After unsuccessfully experimenting with their sound on The Soft Parade, The Doors stripped down to the basics. The music was tighter and had more focus, as did Morrison’s lyrics, many of which dealt with his relationship with girlfriend Pamela Courson. The album has not only been remastered, but remixed as well, noticeably affecting some of the tracks.
Morrison Hotel starts with “Roadhouse Blues,” a stellar blues rocker, and one of the most exhilarating songs to open an album. The harmonica at the beginning, played by an uncredited John Sebastian from The Lovin’ Spoonful, is much more in the forefront. Lonnie Mack plays bass. While singing to the “Ashen lady,” there’s a delayed quiet echo on Morrison’s voice. You can hear the ethos he lived by as he screams, “The future’s uncertain and the end is always near.” Truer words were never spoken.
“Waiting For The Sun” is the title track from a previous album. Manzarek’s shimmering organ and Krieger’s lilting guitar work bring to mind “Moonlight Drive.” Although worked on during a prior recording session, the line “this is the strangest life I’ve/ ever known” was surely apropos after Morrison’s legal dealings in Miami.
Every eight beats a new instrument joins in on “Peace Frog.” Robbie’s starts, his guitar has a jangly sound, bringing a hint of funk. Densmore plays the cymbals and kicks the bass drum. A groovy bass line comes in. Ray’s organ follows. Morrison joins in, juxtaposing the up-tempo beat singing about “blood in the streets.” His lyrics are taken from an unfinished poem titled “Abortion Stories,” but they also deal with unrest in the country. The “Blood on the streets of the/ town of Chicago” references the riots at the ‘68 Democratic Convention and “Blood on the streets in the town/ of New Haven” his onstage arrest in Connecticut.
Some of Morrison’s mythology is on display during an interlude. He sings about a car accident he saw when he was a kid in which he believes an Indian’s soul passed into him. “Indians scattered on dawn’s/highway bleeding/Ghosts crows the young child’s/ fragile, eggshell mind.” Whether it’s true or not, there’s no denying the vividness of the imagery. Oliver Stone opened The Doors with a recreation of this scene.
Morrison and Courson had a passionate, volatile relationship. We hear different facets through Morrison’s lyrics. “You Make Me Real” is a joyful love song augmented by Manzarek’s barrelhouse piano. The narrator wants and needs his lover because he’s “not real enough without” her. Densmore takes command of the music with his driving percussion. Fans will be thrown by Morrison’s whistling at the opening and it sounds like there is extra echo on his voice.
As “The Spy,” whose main lyric is taken from an Anais Nin novel, he reveals the intimacy partners have. He knows “the dreams that you’re/ dreamin’ of/…the words that you long to hear/ your deepest secret fear.” In “Queen of the Highway” Morrison obviously makes an appearance as “a monster, black dressed in leather.” Everything sounds good for them as “They are wedded/…Soon to have offspring,” but the song closes with the last line, “hope it can continue a little while longer.” Why only a little while rather than forever? Could this domesticity not be to his liking?
“Maggie M’Gill” arose from an aborted concert where Densmore and Krieger walked off the stage due to one of Morrison’s many drunken stupors. Manzarek had tried to continue the show by picking up Krieger’s guitar, playing a blues lick for Morrison who sang about “Miss Maggie M’Gill, she lives on a hill,” but they couldn’t keep it going. During these sessions, Densmore remembered it and they worked on it. Lonnie Mack bookends the album by playing bass on this track.
There’s more bonus material than original, but you better be a fan of “Roadhouse Blues” since over 30 minutes is working on that track over a couple of days. A cover of Chuck Berry’s “Carol” starts already in progress. “Peace Frog (False Starts & Dialogue)” finds Morrison castigating the band, which is funny considering how many problems he presented during recording sessions. Densmore’s shuffling drums, Kreiger’s high-pitched guitar twang, and Mazarek’s tinkling piano give “The Spy (Version 2)” an easygoing country vibe. “Queen Of The Highway (Jazz Version)” certainly is that. I can’t hear Krieger’s guitar, but the bass is very prominent alongside Densmore’s brushwork. It’s what Morrison might have been doing if he had to play lounges in his later days.
Morrison Hotel saw the band return to form. Diehard fans will want to get this version for the extras, although some might not care for the remixing choices. “Roadhouse Blues” sounds too pristine and is better with the raggedness it had in previous releases. For no apparent reason “Ship of Fools” begins with someone announcing “16,” most likely the number of the take. “The Spy” begins with Jim in the middle of saying something and an unintelligible response. It adds nothing, coming across like the engineer screwed up the edit. However, don’t let that deter you if Morrison Hotel is not in your collection.