Take Five: Ray Manzarek

Keyboardist, singer and songwriter Ray Manzarek came to fame in the 1960s with The Doors, the groundbreaking band fronted by charismatic vocalist Jim Morrison. In the years after Morrison’s death, Manzarek went on to a series of notable musical endeavors, producing other artists, collaborating and making music of his own. Manzarek passed away in 2013; he would have celebrated his 84th birthday on February 12. Here are five noteworthy musical projects featuring Ray Manzarek.

Ray Manzarek – “Solar Boat”
Manzarek would only release four solo albums during his lifetime; his first, 1974’s The Golden Scarab earned some positive notices. Backed by some jazz-leaning players (guitarist Larry Carlton, drummer Tony Williams, sax man Ernie Watts) Manzarek turned in a psychedelically-tinged record with this track – an undiscovered gem – as one of its highlights.

Echo & the Bunnymen – “Bedbugs & Ballyhoo”
The fifth studio album from Liverpool’s Echo & the Bunnymen featured three singles: “The Game,” the smash hit “Lips Like Sugar,” and this track. The former Doors keyboardist counted himself among the group’s fans; when they learned of that news, they invited him to add keyboards on their hypnotic “Bedbugs and Ballyhoo.”

Nite City – “Nite City”
In 1977, Manzarek formed a group with four other musicians including Nigel Harrison. Bassist Harrison would go on to greater fame as a member of Blondie. For the band’s self-titled debut album, Manzarek – who also produced the record – co-wrote songs with lead singer Noah James. This mainstream rock tune is a standout cut from the album. The short-lived band stayed together long enough to record and release a second LP, 1978’s Golden Days Diamond Nights before the members went their separate ways.

X – “Soul Kitchen”
Manzarek got into album production during his time in Nite City, and by 1980 he was in the control room producing Los Angeles’ post-punk heroes X. He would work with the band on several of their most popular albums, largely staying behind the recording console. But for this track off the group’s self-titled debut album, he joined in on keyboards for a high-energy reading of this Doors classic.

“Weird Al” Yankovic – “Craigslist”
One of the wackier projects with which Ray Manzarek associated himself is this tune by comedy musician “Weird Al” Yankovic. An ode to the online classified ad site, the tune is a musical pastiche of The Doors, right down to the fuzz guitar lead (by Jim “Kimo” West) and Al’s Jim Morrison-style vocal croon-to-a-roar. Manzarek lends his distinctive Doors-styled keys to the recording. The hilarious, must-see video combines the Doors vibe with Yankovic’s trademark witty approach.