For The Doors, 1970 should have been a new beginning. Upon the February 1 release of the band's fifth album, Morrison Hotel, Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, and John Densmore were still recovering from the events of the prior year. On March 1, 1969, Morrison famously (or infamously?) exposed himself onstage in Coconut Grove, Florida. The Lizard King's "indecent exposure" led to the cancellation of over two dozen concerts and some radio stations' refusal to play The Doors' music. But the July release of The Soft Parade yielded the hit single "Touch Me," proving that listeners weren't through with The Doors yet. Still, the strings and brass applied to its songs sharply divided critics and audience members alike. Even the band members were uncomfortable with the amount of time and money it took to create the polished record. Morrison, Manzarek, Densmore, and Krieger would go back to square one for Morrison Hotel. That album has been reissued by Rhino as a 2-CD/1-LP set, the latest volume of the label's Doors 50th anniversary release series.
The original stereo album, newly remastered by original engineer Bruce Botnick using the Plangent Process, is included on both CD and LP. The opening "Roadhouse Blues" reaffirmed The Doors' commitment to a back-to-basics approach with its swampy blues riff, rollicking tack piano, and bleating harmonica (the latter courtesy of a moonlighting John Sebastian, credited as G. Puglese). Lonnie Mack lent some blues verisimilitude with his bass part. As the lyric went, they were ready to "let it roll, baby, roll...all night long."
Morrison Hotel was crafted in a matter of weeks and named after a cheap hostel in downtown L.A. immortalized in Henry Diltz's cover photo. Part of the reason for the quick turnaround was that a handful of songs and recordings were drawn from the band's archives. The gentle, evocative "Indian Summer" was cut back in summer 1966, and "Queen of the Highway" had been recorded in a different arrangement for The Soft Parade. "You Make Me Real" was performed by the group in early '66 and left off their debut. But the album's sound crafted by producer Paul Rothchild, Botnick, and the band was wholly cohesive. In addition to Lonnie Mack (also heard on the throat-shredding story in song of "Maggie M'Gill"), Ray Neapolitan joined the sessions on bass.
The material was strong and diverse, whether the hypnotic "Waiting for the Sun" or the funky "Peace Frog." The latter melded an instrumental the group had played at gigs with a poem by Morrison drawing on a nightmarish if truthful vision of current events. "Peace Frog" segued directly into the mellow, sweetly romantic "Blue Sunday," another early tune rescued for inclusion on Morrison Hotel.
At least a couple of tracks on Morrison Hotel were reportedly inspired by Morrison's then-paramour Pamela Courson. Harvey Brooks handled bass on "Queen of the Highway" which immortalized their relationship ("He was a monster, black-dressed in leather/She was a princess, Queen of the highway") to a mood-shifting accompaniment. The slinky, late-night "The Spy" found Morrison brooding over languid guitar, jazz bass, and tinkling piano.
The charismatic frontman's growl was even more ferocious on "You Make Me Real," with its feverish garage-rock energy provided by Manzarek, Krieger, and Densmore. "Smog will get you pretty soon," Morrison presciently warned on the jazz-inflected "Ship of Fools": "The human race was dyin' out/No one left to scream and shout..." The invitation to "climb on board now" is still being heeded by far too many. The nautical theme continued on the comparatively jaunty sailor's tale, "Land Ho!"
Despite the controversies plaguing the band, Morrison Hotel proved that the public appetite hadn't sated for their music. The album reached No. 4 on the Billboard Top LPs chart, besting The Soft Parade by two slots. In the U.K., its No. 12 placement made it The Doors' most successful album there. What Morrison Hotel lacked was a popular radio single; "You Make Me Real" b/w "Roadhouse Blues" peaked at a disappointing No. 50 on the Hot 100. It hardly mattered in the long run, though. Morrison Hotel has since been certified a Platinum seller in the U.S., and its cover has become one of rock's most famous.
The second disc of Morrison Hotel's 50th anniversary edition is composed of multiple sessions totaling 19 previously unreleased tracks in all. Half of this fly-on-the-wall disc is devoted to the making of Morrison and Krieger's "Queen of the Highway" across three sessions from November 15, 1968; January 16, 1969; and a third, unknown date. These tracks - ranging from a false start of a little over a minute to a 7+-minute composite of multiple takes - find both band and singer experimenting with the song.
Morrison is the star of the first date from November '68. His vocals go from oddly cheerful to grandly mock-dramatic to completely unhinged; at one point, he adds a randy off-color interjection. Manzarek leans into his carnival-esque organ as Krieger noodles and Densmore anchors the proceedings with his steady beat. Harvey Brooks' bass gets some moments to shine, too. What's apparent, too, is that the band is having fun and not taking themselves too seriously; Morrison jokingly riffs on the lyric pronunciation and is in loose form.
The January takes showcase the band's instrumental prowess. Take 12 has Manzarek on acoustic piano laying down a persuasive groove; on Take 14, Robby Krieger has overdubbed a new guitar part over the original piano and bass. These performances give an inkling as to what could have been for the song. (The complete "jazz version" of the song was issued ten years ago on the 40th anniversary edition from Rhino.) The third, undated session introduces the familiar shape of the final recording with Krieger's most bracing guitar and some deft organ from Manzarek, too. Densmore's stomping drums lock in that heavy Doors sound. A rough, brief stab at Morrison's "I'll Never Be Untrue" is also captured from this session.
"Let's warm up with the 'Roadhouse Blues,'" Morrison suggests. Its sessions are equally illuminating. Morrison sings nonsense lyrics during Take 14, and jams on a rollicking "Money (That's What I Want)" and slow, loose "Rock Me Baby" during the second "Roadhouse" session. The set also treats us to Rothchild approaching Manzarek about playing tack piano on the track, and the keyboardist taking to it like a fish to water.
There's ample, often amusing studio chatter peppered throughout. "Good, Jim. That's the right one," confirms producer Rothchild. "That was pretty good..." the singer deadpans in response. This disc concludes with a couple of tracks from the "Peace Frog/Blue Sunday" sessions. Note that these outtakes have been newly mixed by Bruce Botnick and it appears there isn't overlap with the previously released alternates of the same songs included on the 40th anniversary CD. (This reissue series has eschewed previously released bonus material, so collectors and completists need to hold onto past releases.)
The LP-sized, hardcover package has a 16-page booklet with David Fricke's new essay, copious photography from the original shoots, images of the tape boxes, and technical notes and memories from Bruce Botnick. The engineer offers that "this record and CD are the first time that you will hear the original stereo album mixes for Morrison Hotel as they were intended." He then explains that weighty statement, going into detail about each stage of the process from transferring the source tapes to final mastering in which very little EQ was applied. For those equipped with an MQA decoder, the CD can be played back at 176/24 resolution. The remaster is of comparable quality to Botnick's past work in this series. Bernie Grundman has cut the lacquers for the quiet vinyl LP.
"Save that for the archives, Paul," Morrison offhandedly comments after one take on the second CD. Happily, Mr. Rothchild listened.