“Who’s Behind The Door?”: Zebra’s 1983 hit wondered what’s on the other side of death

By on February 20, 2019

We thought we’d take another look at Night Flight’s “Take Off to Futurism” — which first aired on November 25, 1988, and you can now find streaming over on Night Flight Plus — and that’s where we found power trio Zebra’s video for their 1983 hit “Who’s Behind the Door.”

The video echoes some of the imagery from the ending of Steven Spielberg‘s 1977 UFO/sci-fi classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind, as well as depictions of the futuristic world we find ourselves today, with everyone staring blankly into desktop computer monitors.

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Lead singer and chief songwriter Randy Jackson has said he wrote “Who’s Behind the Door” in 1977 — six years prior to Zebra recording it for their debut album — on his grandparents’ farm in Point, Texas.

He used what he thought was the same open G-tuning that Led Zeppelin‘s Jimmy Page had used when writing “The Rain Song” (he was wrong about that, though).

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Despite often not wanting to talk about the actual meaning of the song’s lyrics, Jackson has said they were inspired by Alvin Toffler’s novel Future Shock and Stanley Kubrick‘s classic sci-fi film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Jackson uses the mysterious question posed in the title — “who’s behind the door?” — as a way of wondering what’s on the other side of death.

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Jackson once said this: “Some people think it’s a song about God. And maybe it is. If you look at the lyrics, it vacillates between philosophy and a love song. The whole point of it is…get rid of the ego.”

We can also infer from the video that Jackson might have been wondering whether mankind itself owed its own existence to extraterrestrial visitors, even if they lacked answers to questions we have about what it all means.

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Zebra were formed in February of 1975 in New Orleans, Louisiana, by lead vocalist/lead guitarist Randy Jackson, bassist Felix Hanemann (he also plays Korg synthesizer) and California-born drummer Guy Gelso.

Jackson and Hanemann were both New Orleans natives, and Gelso came to New Orleans for the 1972 Mardi Gras and never left.

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They were trying to come up with a band name while sitting around an uptown New Orleans bar called the Boot when it came to them after a few pitchers of beer.

There on the wall was a photographic reproduction of a 1922 Vogue magazine cover, showing a lady riding atop a zebra, and they decided that Zebra was a good name for a band.

Alphabetically, of course, it meant that their albums would be shelved in the bins near their favorite band, Led Zeppelin.

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Zebra were initially a covers band at first — they played tunes by Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, the Moody Blues, ZZ Top, Montrose, and others — but of these their most obvious audible influence were the might Zepp, and Jackson’s falsetto vocals were clearly influenced by Robert Plant’s howl.

In fact, they covered Zeppelin’s “What Is and What Should Never Be,” which Page had written for Led Zeppelin II, released in 1969.

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Zebra played a ton of gigs up and down the East Coast, and after their memorable first show in Long Island, NY — on New Year’s Eve at a South Shore club called The 1890s, located in the town of Baldwin — they ended up moving to Long Island.

For the next several years, split their time between New Orleans and New York, shopping their demo tapes to all the major record labels for several years.

In 1982, having been a band for seven years by that point, Zebra were finally signed by A&R man Jason Flom to a five-album deal with Atlantic Records.

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They were put into the studio with the great rock record producer, Jack Douglas, well-known for his work with Cheap Trick, Aerosmith and John Lennon, among many others.

Atlantic issued the band’s self-titled debut album on March 25, 1983, and also put them on the road for the next eight months supporting Loverboy, Cheap Trick and Journey.

Read more about Zebra below.

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The Zebra album — propelled up the charts by a handful of FM radio-friendly hits like “Who’s Behind the Door,” “Take Your Fingers From My Hair,” “The La La Song,” and their signature tune, “Tell Me What You Want” — went on to become the fastest-selling debut album in Atlantic’s history.

After selling 75,000 copies in just the first week, Zebra remained on the Billboard album charts for eight months, peaking at #29.

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Unfortunately, Zebra were never able to scale the same heights again.

Their sophomore album, the Jack Douglas-produced No Tellin’ Lies, was released in 1984, but it failed to connect with fans the way their first album had.

They toured constantly, opening for Loverboy, Foghat, Journey, KISS, ZZ Top, Aerosmith, Molly Hatchet, Sammy Hagar, and Bryan Adams.

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Their third and final album for Atlantic, 3.V, was shelved for a full two years before it was released in 1986.

By then, Zebra’s heavy rock ’70s sound sounded pretty dated, especially when compared with other popular genres of the day — hair metal, new wave, etc. — although they soldiered on for the rest of their career.

To this day, Zebra — still based in the Long Island area — continue playing to a loyal fanbase, and Jackson and Hanemann have also played together over the years in a Led Zeppelin tribute band.

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Watch Night Flight’s “Take Off to Futurism” — which also features videos by A Flock of Seagulls, Rush, Styx, Devo, Tangerine Dream‘s Peter Baumann, Re-Flex, Rick Springfield and the Earons — and other “Take Off” episodes on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.
  • Julie Hall

    ZEBRA rocks!!

  • William Marcopoulos

    Zebra is IMHO The most underrated underappreciated American Band of all time yet they have the highest quality of work with not a single track that you would skip over

  • meredithheflin

    Listening to Zebra at work. They rock!