The Doors were formed in Los Angeles in 1965 by the legendary Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, and John Densmore. They would go on to become one of the most influential and iconic rock groups in history, inspiring artists for decades to come and becoming important figures in the counterculture movement of their era.
Despite having a short run with their original members due to Morrison’s death, they are widely regarded as one of the greatest bands of all time, and in this article, we’ll go over the 21 best songs they ever produced.
1. Riders on the Storm
Riders On The Storm remains a popular track on rock radio to this day and is widely regarded as one of, if not the best song ever put out by The Doors. The part that’s so sad about it is that, while it was such a great track, it was the final time we saw all four members of The Doors produce a song together.
When it came to commercial success, it shot up to number 14 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and made it to number 22 on the UK Singles chart. In 2010, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for its lasting significance and overall quality, and the track would inspire films like Point Break and The Hitcher.
2. Light My Fire
For our second entry to the best songs of all time from The Doors, we’ll go all the way back to their debut album in 1967. Light My Fire parallelled the 1960s psychedelic and sexual movements with its eroticism and off-meta song structure, and it was inspired by earlier work from The Rolling Stones and the track, Hey Joe.
It actually entered the Hot 100 multiple times, originally spending three weeks at number one in 1967 and reentering the charts in 1968 thanks to Jose Feliciano’s cover version—peaking at number three—that helped the original back to number 87.
3. Break on Through (To the Other Side)
We’ll stick with The Doors’ debut album for this one as well. Break On Through (To The Other Side) is the opening track for their eponymous debut album and was issued as the group’s first single in 1967. It never was a major seller or one that did incredibly well on the charts, but it still became one of their signature songs and one of their most-played tracks in concert.
It was still a big hit with critics who mostly praised the song’s lyrical aptitude as one of the most exciting rock tracks of its day. A weird anecdote here, this was one of the songs selected by NASA to be played on Mars during a mission in 2012.
4. The End
The End started out like many songs do, with lyrics describing the breakup of a singer and a girl. Morrison originally wrote the lyrics to mirror that situation, but the song never stopped evolving. Frequent plays at the Whiskey a Go Go saw the track continue to get longer and longer, eventually ending with The Doors recording a 12-minute version for their debut album back in 1967.
It’s got some universality to it, you can apply much of the song to just about any situation you want, from the end of a relationship to saying goodbye to childhood. In the end—haha, pun—it was named in Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in 2010 and features a guitar solo that made it onto Guitar World’s list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time.
5. L.A. Woman
The title track of The Doors’ 1971 album L.A. Woman, which was the final one the band released before Morrison’s death in the same year, has to be one of their best-ever songs. It served as a bit of a goodbye from Morrison to the city of Los Angeles, personifying the city itself as a woman and giving an excellent description of the atmosphere surrounding it.
The part of the track “Mr. Mojo Risin’” is actually an anagram for Morrison’s name cleverly placed within the lyrics. The song ended up peaking at number 46 on the Cash Box Top 100 singles, 18 on the Mainstream Rock chart, and 52 on the Billboard Hot 100. L.A. Weekly named it their number-one track on a list of the 20 Best Songs About The City Of Los Angeles, and it’s been labeled as one of the best classic rock tracks of all time.
6. When the Music’s Over
When The Music’s Over has a bit of an ironic title as it’s one of The Doors’ longest songs ever, clocking in at over 11 minutes. It was among the tracks the group composed before their record deal that found its way to their second album Strange Days in 1967 and was one of their most intense songs when it came to actually playing it live.
It has a dark, ominous feel to it, and that’s what makes it such a good apocalyptic-style warning to close out the album. The guitar parts were incredibly difficult as well, requiring Krieger to play 56 bars over the same riff.
7. Roadhouse Blues
Roadhouse Blues is one of those infamous B-side songs that end up being better than their A-side counterparts. It originally was released on the 1970 album Morrison Hotel and became one of The Doors concert staples shortly after. It only peaked at number 76 on the Cash Box Top 100, but rock radio stations played the hell out of it anyways.
When the album was being conceived, this almost ended up as a title track but it got quickly changed during production. The song became inspirational within rock circles, creating numerous covers by other artists.
8. People Are Strange
Within a month of The Doors releasing their Strange Days album, they released People Are Strange and found an instant hit. It ended up peaking at number 12 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and number 10 on the Cash Box Top 100, addressing the peak of hippie culture and other outsiders in “normal” society.
Psychedelic rock never stopped with early songs from them, fascinated by making the strange seem normal and putting a positive spin on the loneliness of alienation. Despite an overall positive spin, served up from an acid epiphany by Morrison, it’s got a dark and depressing feel to it that’s hard to beat if you’re into that sort of thing.
9. Touch Me
Touch Me became one of The Doors’ most notable songs on their 1969 The Soft Parade album. It made extensive use of brass and string sections, even featuring a saxophone solo courtesy of Curtis Amy, in what marked a turning point for the band and a shift to adding orchestral elements to their music.
Sadly, it was the last time their song would wound up as a Top 10 hit in the US, reaching number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number one on the Cash Box Top 100 in 1969—giving them their third US number-one single. Weirdly, it never made it onto the UK Singles chart despite the huge success they normally found over there.
10. Five To One
A lot of the best songs from The Doors were written or composed outside of the studio and then recorded and polished with producers. Not so with Five To One, it has the distinction of being one of the band’s only songs to be made entirely in-studio. It adapted several hymns and children’s rhymes to produce several lines, but it has a long-lasting legacy all its own.
