Pros: there are some good Doors classics here.
Cons: bonus tracks make me hate Roadhouse Blues.
I’ve had a lot of fun revisiting the music of The Doors, and getting a lesson with what the band were about from album to album. Their first three albums are great albums, warts and all. And then came The Soft Parade, a period in their career when the songs dried up and they had to manufacture new tunes in the studio. This is not the right environment for this band to create, especially with producer Paul Rothchild totally changing their sound by adding orchestras, brass sections and odd arrangements to their music. Well, The Soft Parade must have been panned by critics because here on Morrison Hotel they try hard to get back to the rock band that they once were. The Doors weren’t necessarily a blues band before, yet taking this new direction, you had critics back then and even now calling Morrison Hotel a return to the sound that was Doors before Soft Parade. I tend to look at this album as a progression that may or may not have happened after their Waiting For the Sun album, and if Soft Parade hadn’t been released. Now I don’t want to give you the impression that The Soft Parade was all crap, even on an album like this The Doors eke out some greatness; you have the title track, Touch Me and Wild Child. Those are real classics, and even here on Morrison Hotel, an album that pales in comparison with their first three albums has some shiny moments as well.
For instance, the first five songs are really good. The album opens with the classic Roadhouse Blues. The riff is of the generic bar band blues variety, real simple, yet with Jim Morrison’s words guided by Paul Rothchild’s direction, the song is very enjoyable. Guest star John Sebastian adds some real smooth harmonica to the song complimenting the riffs and the flow of the track. I especially like that it doesn’t go on forever as you’d expect a song like this to be. Even in a traditional blues song like this, Morrison manages to get poetic if not prophetic about himself - ♫Woke up this mornin’ I got myself a beer / the future’s uncertain and the end is always near♫. Waiting for the Sun, a left over from their 1969 album is a fine addition here. While there are not many different lyrics in this song, and the few poetic verses are visually inspiring. As this is an older song, it does reprise a feel of the old band for a brief four minutes.
You Make Me Feel takes off where Roadhouse Blues left off, as it waits for a future classic like L.A. Woman to come around. Another bluesy number with a prominent piano from Ray Manzarek, making me think of Little Richard. Peace Frog is a bloody song lyrically, and it has a great guitar break from Robbie Krieger, not to mention a killer riff from Krieger. The ballad Blue Sunday segues seamlessly from the upbeat Peace Frog. This is a fantastic deep cut from The Doors, not many know about this wonderful ballad, it has some great lyrics and the atmosphere feels weightless and cosmic, even with the terribly off key notes at the very end. Ship of Fools starts off okay, but the chorus ruins it for me, I feel like the band have learned the art of throwaway songs and managed to make them halfway decent. It feels like as far as the lyrics go there is minimal effort put into them. Morrison should already be known as the Jimmy Two-Times (Goodfellas reference) of rock and roll, as he has to repeat everything as soon as he’s done singing it, but how many times can you repeat Ship of Fools? The same goes for Land Ho, not so much for the lyrics here, but the melody now. He might as well read the poems aloud; he may get a better accidental melody out of it. Where’s Rothchild when you really need him? I don’t want to sound redundant, but as far as The Spy and Queen of the Highway, Morrison ruins what could have been good instrumental tracks. I actually prefer Val Kilmer’s a capella version of The Spy to this official version.
Wild Child was the first track recorded for The Soft Parade, and is probably the closest to the classic Doors sound. The song sounds as if it was written by one poem of Jim’s instead of pieced together from fragments as sometimes it is. It has a feeling of coherency and Jim’s vocal sounds the best on this song so far. Perhaps the album suffered due to the fact that studio time had been booked between gigs. After the March gig in Miami Florida where Morrison had got arrested after supposedly flashing his schmeckle to the audience, there may have been a mountain of stress on the band that had affected the creation of The Soft Parade. Runnin’ Blue is an odd, out-of-the-blue track for The Doors. It starts off as a tribute to Otis Redding, who died in December of 1967, and it’s not a bad song, that is until Robbie Krieger’s Dylan like vocals come in. The song has the feeling as being split up into two songs, one that Morrison sings, which is a good track in the vein of Touch Me, but when Krieger takes over lead vocals over a blue-grass up tempo number, and the both are fused together by a jazz middle eight. The song should have been split into two separate songs, Krieger’s crazy voice would have added an authentic feel to it.
Indian Summer is a left over from their first album, and actually I don’t really hear a difference between this and the bonus track from the debut. I believe this is the 1966 demo, which is a cool thing. So I guess that there’s good and bad points to not having enough songs for your new album. Indian Summer is a terrific track, sounding a bit like The End, it has that same groove, it makes for a fine ballad. Maggie M’Gill ends the album on a bluesy note, sounding much like the rest of the album but no where near as special as the good songs.
The bonus tracks are virtually all about the building of the Roadhouse Blues track. The band would play the song, and Jim would shout out some lyrics, whatever would pop into his head, and little by little he had the lyrics after sifting through the recordings and taking what he and Rothchild both liked. So in all they have eight takes of Roadhouse Blues, with some chatter form the studio like on Money Beats Soul, a drunken rant of Morrison’s that he’d repeat often probably forgetting he said it the day before.
So Morrison Hotel isn’t the best Doors album, not by a long shot. Yet looking at their career of four short years of recording history, they managed to include an amount of great songs on every album, giving us at least two CDs worth of fantastic material in such a short time. You have bands today that take up to ten years between releasing albums and then it’s filled with nothing but filler and one or two good songs (cough-U2, ahem). You mean in ten years this is what you’ve come up with? Go back to sleep. Bands aren’t as inspired by the art of making music they way they used to be. So, the fact that The Soft Parade only had three great songs and Morrison Hotel had about six, is (by today’s standards) amazing. Those two albums were released only seven months apart, showing that even with a group with a lack of new songs and a front man with one foot in the grave, The Doors still managed greatness.
Morrison Hotel / Hard Rock Café
Length: 79:01 minutes
Released: February 1st, 1970
Rating: 3 stars
1. Roadhouse Blues
2. Waiting For the Sun
3. You Make me Real
4. Peace Frog
5. Blue Sunday
6. Ship of Fools
7. Land Ho!
8. The Spy
9. Queen of the Highway
10. Indian Summer
11. Maggie M’Gill
12. Talking Blues (bonus track)
13. Roadhouse Blues (11/4/69 Takes 1-3) (bonus track)
14. Roadhouse Blues (11/4/69 Take 6) (bonus track)
15. Carol (11/4/69) (bonus track)
16. Roadhouse Blues (11/5/69 Take 1) (bonus track)
17. Money Beats Soul (11/5/1969) (bonus track)
18. Roadhouse Blues (11/5/69 Take 13-15) (bonus track)
19. Peace Frog (False Starts & Dialogue) (bonus track)
20. The Spy (Version 2) (bonus track)
21. Queen of the Highway (Jazz Version (bonus track)