In the fall of 1967, The Doors released the first single from sophomore album Strange Days, a track which would once more take them into the Top 20 and later gain additional fame from a cover version recorded with the assistance of keyboardist Ray Manzarek.
Although credited to all four members of The Doors – Jim Morrison, John Densmore, Robby Krieger, and the aforementioned Mr. Manzarek – in the name of songwriting democracy within the band, “People Are Strange” was actually penned by Morrison and Krieger. The tune’s origins can be traced to a visit by Morrison to the apartment shared by Densmore and Krieger.
“He was in one of his suicidal, downer moods,” Krieger revealed in an interview with Guitar World. “So John said, ‘Come on, Jim, we’ll go see the sunset. That’ll get you out of this.’ We went up to the top of Laurel Canyon and it was incredibly beautiful—we were looking down on the sun reflecting off the top of the clouds. Jim had a total mood flip-flop, and said, ‘Wow! Now I know why I felt like that. It’s because if you’re strange, people are strange.’ And he wrote the lyrics right there. Then I came up with the music and we went back down the hill.”
In his memoir Riders on the Storm: My Life with Jim Morrison and The Doors, Densmore detailed Morrison’s remarks upon returning to the apartment.
“[He said], ‘Yeah, I feel really good about this one. It just came to me all of a sudden...in a flash – as I was sitting up there on the ridge looking out over the city,’” recalled Densmore. “His eyes were wild with excitement. 'I scribbled it down as fast as I could. It felt great to be writing again.' He looked down at the crumpled paper in his hand and sang the chorus in his haunting blues voice.”
Upon hearing the vocal melody, Krieger was convinced that the song was a hit, and he was not wrong: “People Are Strange” climbed to No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 after its release in September 1967.
But the song’s story doesn’t end there: in 1987, a bunch of Liverpudlians calling themselves Echo & The Bunnymen recorded a cover of “People Are Strange” for the soundtrack of Joel Schumacher’s teen vampire classic The Lost Boys.
Its producer? Ray Manzarek.
When the Bunnymen’s version of “People Are Strange” was released as a single in 1988, it climbed to No. 29 on the U.K. Singles chart and No. 21 on the Irish Singles chart, but here’s the bigger surprise: when it was reissued in 1991, it ascended the charts again, this time hitting No. 34 in the U.K. and No. 13 in Ireland!
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