The guitar solo from KISS’s She was based on Krieger’s solo here, which in turn inspired the solo on Pearl Jam’s Alive.
11. Soul Kitchen
Soul food is near and dear to my own heart having grown up in the South, and there’s not a cuisine on the planet that can match it for sheer taste—health-wise, not the best option but it isn’t always about being healthy. Soul Kitchen was inspired by Morrison’s love of Olivia’s, a soul food restaurant in Venice Beach that he often was kicked out of for staying too late, giving us the line “let me sleep all night, in your soul kitchen.”
Despite not being released from their eponymous album and not charting, this hard-rocker is a huge fan favorite and widely considered one of the best songs The Doors ever put out.
12. Love Me Two Times
Love Me Two Times was considered so provocative that it was banned in New Haven and was considered a bit too risqué for radio when it was released. This song was the best transition from The Doors’ first album to their second and served as the second single released from Strange Days in 1967. It got edited down to about two-and-a-half minutes for official releases.
Despite being a risky radio track—thanks to some obvious sexual references that were deemed controversial at the time—it made it to number 25 on the charts in the US and would later be covered by Aerosmith for the film soundtrack of Air America in 1990.
13. Moonlight Drive
Another great song from Strange Days, Moonlight Drive was the B-Side of Love Me Two Times on the album in 1967. It was a typical blues track but featured a slide guitar and off-beat rhythm that gave it a bit of a creepy and spooky vibe to help the song stand out from the rest of the album.
It was among the first tracks composed by Morrison, way back in 1965, and one of the reasons The Doors formed in the first place. It was even meant to appear on their debut album and was recorded for it, but the resulting song wasn’t satisfying for the band, so it was left off until their second album and a second crack at getting it right.
14. Strange Days
The title track of The Doors’ second album and the first song to appear on that album, Strange Days was the perfect opening for what the band was trying to achieve. It was a reflection on mainstream society and how outsiders are perceived by those with traditional values, a highlight of the youth counterculture movement of the time. Fun fact, it was one of the first times a Moog synthesizer was featured in a track and Morrison knocked it out of the park.
There were two music videos for the song, one with circus performers and one that was a bit more normal and showed footage of the band backstage. In 2013, the surviving members teamed up with Tech N9ne to create a reworked version of the track that was almost as good as the original.
15. Hello, I Love You
Hello, I Love You may be the most controversial entry on this list. Many fans of the band don’t like it, since it’s a departure from their typical sound and seems to have a commercial hand in its tune. It also has much more shallow lyrics than most people expect from The Doors, leading to it not being held up as one of their best by some.
A bit of a plagiarism controversy stirred up as well, with Ray Davies claiming the band stole a similar riff from The Kinks’ All Day And All Of The Night. Morrison admitted it and Krieger said they took the drum beat from Cream’s Sunshine Of Your Love as well. In the end, it topped both Cash Box’s Top 10 and the US Billboard Hot 100 while finding plenty of top 20 success in Europe.
16. Love Her Madly
A twist on a Duke Ellington phrase, Love Her Madly was written by Krieger about all the times his girlfriend threatened to leave—or walked out—when they had an argument. It was the first single to be released from the L.A. Woman album, coming out in 1971 about the time that Morrison left for Paris. Sadly, he only played the song with The Doors twice, but it let him express himself unlike any of their other tracks.
17. Peace Frog
Peace Frog originally was released on The Doors’ fifth studio album Morrison Hotel in 1970, but it was never released as a single. Instead, it served as the B-side to You Make Me Real in France before it was included in their second compilation album in 1972. It started as an instrumental, with the lyrics coming later and being lifted from three of Morrison’s poems.
The initial title of it was Abortion Stories, the title of one of the poems, but producers wanted it changed to avoid scaring off consumers. After The Soft Parade was met with poor critical reviews, this helped Morrison Hotel return to the sound they were known and praised for.
18. Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)
Alabama Song went by many names before The Doors picked it up and made their own version, including Moon Of Alabama, Moon Over Alabama, and Whisky Bar. What was originally a German poem was translated into English and published in Bertolt Brecht’s 1927 Devotions For The Home, which was a parody of Martin Luther’s collection of sermons. They picked it up and recorded the track in 1966, changing the melody and second verse to better fit their debut album.
19. The Crystal Ship
Another awesome song from The Doors’ debut album, The Crystal Ship was the B-side single of their number-one hit Light My Fire. It was actually a love track from Morrison to his girlfriend shortly after their breakup and inspired by the poem The Crystal Cabinet by William Blake. What made it such a cool song was the incorporation of baroque musical elements and challenging imagery that helped create a dreamlike atmosphere and made the track stand out, even on such a great album.
L’America was originally intended for the movie Zabriskie Point, directed by Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni—is there a more-Italian name?—but it was rejected by him. In typical fashion, The Doors decided to slot it into their L.A. Woman album instead. The title of L’America is meant to mean Latin America. It’s got some old-timey treasure hunter vibes to it with lines like “…trade some beads for a pint of gold.”
21. Back Door Man
Back Door Man originated as a blues song, written by Willie Dixon and recorded by good old Howlin’ Wolf in 1960. Several tracks from those two collaborators ended up being popular among rock bands, and The Doors picked this one up for themselves. In the South, a “back door man” refers to a man that has an affair with a married woman and uses the back door to get out of the house before the husband comes home.
You’ve heard the phrase in an Aerosmith song too. The Doors included this on their debut album, being big fans of blues tunes and enjoying the deeply sexual tone that got people dancing in concert. They, of course, changed it around, and it ended up being one of their best tracks.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
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