Hot Spot of Collaboration: The Doors, “The Crystal Ship” (1967)

In appreciation of Ray Manzarek 1939-2013


On their first three albums, The Doors credited all their songs to The Doors. Intense collaboration was the ideal. Today we know a lot about who was responsible for what: Morrison for most of the words, Robby Krieger for most of “Light My Fire” (except Ray Manzarek for the Baroque intro head), etc. The beautiful “Crystal Ship” on the first album  is Manzarek’s music with Morrison’s lyrics.

Manzarek’s great idea for this tune, the key to its dark glamor, is to use both the major seventh and minor seventh forms of the IV chord, B-flat in the key of F, at the same time. It’s the third chord of the verse progression, after an F (“sink into un- ”) and a C (“consciousness – I’d”). The keyboard plays the major seventh note A, to unexpected and classy effect, while the melody hits the minor seventh A-flat (“like to have a-”).

This Morrison-Manzarek collaboration reaches a great momentary peak in the last pass through the verse, starting out on higher notes (“The crys – tal ship”). The hidden potential of the second chord in that progression, the C, to be treated in the same overdetermined way, with a major and minor seventh note, is realized by Morrison on “be – ing filled,” specifically on “-ing.” This happens at 2:02. Somehow Morrison manages to hit both of those notes at once, gliding downward. Manzarek could not have achieved this in his keyboard part (try it yourself, or listen to his solo performances on youtube): neither a B nor a B-flat nor a B and B-flat jammed together will do it. But Morrison’s unique note on the V chord this time is exactly right as a passionate extra outbreak of the double-determination that has been haunting the whole song due to the major-and-minor-seventh treatment of the IV chord.

If I’m Ray Manzarek listening to this note, this brilliant meeting of the singer’s art with the composer’s, I feel like it’s the moment where Stanley is actually gripping the hand of Livingstone.

Crystal ShipPlatform Holly, thought to be the original Crystal Ship


About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
This entry was posted in Chord Arguments, Rock, Rock Aesthetics and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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