Although its actual title has long been in dispute, Morrison Hotel turns out to be an aptly named album by The Doors. Lead vocalist Jim Morrison was involved in composing every song on the album and solely wrote more than half the tracks. Morrison’s lyrics portray a sense of maturity, while musically the group moved towards a more roots-focused rock sound, shedding any remnants of psychedlia from their first four albums. This change in sound was met with both critical and commercial success as this fifth album by the band reached the Top 5 on the US album charts and also became the band’s highest charting album in the UK.
Starting with the infamous incident in Miami, 1969 was a very tough year for The Doors as multiple promoters cancelled shows while Morrison stood trial for indecent exposure and public lewdness (he was later convicted and posthumously pardoned over four decades later). Musically, the group released The Soft Parade, an album greatly enhanced with brass and strings. That album was largely panned by critics (although has held up very well through time) and many were starting to predict the group’s demise. Still the group carried on with future plans, starting with the recording of two concerts and a live rehearsal at the Aquarius Theatre in Hollywood in July, 1969, the fruits of which would be used for several live releases through the decades.
Recording of new material for Morrison Hotel took place in November 1969 with producer Paul Rothchild, who produced all previous Doors’ albums. Guitarist Robbie Krieger co-wrote five of the tracks, while keyboardist Ray Manzarek migrated more towards using acoustic and electric pianos. The front cover photo was taken (without permission) at an actual establishment in Los Angeles called Morrison Hotel, while the back cover is a photograph of a bar called Hard Rock Café. While the album has always been commonly referred to as “Morrison Hotel” due to the front cover, the original LP labeled each side of the album separately, with side one as “Hard Rock Café” and side two as “Morrison Hotel”. This caused some to refer to the album with two titles, “Morrison Hotel/Hard Rock Café” or vice-versa.
Morrison Hotel by The Doors
|Released: February 9, 1970 (Elektra)
Produced by: Paul A. Rothchild
Recorded: Elektra Sound Recorders, Los Angeles, August 1966-November 1969
|Side One||Side Two|
Waiting For the Sun
You Make Me Real
Ship of Fools
Queen of the Highway
|Jim Morrison – Lead Vocals, Percussion
Robbie Krieger – Guitars
Ray Manzarek – Piano, Keyboards, Bass
John Densmore – Drums
Krieger’s fat, distorted guitar riff leads the drive of “Roadhouse Blues”, the pure rocker which opens the album. The nicely locked guitar and bass riff is accompanied by Manzarek’s barrelhouse piano and the ever-present harmonica of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian. Morrison leads the way with his party-ready lyrics in a manner like a manifestation of a night of drinking, moving through the various moods and mental musings. The song was one of the more methodically produced by Rothchild, who was striving for sonic perfection over several takes.
While the opening track sets the overall pace for the album, “Waiting for the Sun” is one of two tracks that peeks back to the earlier sound of the Doors. A leftover from the album of the same name, this track was recorded in early 1968 and features a sonically superior organ sound and an overall dark and moody vibe throughout. Still, the title and lyrics contain enough optimism that River of Rock named this as one of their Top 9 Songs of Springtime. “You Make Me Real” is driven by Manzarek’s piano roll and the frantic drumming of John Densmore. The song also showcases Morrison’s ability to rise above his normally laid-back crooner style towards the vocal frenzy of a Little Richard and Krieger adds a couple of excellent leads.
“Peace Frog” is one of the most indelible tracks from the album, pure funk throughout with inventive dual Morrison vocals simultaneously singing two lines. Krieger’s main riff is nicely distorted with percussive Wah-wah effect. The song’s mid-section includes a line from Morrison’s poem “Newborn Awakening” later released in full on his posthumous solo album An American Prayer. The song medleys with “Blue Sunday”, a pure ballad with light organ and simple guitar backing in a very short but pleasant track. The original first side concludes with “Ship of Fools”, starting with odd-timed rhythms in the intro with Densmore locked in perfectly with session bassist Ray Neapolitan. The track goes through several musical and vocal sections before returning to the main theme before the outro and is an overall lyrical comment on society at the end of the sixties.
“Land Ho!” is a wild, joyous, and buoyant rock tune about sailors and adventures. After the second verse, the song eases into a moderate bridge until Morrison screams the main hook and launches the partially frivolous but totally fun outro. “The Spy” goes to the jazz nightclub scene and is different than anything else The Doors have ever recorded. Morrison’s vocals are reserved but potent, as are the lyrics which border on the fine line between true love and total manipulation.
One of the more underrated songs in The Doors’ catalog, “Queen of the Highway” features Manzarek’s incredible electric piano and the song structure goes through many sonically superior rudiments that lets it build throughout and gives the feeling that there is so much more packed into this less-than-three-minute track, all guided by Densmore’s powerful drumming. “Indian Summer” is a weak throwback to the Doors’ first recordings in 1966, and does little more than add some pure mood to the album. Like it begins, Morrison Hotel ends with a blues-tinged rocker. Krieger leads the way musically on “Maggie McGill” with his double-tracked, twangy guitar riffs throughout while Morrison waxes poetic and reflective in a form that previews the Doors’ next (and final) studio album, L.A. Woman.
Beyond Morrison Hotel, the year 1970 also saw The Doors releasing their first live album, Absolutely Live, as well as the first of many compilations, named 13. While it was clear that their career was on the back end, the band members still had a bit more work to do.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1970 albums.