Skip to main content

Enter your email below to be the first to hear about new releases, upcoming events, and more from Dig!

Please enter a valid email address
Please accept the terms
Best Jim Morrison Lyrics: 15 Doors Songs That Are Pure Poetry
dpa picture alliance / Alamy Stock Photo
List & Guides

Best Jim Morrison Lyrics: 15 Doors Songs That Are Pure Poetry

Daring to explore the darker sides of the psyche, the best Jim Morrison lyrics made The Doors leading lights of the countercultural rebellion.

Back

A voracious reader, Jim Morrison was drawn to works by everyone from Beat Generation writers Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg to such visionary poets as Arthur Rimbaud and William Blake. From high-school age onwards, he filled reams of notebooks with his own poetry, and many of the best Jim Morrison lyrics came together across these handwritten collections. As The Doors cut their own singular path through the late 60s and early 70s, Morrison was hailed as not only one of the best frontmen in rock, but also as one of those rare songwriters who are poets – a lyricist whose words worked just as well on the page as they did in an auditorium or coming from a stereo. “The words were well edited,” Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek said of Morrison’s ability to make his poetry work within the context of a rock song. “Jim was good that way when it came to songs.”

Transcending his influences and finding his own unique voice, Morrison laid bare the dark underbelly of the counterculture like no other songwriter of the time. He may not have been responsible for writing The Doors’ signature song (guitarist Robby Krieger penned Light My Fire, with Morrison contributing the song’s second verse), but with a range that spans hallucinogenic encounters with the beyond through to cinematic depictions of society’s outcasts, the best Jim Morrison lyrics convincingly place their creator among the world’s greatest songwriters.

Listen to the best of The Doors here, and check out the best Jim Morrison lyrics, below.

15: Peace Frog (from ‘Morrison Hotel’, 1970)

When The Doors worked up Peace Frog in the studio, they knew they’d found a highlight of the Morrison Hotel album. Seeking lyrics that would hit has hard as Robby Krieger’s choppy guitar work, Jim Morrison turned to his notebooks. After producer Paul Rothchild synched together the vocal takes of two separate poems, Peace Frog became what John Densmore later called “a minor miracle”. In his memoir, Riders On The Storm: My Life With Jim Morrison And The Doors, the drummer noted of the two sets of lyrics: “One was a metaphor for Jim’s life; the other, a metaphor for Pam,” the singer’s long-term girlfriend, Pamela Courson.

Saturated with blood, much of the song’s imagery came from a poem Morrison had titled Abortion Stories and which referenced the locations of some key events in his life, including his public arrest on stage during a Doors gig in New Haven, Connecticut, in December 1967, and a car crash he’d claimed to have witnessed as a child. The latter would be central to the singer’s self-mythologising: recalling that injured Native American workers had been left to their fate on the roadside, Morrison would later state that the souls of the deceased, “maybe one or two of ’em, were just running around freaking out, and just leaped into my soul. And they’re still in there.”

Sample lyric
Blood on the streets, runs a river of sadness
Blood in the streets, it’s up to my thigh
The river runs red down the legs of the city
The women are crying, red rivers of weeping

14: The Unknown Soldier (from ‘Waiting For The Sun’, 1968)

The Vietnam War had inspired no shortage of protest songs by the time Jim Morrison decided to write the lyrics to The Unknown Soldier, so when Ray Manzarek questioned the need for The Doors to create yet another, Morrison assured the keyboardist that theirs wouldn’t be a Vietnam song: “This is just a song about war,” he said. With a brutality that stands out among the best Jim Morrison lyrics, the singer juxtaposed images of people going about their everyday lives at home with blunt descriptions of battlefield atrocities, his unnamed solider – like his unnamed war – surviving the era and maintaining relevance in the ensuing decades.

Sample lyric
Breakfast where the news is read
Television children fed
Unborn, living
Living, dead
Bullet strikes the helmet’s head

13: Ghost Song (from ‘An American Prayer’, 1978)

In between sessions for the Morrison Hotel and LA Woman albums, Jim Morrison recorded some of his poetry as spoken-word recitations, without musical accompaniment. The remaining members of The Doors were mindful of this when, seven years after his death, and following the release of their two albums without Morrison, 1971’s Other Voices and the following year’s Full Circle, they assessed the tapes and realised they had the makings of the Doors album that never was.

