Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Doors - 1970 "Morrison Hotel"

Morrison Hotel (sometimes referred to as Hard Rock Café from the title of the first side of the LP, with the second side titled Morrison Hotel) is the fifth studio album by American psychedelic rock band The Doors, recorded from between August 1966 and November 1969 and released by Elektra in February 1970.

The Doors returned to crunching, straightforward hard rock on Morrison Hotel, an album that, despite yielding no major hit singles, returned them to critical favor with hip listeners. An increasingly bluesy flavor began to color the songwriting and arrangements, especially on the party'n'booze anthem "Roadhouse Blues." Airy mysticism was still present on "Waiting for the Sun," "Queen of the Highway," and "Indian Summer"; "Ship of Fools" and "Land Ho!" struck effective balances between the hard rock arrangements and the narrative reach of the lyrics. "Peace Frog" was the most political and controversial track, documenting the domestic unrest of late-'60s America before unexpectedly segueing into the restful ballad "Blue Sunday." "The Spy," by contrast, was a slow blues that pointed to the direction that would fully blossom on L.A. Woman

Although the Doors fourth album "The Soft Parade" (1969) had sold well and produced the smash hit "Touch Me," both fans and critics alike felt as though the band sold out. Compared to "The Doors" and "Strange Days" (both 1967) the band's more recent work had been viewed as overtly commercial. In the eyes of the Doors faithful, both "Waiting for the Sun" (1968) and "The Soft Parade" seemed to pale in comparison to the Doors first two albums. "The Soft Parade" in particular, with its strings and pop compositions, seemed to rub Doors fans and critics the wrong way. The negative feedback, however, ultimately worked to the Doors advantage. In response to the negative buzz, the Doors released what would ultimately be hailed as one of their finest albums "Morrison Hotel" (1970).

"Morrison Hotel" is neither a return to the sound of the Doors early albums nor is it a follow-up to the styling of its immediate predecessor "The Soft Parade." Rather, "Morrison Hotel" opens a new chapter in the Doors history all together. Gone were the psychedelic trimmings of the first two albums. Gone was the commercialism of the last two. "Morrison Hotel" is distinctly stripped down, and edgier. It was akin to what Credence Clearwater Revival were doing at the time. All in all, "Morrison Hotel" is an album of unadulterated, meat-and-potatoes, no-nonsense, blues-tinged, rock n' roll.

Although "Morrison Hotel" embraces a new sound, all the elements of the Doors are firmly in place; Jim Morrison's soulful baritone, John Densmore's jazzy percussion, Robbie Krieger's bluesy guitar, all the while peppered with Ray Manzarek's wholly unique signature organ and piano. So while "Morrison Hotel" sees the Doors exploring new ground, they do so in a way that doesn't forget what made the Doors, the Doors.

Some of Morrison's best poetry is on "Morrison Hotel." While all his work is good, with "Morrison Hotel," he was just starting to blossom as a writer and was becoming more refined.

In some respects, "Morrison Hotel" is a precursor or sister album to its more renowned follow-up, "LA Woman" (1971). Both albums are cut from the same cloth in the sense that they are both blues-tinged hard-rock, but "Morrison Hotel," while hardly cheerful, is distinctly less dark, perhaps because the listener knows that Morrison's death is not imminent.

The straight-forward "Roadhouse Blues" was the most rocking song the Doors recorded since "Break on though (to the other Side) from the Doors debut. John Sebastian of the Lovin' Spoonful (though not credited by name) adds the perfect touch of harmonica to give the song a gritty edge. "Waiting for the Sun," which was originally penned for the album by that name, begins slowly and serene, with an underlining pressure slowly building up beneath the surface, as forceful keyboards pierce their way though from time to time. Then, as the chorus sets in, the song yields to Morrison, demanding to know "what went wrong." The upbeat "You Make Me Real," while not bad, lacks the grit of the rest of "Morrison Hotel," and is not one of the albums better songs. The highly underrated melodic "Peace Fog" gets the album back on track and features one of Krieger's best solos. The serene "Blue Sunday" is simply enchanting, and Morrison had never given a more soulful delivery (although by now his voice was not what it had been). Cut from the same cloth, the jazzy "Ship of Fools" and the bluesier "Land Ho!" acts effectively as a semi-medley. On the low-key, serene, "The Spy," one really believes that Morrison is omni-present, as he states he is. The easygoing "Queen of the Highway" follows nicely, keeping up the momentum. "Indian Summer" is simply one of the most beautiful Doors compositions ever. More than just another balled, Morrison never sounded so vulnerable or sincere. Though Morrison's voice is nearly shot for the closing "Maggie Mc'Gill," this bluesy rocker makes for a good finale.

Unfortunately for Morrison and the band as a whole, by the recording of "Morrison Hotel," Morrison's heavy drinking and drugs were beginning to take a toll on his voice. While his voice isn't a ghost of its former glory as it is in the follow-up "LA Woman," Morrison does sound strained.

Upon its release, "Morrison Hotel" was greeted with a warm reception among fans and critics alike, and the album was praised as the groups' best work since "Strange Days." While "Morrison Hotel" is held in high regard today, it is unfortunately sometimes overlooked due to the fact that fans and critics alike tend to cite the Doors first two albums, and Morrison's swan song, "LA Woman" as the bands best work. And while "Morrison Hotel" boasts such classics as "Roadhouse Blues" and "Waiting for the Sun," many other songs like "Indian Summer" and "The Spy" are overlooked and remain lost treasures.

The cover photo was taken at the actual Morrison Hotel located at 1246 South Hope Street in Los Angeles. The band asked the owners if they could photograph the hotel and they declined, so the band went inside when nobody was looking and took the photograph. The rear cover features a photograph of the Hard Rock Café on 300 East 5th Street, Los Angeles. The founders of the later and otherwise unrelated Hard Rock Cafe chain used the name, having seen it on the Doors' album. The original cafe is no longer open for business.

The next-to-last Doors album, recorded prior to Jim Morrison's still mystery-shrouded death in a Parisian bathtub, eschewed much of the band's previous penchant for baroque musical, poetic, and philosophical pretensions (this was, after all, the back-to-roots era of the Beatles' Let It Be, the Stones' Let It Bleed, and Dylan's Nashville Skyline). Instead, the Doors circa 1970 wisely seeped themselves in a bluesy, no-frills approach that might have hinted at creative exhaustion in a lesser band. Instead, the Doors of "Roadhouse Blues" and "Peace Frog" reinvented themselves into arguably one of the greatest bar bands ever, with Morrison's well-documented demons frolicking in a welcome new ambience. "Waiting for the Sun" and "Ship of Fools" may hearken back to the band's cabalistic and Kurt Weill leanings, respectively, but framed in an edgier, more effective way.

Tracks Listing

1. Roadhouse Blues (4:04)
2. Waiting For The Sun (4:00)
3. You Make Me Real (2:53)
4. Peace Frog (2:50)
5. Blue Sunday (2:12)
6. Ship Of Fools (3:08)
7. Land Ho! (4:10)
8. Spy (4:17)
9. Queen Of The Highway (2:47)
10. Indian Summer (2:35)
11. Maggie McGill (4:24)

Line-up / Musicians

- Jim Morrison / vocals
- Ray Manzarek / organ, keyboards, piano and vocals
- John Densmore / drums
- Robby Krieger / guitar
guests:
- Lonnie Mack / bass
- Ray Neapolitan / bass
- G. Puglese / harmonica, harp 

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