzgibbon
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9 thoughts on “So farewell then, Ray Manzarek

  • I have just listened to The Doors cover and compared it to Jose Feliciano’s (both on Spotify). The comparison is in my view not favourable to The Doors. Feliciano gives a blistering acoustic guitar solo and sings in that slightly smoke stained voice in a way that means he definitely wants someone to light his fire, The Latin American backing with the subtle orchestral overlays are excellent. The Doors by contrast sound tired as if they are asking the home help to get the stove going.

  • Ray’s playing was a staple of The Doors. He’ll certainly be missed after such a long and fruitful career helping to create such haunting music. The Doors’ songs opened my mind to other realms of possibilities and cleansed my perception. I paid tribute to Ray when I heard of his passing by creating a new portrait of him and some melting doors which you can see on my artist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2013/05/in-memoriam-ray-manzarek.html Drop by and let me know how The Doors influenced you too.

    • How about Nutrocker by B Bumble and the Stingers for those who dont want to take life too seriously? You can Youtube for it but make sure it is the genuine artIcle which is played tongue in cheek but with great verve.
      And whilst we are on the subject of not taking ourselves too seriously what about PDQ Bach – Iphigenia in Brooklyn never fails – or the Hoffnung Interplanetary Music Festivals. Or anything by Tom Lehrer with always witty words and some wonderful pastiches. Not even Benjamin Britten took himself too seriously, even when he was rehearsing the War Requiem as you can hear on the re-released CD of the original recording which includes outtakes of Britten in rehearsal with some nice self deprecating quips.

  • Ellington’s intro to Rocking in Rhythm springs to mind, then there is Basie’s One O’clock Jump where he usually played the intro in F and the arrangement for the band was in Db.

  • From a classical perspective, I find the intro to pieces like Vaughn WIlliams’ Tallis Fantasia instantly recognisable, and in rock, something like Sweet Child ‘O’ Mine even though it is sort of rehashed during the song!
    That asides, you only have to hear a Ray Manzarek intro and you know what you’re getting; something like ‘Soul Kitchen’ or ‘When the music’s over’. Such a great sound. Like the organ sound on a lot of the Beach Boys’ tracks, you might only get one organ chord to start (like in ‘Here Today’) and within a microsecond you just know!

  • How about the long held chord at the beginning of Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond”. Hauntingly simple and yet so evocative of the era. Also the re introduction of the material back into the main riff of Iron Butterfly’s marvelous “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida after the drum Solo. Doug Ingle was always a great keyboardist but never rated by many. How about the Stranglers keyboard work to “Golden Brown”. So stunning at the time for its none punk ideal and yet so subversive in the reverse to anything else around at the time. These straight off the top of my head. There are bound to be many many more organ introductions. Probably an ELP or Yes track somewhere, may be even the great Vangelis.
    I will miss Manzarek as he was part of my life, as a fan of this great band. Just remember “People are strange when you are a stranger” so enjoy your new life back with Jim singing and playing in Gods great rock and roll band. P.S Say hi ti Jimi H and John Bonham for us all.

  • Two tracks by The Who come to mind: Baba O’Reily and – after the attention seeking opening guitar chord – Wont get fooled again.

  • I was really sorry to read of Ray Manzerak’s death. He clearly was a very gifted and original musician. I am not generally a big fan of rock music, I find a lot of it tedious and posturing, but there were a few (mainly late 60’s/early seventies) bands such as the Doors, also the Who and the Velvet Underground who I still have a lot of time for. There seems to be a real originality and musically literate experimentation in their music.

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