“Jim didn’t think of it as a Doors project, and that’s why we waited so long even to think about it,” Robby Krieger admitted. “But then we realised that it wasn’t that different from what we’d always done with him. The only difference is he’s talking instead of singing.” Framing the poem Ghost Song with a lightly funky backing track, Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore envisage what the four-piece Doors may have sounded like in the post-disco era, while Morrison traces a journey from birth (“Awake/Shake dreams from your hair, my pretty child/My sweet one”) to afterlife (“Thank you, oh lord/For the white blind light”) via a manifesto for freedom and creativity. “He wasn’t there in person,” Manzarek said of recording the aptly titled track, “but his presence was always there.”

Sample lyric
We have assembled inside
This ancient and insane theater
To propagate our lust for life
And flee the swarming wisdom of the streets

12: Soul Kitchen (from ‘The Doors’, 1967)

Proof that the best Jim Morrison lyrics can take on meanings beyond their original inspiration, Soul Kitchen was the singer’s cryptic tribute to Olivia’s, a soul-food restaurant on Venice Beach where the singer liked to push his luck at closing time. Surveying the city at night, Morrison sings of “neon groves” and cars that “crawl past all stuffed with eyes”, distorting the band’s hometown until it becomes a hazardous jungle for untethered souls to get lost in. Matching Morrison’s knack for refashioning his source material beyond recognition, Robby Krieger drew an unlikely influence from James Brown, later revealing that his guitar part “loosely resembles the horns on Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag”.

Sample lyric
Your fingers weave quick minarets
Speaking secret alphabets
I light another cigarette
Learn to forget

11: Moonlight Drive (from ‘Strange Days’, 1967)

Ray Manzarek and Jim Morrison had briefly been students together at UCLA film school, but it wasn’t until they bumped into each other on Los Angeles’ Venice Beach, after graduating in 1965, that the keyboardist discovered Morrison had been writing songs. As it would soon transpire, some of the best Jim Morrison lyrics were simply waiting for the right music, and Moonlight Drive was the first of these early works the fledgling frontman revealed to his future bandmate. While a painfully shy Morrison sang on the beach, his eyes closed, Manzarek saw both men’s destinies changing in that moment, as Morrison unspooled lysergic imagery that toyed with physics and astrophysics alike. “The words have both ensnared and enfolded me,” Manzarek wrote in his memoir, Light My Fire: My Life With The Doors. “I am secure and warmed by their artistry. I surrender myself to their liquid images… I am happy. I know what I’m going to do with my life!”

Sample lyric
Let’s swim to the moon
Let’s climb thru the tide
Surrender to the waiting worlds
That lap against our side

10: Hello, I Love You (from ‘Waiting For The Sun’, 1968)

One of the more playful entries among the best Jim Morrison lyrics, Hello, I Love You was written as early as 1965, after the fledgling songwriter found inspiration in a woman he saw walking along Venice Beach. From the first thrill of infatuation (“Hello, I love you/Let me jump in your game”) to the way certain charismatic people seem to alter the world around them (“Sidewalk crouches at her feet/Like a dog that begs/For something sweet”), Morrison’s lyrics conjure the spells that a person can cast, without even realising it. Released as the second single from The Doors’ Waiting For The Sun album, Hello, I Love You gave the group their second US No.1, after Light My Fire. “We always hoped for radio airplay,” John Densmore admitted, “but we never wrote for it specifically.” With this song, however, both the band and their producer sensed they had something special on their hands. “I was crazy for the lyrics,” Densmore added, “and Paul Rothchild said, ‘This is a hit.’”

Sample lyric
Her arms are wicked
And her legs are long
When she moves
My brain screams out this song

9: The Crystal Ship (from ‘The Doors’, 1967)

Writing in his memoir, Set The Night On Fire: Living, Dying And Playing Guitar With The Doors, guitarist Robbie Krieger noted that The Crystal Ship had “some of Jim’s strongest lyrics”, and that, with their debut single, Break On Through (To The Other Side), having failed to break the group into the mainstream, this nocturnal ballad may have been a better choice. In the event, The Crystal Ship would be the B-side of the band’s career-making single, Light My Fire, and would forever lodge itself in listeners’ minds as featuring some of the best Jim Morrison lyrics of all time. Despite the ostensible drug reference of the opening line, the lyrics were actually written in response to Morrison’s split with a girlfriend, Mary Werbelow, in the summer of 1965 and his efforts to move on from the relationship. The song’s title comes from a story in The Book Of The Dun Cow, a 12th-century collection of Irish texts, in which the protagonist, Connla, is enticed away in a ship made of crystal which could travel over sea and land.

