As with a majority of the material on Strange Days (1967), “People Are Strange” had been a part of the Doors repertoire circa their self-titled debut LP. Lyrically, Jim Morrison dismisses the standard pseudo psychedelia of the vast majority of concurrent pop music. In its stead, he creates an observational excursion into the human psyche set to an almost surrealistic vaudevillian melody. The Doors unique instrumental approach is one of the keys to their unequalled musical individuality -- likewise reflecting the nature of the band itself.
The cut originally commenced the second side of the LP and opens with Robbie Krieger’s lonesome and ominous three note prelude to Morrison’s verse. During the chorus, the pair are joined simultaneously by John Densmore’s restrained and even tempo drumming as well as Ray Manzarek’s highly stylised tack piano. This is punctuated by the abrupt stop-start rhythm preceding the line “when you’re strange”. After a repeat of the sole verse, the first instrumental break features a spirited, yet reserved, solo from Krieger. Following the second coda of the chorus, Manzarek’s lead is a bit more reflective of his adaptable personality as a keyboardist and his ability to effortlessly incorporate from trippy and languid psychedelia to a more grounded sound. A relevant case in point is the audible non sequitur of the ragtime/barroom tack piano that gives this track such an unusual balance.
“People Are Strange” was the a-side ( b/w “Unhappy Girl”) of the first single to be issued from Strange Days and it was the second Doors 45 to chart in the Top 20 -- peaking at #12 during the last week of October, 1967.
One of the most notable cover versions of the song was by pop-goth band Echo & The Bunnymen for inclusion in the 1987 teen flick the Lost Boys. On the other side of the spectrum, the ‘90s incarnation of the animated Chipmunks also included it on their A-Files: Alien Songs (1998) kiddie rock disc.