Two things drove me to write this awhile back. The first started the idea fermenting in my sub-conscious — something my wife thinks happens way too often and much too below the surface for her comfort. The second simply inspired it to emerge like fingers on a keyboard. I’ll start with the latter since it deserves the shout-out, and for the continuing inspiration his writing about music has on me.
My good friend, and the only person I know from one of those tiny northeastern states, published a wonderful music feature back in 2010. Known as SFF from the Musings of a Sci-Fi Fanatic blog, he wrote eloquently about the 80′s group Cutting Crew and their important Broadcast album from 1986. It’s a recommended read. While his primary focus remains all things science-fiction, I really enjoy his insights and ruminations on music.
His write-up got me to thinking about the music that shapes us, individually. It’s the “what you are is where you were when” artifact I cited near the beginning of the year. For many, it’s the music of the 80s that forms a kernel of consciousness for a generation. It will be the [insert 50s, 60s, 70s, or 90s or any here] for others. Which leads me back to the earlier driver of this, the song that seemed to frame a portion of my social growth (outside of The Beatles, of course).
Aptly titled Riders on the Storm by The Doors from 1971, and composed by Jim Morrison, John Densmore, Ray Manzarek, and Robby Krieger, it remains one of the most noirish, moody tunes of that hard decade. So many times it was this strain that came over some car radio late at night while I or someone else drove to or from some party, dance, or event. A regular occurrence for the purposeless teenager I definitely was back then.
The exact eerie sort of creature that now walks my house, by the way. Must be a genetic trait. As clumsy and anxiety prone as those cauldron-era collective gatherings could be, it was the music that seemed to hold me and them together. I guess it could not be helped that it’d mold me. Or at least cause me to reflect. As it always seemed to do, even now. Driving home one night, it reappeared on my radio for likely the thousandth time:
Though it never topped the charts in the U.S. or the U.K. (#14 and #22, respectively), it was still inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in November 2009. It remains the most haunting track from the group’s L.A. Woman album, in more ways than one. Riders on the Storm was not only the concluding cut on the LP, it was the last 45 ever issued by the group as a whole (‘Changeling’ was on the b-side). Its cover above leads this piece.
The tune also proved to be the last recorded by lead singer Jim Morrison, done before jetting off to his final resting place in France some weeks later.
The song would be released shortly before Morrison’s death. Many saw the song as autobiographical for the talented but troubled singer/songwriter. Even the band’s drummer, John Densmore, used the title in his biography of the band. As well, the rain storm sound effects and evocative electric piano, played by the late-Ray Manzarek, really added to its mournful feeling.
Outside of Morrison’s almost chilling vocal, to all intents and purposes it was Manzarek’s jazz-tinged work on the keyboard that kept time as it ran down, for the song and lead singer. Lindsay Planer, Allmusic:
“The musical setting is equally as ominous, augmented with thunderstorm sound effects and a second overdubbed vocal from Morrison recorded in an audible whisper. The shimmering liquefied keyboard sound from Ray Manzarek, John Densmore’s intimate airy ride cymbal and minimalist drumming, as well as Jerry Scheff’s understated bass line all combine to create a tangibly eerie and foreboding bed over which Morrison essentially intonates his lyrics, rather than fully singing them — breaking into full song only during the final repetitive title chorus.”
And DeeTheWriter cited the following before the musician, singer, producer, film director, and author’s death in May of this year, “…when the 71-year-old Ray Manzarak was asked by the Somerville Journal in March 2010 if he turns up or turns off Doors music when he hears it on the radio, Manzarek said”,
“Oh, God, turn it up! Are you kidding? Living up in northern California, it rains a lot, so they play the heck out of ‘Riders on the Storm.’ And when that comes on, I crank that sucker, man.”
I know what he means. This remains the one song that deserves to be cranked up, especially at night. Driving down some road…to whatever destination that lies ahead of us. I hope you all have a great weekend.