Sample lyric
Before you slip into unconsciousness
I’d like to have another kiss
Another flashing chance at bliss

8: The Soft Parade (from ‘The Soft Parade’, 1969)

By Morrison’s own admission, his work rate had slowed around the time of The Doors’ fourth album, 1969’s The Soft Parade. “Most of the songs I’ve written I wrote in the very beginning, about three years ago,” he told his future biographer Jerry Hopkins, in an interview for Rolling Stone magazine. “I just had a period when I wrote a lot of songs.” As the group worked on The Soft Parade, the former UCLA film-school graduate’s creative attentions were split between editing the band’s Feast Of Friends documentary and preparing the forthcoming publication of his first two collections of poetry, The New Creatures and The Lords: Notes On Vision. With an increasing reliance on alcohol also keeping him off his game, lyrics for the album’s lengthy closing track were lifted from old notebooks. Though not written specifically as a song, the quick-fire imagery of The Soft Parade would lead Jerry Hopkins and Doors manager Danny Sugarman to note, in their Morrison biography, No One Here Gets Out Alive, that the words were still “too weird and colourful to have been written by anyone else”.

Sample lyric
All our lives we sweat and save
Building for a shallow grave
Must be something else we say
Somehow to defend this place

7: People Are Strange (from ‘Strange Days’, 1967)

A perfect mix of restrained playing and Morrison’s haunting – almost taunting – lyrics, People Are Strange is a sparse yet evocative highlight among the best Doors songs. Yet as guitarist Robby Krieger later recalled, the words only came after Morrison pulled himself out of a particularly dire mood one evening at the guitarist’s house. “I had seen Jim in every type of mood, but I had never seen him so depressed,” Krieger wrote in Set The Night On Fire. Though Morrison “didn’t specifically say he wanted to end it all… it seemed like that might be on the table”. As the hours – and Morrison’s mood – dragged on and dawn approached, Krieger suggested they go out and watch the sunrise. When dawn arrives, Morrison brightened, telling his bandmate, “Oh, I get it now. When you’re strange, then people are strange. It’s all in your mind.” This revelation led to an outpouring of lyrics, for which Krieger quickly wrote a guitar part. People Are Strange was finished off in the studio less than a week later.

Sample lyric
When you’re strange
Faces come out of the rain
When you’re strange
No one remembers your name

6: When The Music’s Over (from ‘Strange Days’, 1967)

A companion song of sorts to The End, When The Music’s Over closed the Strange Days album on an apocalyptic note, Morrison presaging the ecological crisis (“What have they done to the Earth?/What have they done to our fair sister?”) and demanding the planet’s return into the hands of a generation convinced they were building a better future (“We want the world and we want it now”).

For Morrison, writing When The Music’s Over was an example of the creative process as its most invigorating. “The kind of songs where the musicians just start jamming – it starts off with a rhythm, and you don’t know how it’s going to be or really what it’s about, until it’s over – that sort I enjoy best,” he said. A true tour de force among the best Jim Morrison lyrics, When The Music’s Over finds its creator submitting to the power of his chosen art form, willing to “dance on fire as it intends”.

Sample lyric
Cancel my subscription to the Resurrection
Send my credentials to the house of detention
I got some friends inside

5: The WASP (Texas Radio And The Big Beat) (from ‘LA Woman’, 1971)

What begins as a tribute to the Mexican radio stations that, in the 50s and 60s, broadcast rock’n’roll music over the border and into the US soon collapses time and space, as the birth of civilisations and the loss of god are set against an epiphany Morrison experienced as a teenager during his first encounters with the rebellious new music (“I’ll tell you about Texas radio and the big beat/Soft driven, slow and mad, like some new language”). Wolfman Jack’s XERF-AM show had been of particular importance to Morrison and Manzarek, and would also inspire Texan rockers ZZ Top to write the Fandango! song Heard It On The X as their own celebration of those “Border Blaster” stations. The WASP (Texas Radio And The Big Beat) was initially developed on stage in the late 60s, Morrison reciting it as a poem with minimal accompaniment. Finalised in the studio, it became a highlight of the LA Woman album, the singer’s double-tracked vocals enhancing his bandmates’ swampy blues groove.

