The six best Ray Manzarek performances with The Doors

While Jimi Hendrix and The Grateful Dead made strong claims to be the ultimate countercultural act, no argument holds quite as much weight as that made by The Doors. Formed in Los Angeles in 1965, the quartet consisted of frontman Jim Morrison, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore.

Channeling the esoteric essence of the counterculture, it was largely thanks to the myth created by Morrison that the group became the poster child of the hippie rebellion. Thanks to Morrison, her art is imbued with a carnality that is second to none.

Despite most of The Doors talking about Jim Morrison, the band would not have reached the heights they would have reached without every central member. After all, Krieger wrote or co-wrote a significant portion of their most important tracks, from “Light My Fire” to “Love Her Madly,” and Densmore held the group together, both figuratively and musically.

Outside of those parameters, props must go to Manzarek, arguably the one who bears the label as The Doors’ secret weapon. Fusing psychedelia with a jazz sensibility, Manzarek provided the quartet with their bass while elevating their sound with his busy leadlines. The latter combined with Krieger’s guitar to help fans be transported to another dimension while also being their catchy mainstream draw. Thanks to its dynamism, the band continues to welcome new listeners to its kaleidoscopic world, 50 years after their split and a decade after his death in 2013.

Ultimately, Manzarek made The Doors stand out from the crowd. For that reason we’ve listed his top six keyboard performances as he was an overlooked master of ebony and ivory.

Best Ray Manzarek performances with The Doors:

6. “Riders in the Storm” – LA woman, 1971

“Riders on the Storm” has long been hailed as one of the defining Doors songs, making it one of the clearest musical representations of their position as the ultimate hippie act. From her last album with Jim Morrison, LA woman, Offering one of Manzarek’s finest performances, this atmospheric cut channels the dynamics of bebop and other less constrained forms of jazz.

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Although his sensual work carries the entire song, the process is accelerated when he delivers one of his signature solos in the middle. An extended masterclass in using both hands to full effect, while Manzarek reflects his virtuosity without overdoing it. It’s measured and blends in perfectly, breaking the rhythm of the song and slowly building to a climax. The descending momentum he delivers at the end of the section is timeless.

5. “Hello, I love you” – waiting for the sun 1968

Hello, I Love You has been a fan favorite by The Doors since its release in 1968. Remarkably, it was one of six tracks recorded by Rick and The Ravens at World Pacific Jazz Studios in their bid to secure a record deal. This early group consisted of all members except Krieger, who eventually took the name The Doors when they joined the guitarist.

As for Manzarek’s performance, it’s one of his most enjoyable catchy tunes. A lively keyboard line that uses a cheesy sounding keyboard and is known for its similarities to the melody of The Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night”. Despite these criticisms, it’s still a fine piece of work. Manzarek carries the track, once again giving Morrison the foundation to deliver his syllabic vocal performance.

4. “Touch Me” – The Gentle Parade1969

While people of a certain generation are familiar with this track from 2003 School of RockYears before Richard Linklater and Jack Black’s hit comedy Touch Me, it was considered one of the most exquisite pieces The Doors had captured. An emotional track, the horns and Morrison’s heartfelt performance are two highlights.

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However, one of the other glittering aspects comes from Manzarek’s fingers. In the verses, a hopping keyboard line immediately nests in the brain. Then, in addition to the main chorus, Manzarek delivers some stunning licks that combine with the swooning orchestra to full effect. Look no further than the glittering harpsichord when the rest of the band drops out.

3. “Breakthrough (to the other side)” – The doors1967

A feverish Doors song, no wonder this is one of their most popular. With a howling performance from Jim Morrison, a frantic chorus from Krieger, and one of Manzarek’s best keyboard moments, his solo on this track ranks among his best.

Though Manzarek is effervescent here, he doesn’t suffocate his bandmates. Instead, he provides the bass and another melodic device to expand the piece. It’s an intricate flourish that allows Morrison and the band to reach a climax. Notice how Manzarek connects with Densmore at the end to create a palpable tension. This is a simple but effective demonstration of a keyboard that uses rhythm to amplify its power.

2. “People are weird” – strange days1967

“People are Strange” had to be high on the list of Manzarek performances. A slightly spooky number that appeals to the dark elements that would eventually engulf the counterculture, the ring of traditional European cabaret is evident here, much of which is credited to Manzarek’s mastery.

Another punchy cut, the song wouldn’t be the classic it is without Manzarek. He stamped it with his unique style, which helped him stand out in The Doors’ back catalog and on the charts. Conjuring up the spine-chilling images of 20th-century expressionism, this track would sound empty without its keyboardist.

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1. “Light My Fire” – The doors1967

The ultimate performance by Ray Manzarek. Not only is this iconic, it embodies everything that The Doors was about. Totally hypnotic and intelligently written; All of the band members were hot on this early cut. However, it’s Manzarek that really stands out. Whether it’s the opening, his solo, or the grandiose twist at the climax, without his presence this song wouldn’t be the timeless piece of history it is.

Manzarek’s solo is absolutely magical and is best described as narcotic. As potent as any drug out there, it is a tribute to its strength that it has helped many listeners take off into other realms when they are already in an altered state. Additionally, it’s arguably the best moment The Doors have delivered as Manzarek’s solo seamlessly gives way to Krieger’s own. Here, Manzarek was the sound of the counterculture, and it’s timeless.

It’s hard not to hit repeat on this track.

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