In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
The Doors saw themselves as apocalyptic doomtellers, as the band that blew rock music wide open and turned it into a gothic Dionysian head-trip. And in a lot of ways, that’s what they were. But that way-out sensibility wasn’t what made them stars. The Doors were famous for a lot of reasons, but in pop-charts terms, their greatest success came with two pop songs where Jim Morrison wails about how horny he is. As you could probably imagine, this drove Morrison nuts.
A year after “Light My Fire” launched the Doors, they came out with their third album, Waiting For The Sun, a piece of nerve-frazzled gobbledygook so indulgent that it’s practically unlistenable today. The Doors, or their handlers, must’ve known that the album would’ve been a tough pill to swallow. So the album’s opener was the panting pickup banger “Hello, I Love You,” the one song on the album that was even remotely accessible.
“Hello, I Love You” was older than the Doors. Jim Morrison wrote the song in 1965. Morrison had seen a girl walking down Venice Beach, and he was smitten. (She was black, which is why he calls her a “dusky jewel” in the song. Pretty gross!) Morrison was too shy to talk to the girl. Instead, he went home and wrote a poem about how sidewalk crouches at her feet. That poem became a song, and Rick And The Ravens, the pre-Doors band that included every member of the band other than guitarist Robby Krieger, recorded a shambling, harmonica-honking demo of the song back then.
When the Doors brought the song back three years later, they turned it into a wild, fuzzed-out post-garage stomper. Krieger came up with a riff that sounded a whole lot like the one from the Kinks’ “All Day And All Of The Night” (which peaked at #7 in 1964 and which would’ve been a 9). The two riffs were so similar, in fact, that Ray Davies claims that the Kinks’ and the Doors’ publishers came to an out-of-court agreement that gave the Kinks royalties for the Doors’ UK single. For their part, the Doors claimed that they weren’t trying to take the Kinks’ riff and they they were instead hoping to replicate the feel of a different British rock song, Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love” (which peaked at #5 in 1967 and which would’ve been an 8).
There’s a bit of both the Kinks and Cream in “Hello, I Love You.” The riff is crisp and propulsive and catchy, but Krieger muddies it up with so much fuzz that it becomes this weird lurching monster. In the middle of the song, everything stops, Krieger’s guitar makes a cartoonish anvil-falling noise, and then the band surges back in in a completely different key before the song dissolves into straight-up chaos. (The Doors realized the benefit of stereo before most of their peers, making sure the 45 was pressed up in stereo and making all those effects phase from one speaker channel to the other.) So they had it both ways: a catchy and sexy pop song that still found ways to sound freaked-out and unhinged.
Morrison is, of course, what makes the song work. On paper, his lyrics are sophomoric and ridiculous, the work of a guy trying to make his boner sound profound. And yet he delivers them with so much pent-up intensity, growling and drawling and yelping, that he sells them. He’s peacocking, doing whatever he can to be noticed, but he also sounds like he can only barely contain his own sense of need. That urgency, more than the band’s psych-rock trickery, is what elevates the song.
The Doors would only land one more big hit: “Touch Me,” another horny pop song, which came out later in 1968, sounded a lot like Tom Jones, and peaked at #3. (It would’ve been a 5.) After that, they’d never get another single into the top 10. And three years later, Morrison died of heart failure in Paris.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s the Cure’s 1990 cover of “Hello, I Love You”:
(The Cure’s highest-charting single was “Lovesong,” which peaked at #2 in 1989 and which would’ve been a 9.)
BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s Anal Cunt’s seething, spitting, generally disgusting grindcore cover of “Hello, I Love You,” a hidden track on the 1998 album Morbid Florist:
(You’re not going to believe this, but Anal Cunt never once charted.)
THE NUMBER TWOS: Mason Williams’ endearingly weird instrumental novelty “Classical Gas” peaked at #2 behind “Hello, I Love You.” It would’ve been, I don’t know, a 7? Don’t ask me to rate “Classical Gas.” Here it is: