Some might argue that the Doors Morrison Hotel album was not their best as no hit singles came from it. But for me, I think it will always be my favourite as it spawned the likes of Peace Frog the first song I ever heard by them at 16 and so will always have a soft spot in my heart. My sister blasted it out of her record player at the time and the rest is history, I was hooked. The song lyrics had no particular relevance to me at the time but its political stance resonates now more than ever.
Even though no hits came from the album (having followed the failure critically of their previous album The Soft Parade) it was seen as a comeback for the band peaking at number 12 in the UK charts (no. 4 in the US) becoming the band’s highest charting UK album (studio). Prior to Morrison Hotel, some had said the Doors had got sloppy, lacking focusing, resting on their laurels after their previous commercial success. Morrison barely contributed to the Soft Parade due to his drunkenness, and it was released to mixed reviews and generally poorly received. Morrison Hotel, however, recorded during August 66 and November 69 (released February 70) was a more focused album, going back to basics with a gutsy blues sound, where Morrison wrote most songs on it, it secured them back in the critics' favour.
The cover photo was taken at the actual Morrison Hotel in LA and came about as a result of the desk clerk refusing their request to take photos inside as the owner wasn’t there to give permission. Whilst his back was turned the band cheekily jumped behind the windows and posed as the photographer Henry Diltz took the shots. The rear cover features the Hard Rock Café in LA whose name (unrelated at the time) was later used by the founders of the chain after seeing it on the Doors album (but fans will know that already) and on the original vinyl version of the album Side A is known as Hard Rock Café.
It’s a mixture of songs going back to basics opening with Morrison’s ballsy vocals exploding out the famous lyrics “A keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel” in his gravelly tones, Roadhouse Blues kicks off in style with a great piano and mouth organ. This has to be the most covered track in history (bar Stairway to Heaven) you can’t fail to smile as he growls “Ashen lady, give up your vows” it’s the perfect starter for the album. Then, almost as fast but ever so gently we are lulled into the mellow tones of Waiting for the Sun a song about the search for the unattainable American dream with its driving guitar and Manzarek’s Hammond organ and then as quickly as before we’re taken into the vaudeville You Make Me Real and gravelly Jim is back.
Peace Frog, as I said earlier, is responsible for my original introduction to and love of the Doors and Krieger’s catchy guitar riff belies its dark lyrics which were gleaned from a variety of sources including Morrison’s poetry through to the 1968 Chicago democratic convention “Ghosts crowd the young child’s fragile, eggshell mind”. This song is synonymous to me with growing up.
Blue Sunday is a soothing tender love song first penned in 65 but recorded for this album as they wanted to get back to their earlier sound. “She looked at me and told me I was the only one in the world” and is the Doors in their quieter, more reflective (and some may even say romantic) times I find this song relaxing and dreamy. On Ship of Fools Jim barks at the world heading towards oblivion whilst Manzarek’s magic keyboard playing dances through this ditty. Land Ho is a sailing sea-shanty with all the best Doors trademarks and a skiffle drum beat created by drummer John Densmore (skiffle originating in the 50s by playing washboards and anything to hand!).
In The Spy, this wouldn’t be out of place in a spy thriller with its vaudeville piano opening and unsettling lyrics “I know your deepest, secret fear. I know everything, everything you do,” The dreamy and effortless Queen of the Highway echoes Jim’s poetry (and was co-written with guitarist Robby Krieger) about Jim’s relationship with Pamela Courson who became his wife and was with him in Paris when he died in 71. Indian Summer (one of the first demos recorded by the Doors in 65 but not released until 70 as they deemed it below standard) is mystical, ethereal and very of its time and lulls you gently and hypnotically. Then finally we are at the last but certainly not the least track: the blues-rock of Maggie M’Gill, a track about a woman resorting to prostitution in the Old West, this is raw and gritty and Jim at his best.
This album has stood the test of time and for its 40th anniversary was re-released in remixed and remastered form (including vocal and instrumental parts not heard on the original album. This album ignited and paved the way for their last ever album with Morrison, the brilliant L. A. Woman.