Sample lyric
Out here on the perimeter, there are no stars
Out here we is stoned, immaculate

4: The End (from ‘The Doors’, 1967)

Few songs are more central to The Doors’ myth than The End. Providing an unforgettable full stop to one of the best debut albums of all time, it also brought the group’s residency as house band at LA’s Whiskey A Go Go to an end, after Jim Morrison began to improvise the notorious Oedipus Rex passage (“Father?” “Yes, son?” “I want to kill you. Mother, I want to fuck you”) during one of their lengthy extemporisations of the song. Recalling the day Morrison first brought The End into rehearsals, John Densmore wrote, in Riders On The Storm, “These weren’t lyrics, they were an epitaph. He may be a poet, I thought, but he sure is hung up on death.” For Morrison, however, what began as “a simple goodbye song… probably just to a girl” or even to “a kind of childhood” could be read in a variety of ways. “Every time I hear that song, it means something else to me,” he told Rolling Stone. “I think it’s sufficiently complex and universal in its imagery that it could be almost anything you want it to be.”

Sample lyric
It hurts to set you free
But you’ll never follow me
The end of laughter and soft lies
The end of nights we tried to die
This is the end

3: Riders On The Storm (from ‘LA Woman’, 1971)

In the summer of 1969, Jim Morrison starred in and co-directed his first movie, the 50-minute short HWY: An American Pastoral. Speaking with Rolling Stone editor Ben Fong-Torres in the weeks after finishing work on LA Woman, Morrison revealed that HWY was “more of an exercise for me and a warm-up for something bigger”. He wouldn’t live long enough to fulfil his ambitions as a filmmaker, but traces of HWY’s narrative, which is centred around a murdering hitchhiker and was in part inspired by the real-life killing spree of 50s serial killer Billy Cook, can be felt in LA Woman’s closing song, Riders On The Storm. The lyrics are economical but striking, Morrison carefully arranging a series of tightly focused images in order to create a cinematic whole.

Sample lyric
There’s a killer on the road
His brain is squirming like a toad

2: Horse Latitudes (from ‘Strange Days’, 1967)

The truly unsettling Horse Latitudes dates back to one of Jim Morrison’s earliest high-school notebooks, which he later regretted throwing away even if he suspected that doing so allowed him to discover his own voice (“They were mainly accumulations of things that I’d read or heard, like quotes from books,” he acknowledged. “I think if I’d never gotten rid of them, I’d never have been free”). Morrison recalled the poem well enough to repurpose it into a song for The Doors’ second album, Strange Days, its striking imagery inspired by tales of 18th-century merchants getting stuck at sea and having to throw their horses overboard in order to conserve supplies and lighten the ship. “The song is about the moment the horse is in the air,” Morrison explained. “I imagine it must have been hard to get them over the side. When they got to the edge, they probably started chucking and kicking.”

Sample lyric
Legs furiously pumping
Their stiff green gallop
And heads bob up
Poise
Delicate
Pause
Consent
In mute nostril agony
Carefully refined
And sealed over

1: Break On Through (To The Other Side) (from ‘The Doors’, 1967)

Both The Doors’ debut single and the opening track to their self-titled debut album, Break On Through (To The Other Side) was many fans’ introduction to the darkly alluring nature of the best Jim Morrison lyrics, and it confidently tops this list of the singer’s finest work. Across the best Doors albums, Morrison allowed listeners to flirt with mortality, under cover of the singer’s own fascination with death, and with Break On Through he encouraged fans to face up to the inescapable finality of their existence and to contemplate what may or may not lie beyond. “People fear death even more than pain,” he observed. “It’s strange that they fear death. Life hurts a lot more than death. At the point of death, the pain is over.”

Sample lyric
You know the day destroys the night
Night divides the day
Tried to run
Tried to hide
Break on through to the other side

More Like This

Best Music Biographies: 10 Must-Read Rock’n’Roll Books
List & Guides

Best Music Biographies: 10 Must-Read Rock’n’Roll Books

Revealing and insightful, the best music biographies tell us everything we need to know about rock’n’roll’s most iconic artists.

Best Soul Singers: 30 Must-Hear Voices From Soul Music’s Golden Era
List & Guides

Best Soul Singers: 30 Must-Hear Voices From Soul Music’s Golden Era

From powerhouse personalities to gentle falsettos, the best soul singers can make you dance or weep, can touch your hearts or move your hips.

Sign up to our newsletter

Be the first to hear about new releases, upcoming events, and more from Dig!

Sign Up