Top 10 Ray Manzarek keyboard moments

Ray Manzarek of the Doors, black and white portrait

Following the sad news that Doors genius Ray Manzarek has died LTW editor John Robb celebrates his musical legacy with a look at the Top 10 Ray Manzarek keyboard moments.

We love the Doors. Always have done, always will.

They may have flickered in and out of fashion over the years but they have always been one of our loves. Just can’t get enough of that mournful dark side of the sixties baroque blues.

If Jim was the licorice sex god, Ray was his school masterly foil and his keyboards were a signature for the band.

Here are a top 10 defining moments from his Doors career. God bless you Ray!

1. Light My Fire

You can’t get past this one really.

The keyboard run defined not only the song but the whole Doors cannon.

It has to be the most baroque piece of keyboard playing since Mozart hung up his multicolored cape centuries before.

The song was the Doors debut single and was a massive number one hit in the summer of love, 1967. Whilst managing to capture the euphoria of the trip era it also caught the melancholic downside of magic America where everything seemed possible but people got burned. And all this in a song about fucking…

 

2. Maggie McGill

This one is a bit more controversial as it’s not a keyboard lick at all but the guitar line in the song which we are listing. A guitar line which was the only blues lick that Ray could play and was used by the band to construct another one of their long end album pieces. The guitar line is incessant, nagging and supremely catchy.

 

3. Break On Through

That funky bouncy, running bass line that was the spine of the song was provided by Ray, who became a dab hand at playing the bass at the same time as the keyboard as the band had no bass player for most of their early recordings.

It’s such a signature of their whole performance – Jim lost in ecstatic erotic politician bliss and Ray leaning over his keyboard lost in the swirl of sound coming from one hand and running those bass lines with the other.

 

4. The Crystal Ship

The Doors were great at these sweeping, swooning ballads that were full of longing and night time darkness… in the middle of the song Ray breaks away from his standard keyboard sound to a great piano break that is neo-classical and quite marvelous. Further proof of his brilliant playing.

 

5. The End

Although the classic anthem that ends the Doors debut album is very much a showcase for the exotic neo-sitar guitar line there is something about that droning keyboard in the background that really pulls you in.

Understanding the power of the drone, the wheezing keyboard line adds a real mystery and suspense to the song that is already overloaded with both. It remains one of the classic psych pieces of all time.

 

6. Strange Days

This is one of Ray’s most exquisite lines and most compelling keyboard runs. Somehow managing to meld a 17th century baroque with an LSD triponagraphy, adding a further spook to the song.

 

7. Hello I Love You

The Doors may have been known for their long strange pieces of poetic madness but they could also write a great punk rock song if they wanted to. The driving, distorted keyboard riff in this is classic Manzarek.

 

8. Roadhouse Blues

As the late period Doors veered towards the blues, Ray dropped the baroque for a more direct boogie approach which is perfectly underlined on the sleazy and driving Roadhouse Blues.

One of the band’s most incessant and powerful songs and proof that they were entering a whole new phase on their last two albums, which would have seen them survive the cull of the flower children in the early seventies.

 

9 Riders On The Storm

Many have tried to make their instruments sound like something else but on this song the great Ray somehow conjures up the falling rain with his piano line in a way that many have tried but few have been capable of.

 

10. LA Woman

The funk provided by Ray Manzarek on this song really give the feel of a documentary piece on the great American city.

Close your eyes and you are on the packed streets and Freeways, the myriad music pouring out of the multi-cultural explosion of the place and its sheer vibrant funkiness, which is all caught up in these keyboard chops.

 

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