Riders on the Storm was never really one of my favourite tracks by The Doors. It was a bit too sophisticated, and that thunderstorm stuff was a bit corny, wasn’t it? I always preferred more rock ‘n’ roll/blues tracks such as Back Door Man and Soul Kitchen. But I was younger then, and while I still really like these tracks, when listening to Riders on the Storm recently I was stuck by the track’s true beauty.
Ray Manzarek’s keyboard shimmers and sparkles. John Densmore’s drums are soft and jazzy and sit snug with the steady bass from Jerry Scheff. The vocals are warm but with a distant, ghostly reverb. And Robby Krieger’s guitar? If I still played guitar and could have only one sound it would be the clean tone on this track. It’s smooth and warm and sweet, with just the right amount of sparkle through the amp as Krieger digs in. Listen as Morrison sings take a long holiday or make him understand within the first few minutes, and you’ll hear the guitar sound thicken as the harmonics develop. There’s a great contrast with the vibrato sound, too.
It’s not just about the sounds of course, but the playing. The musicianship is wonderful, the lightness of touch and the relationship between the members of the band really in evidence. The guitar and keyboards often play the same phrases simultaneously – a feature of many Doors tracks – or bounce off each other while the rhythm section maintains a solid foundation.
Riders is a gradual builder. So gradual you don’t realise it’s happening. The track’s relatively long, too, with an extended jazz/funk instrumental break. This section itself builds, gradually increasing in intensity, pace and complexity until eventually the keyboard takes us by the hand and leads us down into a wonderful, quiet few moments of thunder and rain. Then there’s a brief drum fill, and the steady, mellow music resumes. This bit gives me the tingles every time.
The production seems relatively straight, but the simplicity might be deceptive: often a considerable amount of work has gone into making something like this seem uncomplicated. Listening to the track repeatedly, many details become apparent. For example as the track ends and the storm reaches its peak the very subtle percussion becomes busier, and Morrison’s repetition of riders on the storm gradually gets more vocal layers until he can be heard screaming the words way back in the mix.
And then it all slows, the shimmering call and response guitar and keyboards fading as the storm weakens. Wonderful.
Here’s a link to Riders on the Storm, on youtube.