This week, we take a walk towards the psychedelic rock scene of the 1960s as we look at “Crystal Ship”. Originally recorded by The Doors for their 1967 debut album and is the B-side to their number one hit “Light My Fire”, “Crystal Ship” was originally written as a love song for Jim Morrison’s former girlfriend, Mary Werbelow.
Before you slip into unconsciousness
I’d like to have another kiss
Another flashing chance at bliss
Another kiss, another kiss
The days are bright and filled with pain
Enclose me in your gentle rain
The time you ran was too insane
We’ll meet again, we’ll meet again
So tell me where your freedom lies
The streets are fields that never die
Deliver me from reasons why
You’d rather cry, I’d rather fly
The crystal ship is being filled
A thousand girls, a thousand thrills
A million ways to spend your time
When we get back, I’ll drop a line
After listening to Duran Duran’s cover and the original, there aren’t a lot of differences between the two. Granted, Duran Duran’s version benefits from modern production, but the song really hasn’t been reimagined, as much as it’s just been given the Duran Duran treatment. It leaves me wondering what it was about this song that motivated the band to cover it.
There is a lot to love about this cover, though. A few noteworthy mentions include the beginning of the song, as I get the sense of spiraling into a dreamlike state. The vocals coat the song like velvet, managing to be ethereal without feeling wispy. I especially enjoyed the way the vocals seem to “float” above the melody about halfway through the song. The effect is both haunting and heavenly, and of course, what is a Duran Duran song without stacked harmonies and a bit of echo? The last few lines are given that familiar treatment, which leads the listener right back to the present.
Then, there’s the music. The one thing I’ll say about Duran Duran during this period – they knew exactly how to create a moment. The music is world-class on this song, even though they didn’t write it for themselves. They sure as heck arranged and produced it as though it were. Crystal Ship has plenty of moments that could have gone sideways with one member or more choosing to take the lead, instead, the song is recorded with proper restraint and balance. This is a cover where the little things matter – the warmth of the guitar after the line “another kiss, another kiss”, the featured keyboard following the line “we’ll meet again, we’ll meet again”, along with the bells towards the end of that keyboard segment. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the genius of the bass throughout the song and of course Steve Ferrone on drums. While I don’t think Duran Duran added a ton to the song imaginatively; musically, it is just about perfect. Above all else, this is a band that knows how to play together.
Unlike many songs on this album of covers, I genuinely like the song. In fact, I would say that I like both versions. First, it feels very natural for Simon to cover Jim Morrison. Both versions feel led by the vocals and lyrics that present a hauntingly beautiful, messed up sort of existence. The line might say something about “a thousand thrills” but both vocals make you feel like underneath it all, it maybe anything but a thrill. Both convey a feeling and a mood that feels authentic, real. I particularly appreciate the echo on the vocals in the Duran version that appears about two minutes in that truly does add to these haunting feelings.
Of course, the musicality helps create that authentic feeling of underlying sadness. In the original, it feels like there is a focus on the drums and keys. Duran’s version is not really that much different with the most notable exception of the guitars, especially the bass, that fills the song in a way that adds to the feeling, which I really love. Another element on Duran’s version is the subtle additions and effects. While I think they could have overwhelmed the song or changed the dynamic too much, taking away the simplistic beauty of that psychedelic time period, they didn’t. They worked to create a modern day feel that makes sense for the mid-1990s.
So, in thinking about this cover song in the way that I do all covers, did Duran’s version match the original? Detract from it? Add to it? Make it their own? While they added some nice touches, including making it fit in three decades later, they did not change the song dramatically. They definitely kept the spirit of the song. No, they didn’t completely reimagine it but I think that is good. The original one was a solid song and they kept what was good about it and only added little bits here and there to modernize it. It is a win.