This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #240: Riders on the Storm by The Doors.
“Riders on the Storm” by “The Doors” was the final track the band ever recorded prior to Jim Morrison’s suicide in Paris at age 27. In many ways, there are similarities to the song, “All Apologies” by “Nirvana” that we talked about just a few posts ago. (You can read that post here). First of all, both bands were led by enigmatic, electrifying front men; Jim Morrison for “The Doors” and Kurt Cobain for “Nirvana”.
Both died by suicide at age 27.
In both cases, each man recorded a studio album just prior to dying. Again, in both cases, the final tracks on each of their final albums is believed, by many critics and fans, to be a “goodbye” letter.
Finally, in these “goodbye letters”, both Morrison and Cobain talked about travelling and about love and about death, as well. Whether Kurt Cobain’s decision to end his life was influenced in any way by how Jim Morrison ended his, is subject to debate. But, what is clear is that both men were deep thinkers and were burdened by what they knew. To shed greater light on the matter, let’s have a closer look at the song, “Riders on the Storm” by “The Doors”.
In purely technical terms, the band members from “The Doors” all say that their final album as a full group was the easiest and most enjoyable that they produced in the career. The reason for that was that the man who had produced all of their previous albums, Paul Rothchild, didn’t like the material on the album, “L.A. Woman” and refused to produce it. According to the band, his departure opened the door to more creative freedom for each of them. As a result, the entire album has elements on it that Rothchild would never have permitted, such as the rain effects on “Riders on the Storm”.
The song, itself, is loosely based upon the old Country and Western song, “Ghost Riders in the Sky” by Vaughn Monroe. The lyrics in the song are notable for several reasons that all give clues to Morrison’s state of mind at the time he recorded his final song.
First of all, the line, “Into this life we’re thrown” is not, pardon the pun, a simple, throw-away line. In fact, the word, “thrown” has a much larger meaning than you may expect. In Morrison’s younger days, he attended University classes in the study of Philosophy at Florida State University. One of the classes he took involved discussing important philosophers of note and their main contributions to the field of Philosophy. One of the people Morrison came to know was a man named Martin Heidegger. Heidegger believed in a concept known as “Thrown-ness” which, when simplified, comes to mean the essence of our being…..our “life force”, if you will. So, when Morrison sings “Into this life we’re thrown” he is, essentially, talking about the uniqueness of our lives and the energy we are bringing into the world.
Furthermore, there are many mentions of “A killer on the road” in the lyrics of this song. That stems from two separate but, related topics. First of all, Jim Morrison came to be known as someone who lived dangerously, at times. His penchant for doing unsafe things came to be symbolized by the fact that he often hitch-hiked in his younger days in Florida. He never knew, from one car stopping to the next, whether he was getting into the car of a killer, a sexual predator, a quiet citizen or the most interesting person in the world. Morrison enjoyed the gamble he was taking. To him, hitch-hiking was a source of adrenalin. Further to this point, Morrison was fascinated by a man accused of being a serial killer who was a hitch-hiker, who preyed on the motorists who stopped to pick him up. He even wrote a short play about this called, “The Hitch-Hiker: an American Pastoral”.
Finally, the song “Riders on the Storm” ends with a plea to a girl to “Always love your man”. It is believed that this line is in reference to Morrison’s girlfriend at the time. Those who believe that this song is a “goodbye letter” have stated that his line about his girlfriend is meant to state that he was happy with her and that he felt their love had an “eternal” aspect to it and would last into the next realm. Whatever the case, “Riders on the Storm” starts out talking about our “life force” that we bring into the world and then, the adrenalin rush of flirting with death by hitch-hiking and finally, about a love that extends beyond the bonds of earthly life.
In “All Apologies”, Kurt Cobain was much more succinct when he covered the same ground with his exclamatory shouts of, “Married! Buried!” In his song, Cobain’s final words were “All in all, is all we are”, repeated many times….eventually fading to a whisper. In “Riders on the Storm”, if you listen very carefully, you can hear Morrison whispering, like an echo, under the lyrics as the song closes. According to bandmates, Robbie Kreiger, Ray Manzarek and John Densmore, Jim Morrison added the whispers to make his voice seem as though it was ghost-like and coming from beyond the grave. In their words, it lent an air of spirituality to what was, otherwise, an exciting piece of musical drama that unfolded as the song went along.
Are “Riders on the Storm” and “All Apologies” both intentional “goodbye letters” to friends and fans? I will let you be the judge but, there is certainly some circumstantial evidence to suggest that this may, in fact, be the case. For now, here is “Riders on the Storm” for you to listen to with fresh ears. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “Riders on the Storm” by The Doors, can be found here.
The link to the official website for The Doors, can be found here.
Thanks to KEXP for playing the best music of all-time. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.