will young fire It’s hardly unusual for a reality TV star to try and cement their precarious fame with a cover version. Will Young’s puckish take on “Light My Fire”, a cover of Jose Feliciano’s cover of Jim Morrison’s signature come-on, is particularly well-taken. His verse delivery is enjoyably arch, keeping a distance between himself and the hoary material, but he gives enough of an impression of losing himself in the chorus for it not to be a total mickey-take. The overall impression is of an unusually honest take on contractual obligation – “I know this is how the game is played, and I’m going to play it, but I’m not going to con you, so let’s make this as fun as we can.”

Which, if you’re a gay Marxist politics graduate who’s just won the love of the nation on a TV game show, is probably about as truthful and sensible a take on this rock monolith as could be hoped for. “Light My Fire” is ridiculous, like many Doors songs, but unlike many, it’s not just ridiculous: it’s also resilient. For the surviving Doors, this, more than anything else they wrote, is their pension. Within months of release, there were covers, then dozens of covers, latin and pop and soul and reggae covers, and they kept coming, though Will Young’s version sits wryly near the end of the line.

Listening to these covers is an education in how flexible the song is. On Inner Circle’s version, the digital reggae beat steps up the urgency, leaving the singer gasping and blue-balled. Shirley Bassey sings it as a challenge – light my fire… if you can. Al Green is Al Green, wandering smokily between the lines of the song, turning it into the ad libs. Minnie Riperton’s version is a breathy tease. Julie London sounds wistful and half-asleep. Erma Franklin, her version recontextualised on an album called Obama Victory Music, makes it a bracing call to arms. For Jackie Wilson it’s a soul man’s plea. Massive Attack, to the frustration of countless listeners, rub its mud over the face of their Protection LP with a live fragment where Horace Andy can barely remember the words.

What’s interesting to me is how little any of these covers owe to the original, beyond the solid-gold tune. They’ve all seen the huge potential in Morrison’s song without actually wanting to follow him down the interpretive path he’s laid out. Perhaps that isn’t surprising: Morrison plays the song cataclysmically straight, turning seduction into an primordial battle of man, desire, the elements – his growled command to “set the night on fire!” casts sex, or rather, Jim getting his rocks off, as a cosmic imperative.

If you’re a very handsome rock star you can make this Dionysian stuff work, at least to the point where you unleash the actual snake onstage. But it’s also a narcissistic dead end, with no real sense Morrison’s singing this stuff to anyone. (The funniest part in the album version is when he tetchily comes back in with “the time to hesitate is through” after his band has just held up proceedings with an enormous organ solo). With time and distance, the Lizard King’s whole persona doesn’t feel like a groundbreaking rock development, but a final spasm of the mid-century artistic cult of the Great American Man, the bloated inheritor of Hemingway, Brando, Kerouac.

In other words, the cover versions are a response not just to the greatness of the song, but to its cornier aspects, the ways its fervent masculinity was already out of date. This started with Jose Feliciano himself, whose seductive Latin routine is (frankly) just as corny but also much more gentle and playful, more convivial than the original. Once Feliciano had opened the song out, everyone could take it and find more and more in it, and the Doors’ version was left standing, an impotent classic.

This is the risk you take when you invoke Oedipus – before you know it you’re a father yourself, and since his death Jim Morrison has played the role well, becoming the secret Dad of Dadrock, the lightning rod for a generation’s rebellious scorn about rock’s pomp, its pretension, its cock-out masculinity. I was no exception – my teenage derision for The Doors was a St Christopher’s medal as I explored the canon’s byways and thoroughfares. Like a lot of teenagers and their Dads, I’ve come to a position of wary respect and accommodation: that organ solo is pretty rocking; “Peace Frog” is weird and great; loads of acts I do like are madly in debt to Jim, and so on.

But it’s still no surprise I enjoy Will Young’s joyfully absurd version a hell of a lot more than I enjoy The Door’s gloweringly absurd one. The arrangement – borrowed from Feliciano, canned and smoothed out – is feeble, but Young’s performance is a lot of fun. It’s the sound of someone exploring what his voice and persona can do, and what his public will enjoy, with delightfully exaggerated “mi-yahs” and “pi-yahs” deftly undercutting the lyric’s monumental tendencies. “Light My Fire” is no classic, but as a showcase for its singer and a pointer to his future, it’s more confident and sparky than anyone might have expected.

Score: 6

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