The Doors score their first #1 hit with “Light My Fire”
By the beginning of 1967, The Doors were well-established members of the Los Angeles music scene. As the house band at the Whiskey a Go Go on the Sunset Strip, they had built a large local following and strong industry buzz, and out on the road, they were fast becoming known as a band that might typically receive third billing, but could blow better-known groups like The Young Rascals and The Grateful Dead off the stage. It would have been poetic if their popular breakthrough had come via their now-classic debut single, “Break On Through,” but that record failed to make the national sales charts despite the efforts of Jim Morrison and his bandmates to fuel the song’s popularity by repeatedly calling in requests for it to local L.A. radio stations. It was the follow-up release from their debut album, The Doors, which would become their first bona fide smash. “Light My Fire,” which earned the top spot in the Billboard Hot 100 on this day in 1967, transformed The Doors from cult favorites of the rock cognoscenti into international pop stars and avatars of the 60s counterculture.
As “Light My Fire” climbed the charts in June and early July, The Doors were out on the East Coast, still plugging away as an opening act (e.g., for Simon and Garfunkel in Forest Hills, Queens) and as sometime-headliners (e.g., in a Greenwich, Connecticut, high-school auditorium). When the group topped the charts in late July, Jim Morrison celebrated by buying his now-famous skintight black-leather suit and beginning to hobnob with the likes of the iconic model/muse Nico at drug-fueled parties held by Andy Warhol.
Attempting to keep Morrison grounded were not only his fellow Doors Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek and John Densmore as well as the professional manager they had hired in part to “babysit” him, but also his longtime girlfriend Pamela Courson, who is quoted in Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugerman’s Doors biography No One Here Gets Out Alive (1980) as greeting the sight of Jim Morrison preening in front of a mirror at home before a show in the summer of 1967 with, “Oh Jim, are you going to wear the same leather pants again? You never change your clothes. You’re beginning to smell, did you know that?”
In the end, of course, Morrison’s heavy drinking and drug use would lead to increasingly erratic behavior over the next four years and eventually take his life in July 1971. During that period, The Doors would follow up “Light My Fire” with a string of era-defining albums and songs, including “People Are Strange,” “Love Me Two Times” and “The End” in 1967; “Hello, I Love You” and “Touch Me” in 1968; and “L.A. Woman” and “Riders on the Storm” in 1971.
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