Friday, May 24, 2013

Doors -- "Not to Touch the Earth" (1968)

Not to touch the earth
Not to see the sun

Keyboard player Ray Manzarek of the Doors died of bile duct cancer in Germany earlier this week.  He was 74 years old.

The late Ray Manzarek
Manzarek, who grew up on the South Side of Chicago, graduated from DePaul University with an economics degree and then attended film school at UCLA, when he met fellow student Jim Morrison.  A month or so after finishing the program, Manzarek and Morrison ran into each other at Venice Beach.  Morrison told Manzarek he had written some songs, and sang one called "Moonlight Drive."  

Manzarek was so impressed by the song that he agreed to start a band with Morrison.  Shortly thereafter, he met drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger at a Transcendental Meditation lecture.  A few months later, the Doors were playing regularly on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles.

Manzarek with fellow former
film student Jim Morrison
The Doors' had a unique sound.  Morrison's voice was much lower than most other male lead vocalists in that era.  The band didn't have a rhythm guitarist, and they didn't have a bass player -- Manzarek often filled those roles as well as playing keyboard solos.  

On the Doors' signature song, "Light My Fire," Manzarek played a Vox Continental organ.  He later switched to a Gibson G101 (also known as as a Gibson Kalamazoo), and that's the organ he is playing on "Not to Touch the Earth," which is a song from Waiting for the Sun, the Doors' third studio album.

Gibson G101 (Kalamazoo)
In a 1977 interview, Manzarek explained why he switched from the Vox to the Gibson:

Vox was sold to somebody [in 1967] and the organs started falling apart.  I'd go out on a gig and in half a set I'd break about six or seven keys.  I eventually got a Gibson Kalamazoo.  It had a little more versatility than the Vox; it could make the sort of piano-ish sound I used on "Back Door Man," plus it had a little knob sticking up on the volume pedal which could bend the note a half-step down.  We used it on "Not to Touch the Earth."  

You can hear the sound effect Manzarek was talking about at 1:27 of the song:

The Gibson also satisfied Manzarek's need for an organ with a flat top where he could stack his Fender Rhodes "PianoBass," a 32-key electronic keyboard that replicated the lower notes of a piano and was used by Manzarek to perform the function of a bass guitarist.

Compared to the Hammond B3, which was the favorite of jazz, soul, and rock organists, "combo" organs like the Vox Continental and Gibson Kalamazoo were very simple instruments.  But Manzarek played some very complicated music on his combo organs.

Ray Manzarek in 2008
"Not to Touch the Sky" is way, way out there.  The lyrics are taken from a long Jim Morrison poem titled "Celebration of the Lizard."  The band attempted to record the whole poem (which was long enough to take up at least one, if not two sides of an LP) but eventually gave up.  

Like much of Morrison's poetic efforts, the lyrics to "Not to Touch the Sky" are interesting but largely incoherent.  Manzarek's crazy organ is more than a match for Morrison -- Ray let it all hang out on this song, brothers and sisters.

Waiting for the Sun was the Doors' only number one album.  It included a number one single ("Hello, I Love You"), but I remember it for several melancholy and romantic songs of the kind that were guaranteed to put hormone-addled teenagers into a state of terminal angst.

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:


  1. An interesting choice...definitely one of the odder arrangements on that album. I always wondered if the listener would have to match the chemical composition of whatever the band was using to really understand this piece. (And I still think the Hammond B3/Leslie speaker combination was the bomb!)

  2. "Waiting for the Sun" is also the title of a book about the Southern California pop/rock scene. I have a copy but haven't read it for a long time; this article inspires me to go into Igor's Room and find it.