Morrison Hotel is The Doors’ fifth album, released in February 1970. At the time, the group were struggling with Jim Morrison’s legal problems, after he allegedly took off his clothes on stage in Miami at a concert. However, Morrison Hotel was a way for the band to get back down to basics, to a simpler, cleaner ‘bluesy’ sound, which it later continued with the L.A. Woman album.
The style of The Doors’ fifth album is opposite in style to ‘The Soft Parade’ (1969), which was much more experimental, and much less successful. They tried a more raw and ‘back to basics’ approach with this album, and the return to their ‘norm’ – psychedelic and blues rock – certainly helped the album be much better received.
Lyrical Inspiration in Morrison Hotel
Jim Morrison wrote most of the songs on this album, and was inspired by his own poetry and experiences, such as in ‘Peace Frog’ and ‘The Spy’. In ‘Peace Frog’, he references an event which he experienced as a child, when he witnessed an accident that left some Native Americans bleeding and injured on the highway.
“Indians scattered on dawn’s highway bleeding
Ghosts crowd the young child’s
Fragile eggshell mind”
The lyrics come from a poem which Jim Morrison wrote, called ‘Dawn’s Highway’, which explains the same event. He was also inspired by his tumultuous relationship with Pamela Courson, and it is thought that the songs ‘The Spy’ and ‘Queen of the Highway’ were about her.
“Dancing through the midnight whirl-pool, formless
Hope it can continue a little while longer.”
The end to ‘Queen of the Highway’ shows most obviously the link between Morrison and Courson, as he wishes for their intense but problematic relationship to last a little longer. The song also has psychedelic overtones, with “dancing through the midnight whirl-pool, formless” echoing a desire for freedom and the removal from physical presence. Unfortunately, the song uncannily reminds us of the fact that it couldn’t last much longer for Morrison, as he died a year later.
In ‘No-one gets out of here alive’, the 1980 Doors biography, we learn more of this ambivalent relationship with Pamela Courson. During the recording sessions for Morrison Hotel, the couple had an aggressive confrontation after she drank his bottle of liquor so that he could not, in an attempt to curb his alcoholism. Engineer Bruce Botnick explains that they were both
“completely out of their minds and crying. He started shaking her violently…She was crying out of control, telling him he shouldn’t drink anymore and that’s why she drank it…He looked up, stopped shaking her…hugged her and they walked out arm in arm…”
Reactions to Morrison Hotel
The album received mixed reviews, Lester Bangs from ‘The Rolling Stone’ commenting that after ‘Roadhouse Blues’, “the road runs mainly downhill.” He criticised the group for sounding the same as their other albums, and seemed disappointed at how the album turned out:
“This could have been a fine album; but the unavoidable truth — and this seems to be an insurmountable problem for the Doors — is that so much of it is out of the same extremely worn cloth as the songs on all their other albums. It’s impossible to judge it outside the context of the rest of their work. Robbie Kreiger’s slithery guitar, and Manzarek’s carnival-calliope organ work and whorehouse piano are the perfect complement to Morrison’s rococo visions. But we’ve all been there before, not a few times, and their well of resources has proven a standing lake which is slowly drying up.”
However, there was a lot of positive feedback, many people praising The Doors’ return to something that they were good at – blues and psychedelic rock. In 1987, David Prakel in ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll on Compact Disc’ commented that
“Putting aside their arty-politico pretension as leaders of the youth generation The Doors surprised fans and critics by turning aside from the lightweight pop of Soft Parade – this album hit with a beam of pure R&B. The Compact Disc is clean and lively with a fair dynamic freedom, relaying the songs with an appropriate directness. Rim shots crack out through Ray Manzarek’s organ chords while Morrison’s vocals come across with a new freshness.”
In ‘The All-Music Guide to Rock’, 1995, William Ruhlmann praised this album for containing “some of Morrison’s most visionary songs,” referring to the socio-political commentary that most of the songs in this album seem to make. For example, to me, ‘Waiting For The Sun’ is a criticism of the consumerist culture, and of false aspirations that allude to perfection and freedom, but in fact never come within reach.
“At first flash of Eden
We race down to the sea
Standing there on freedom’s shore”
The song itself gives the title to The Doors’ third studio album, but the song wasn’t finished until Morrison Hotel, which is why it is present here.
|Hard Rock Café – A side|
|2.||“Waiting for the Sun”||Morrison||3:58|
|3.||“You Make Me Real”||Morrison||2:53|
|4.||“Peace Frog”||Morrison, Krieger||2:51|
|6.||“Ship of Fools”||Morrison, Krieger||3:08|
|Morrison Hotel – B Side|
|7.||“Land Ho!”||Morrison, Krieger||4:10|
|9.||“Queen of the Highway”||Morrison, Krieger||2:47|
|10.||“Indian Summer”||Morrison, Krieger||2:36|