The Doors – Morrison Hotel (50th Anniversary Edition): Album Review

Expanded celebration of The Doors’ 1970 return to form.

Release Date:  9th October 2020

Label: Rhino/Elektra

Formats: 2CD, vinyl, download

1970 was a strange, nervous but ultimately highly productive year for the Doors.  Of course, 1969 had been a strange year too.  In March 1969, Jim Morrison was arrested and charged with lewd and obscene behaviour and public drunkenness after a series of incidents at a concert at the Dinner Key Auditorium in Miami.  He was found guilty and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment with hard labour.  The next two years of Morrison’s, and The Doors’, lives were lived under the cloud of an appeal which, if lost, could certainly result in the singer’s incarceration. 

In July 1969, The Doors released their fourth album, The Soft Parade.  History relates that The Soft Parade was a difficult album, in its composition, its recording (which, partly due to Morrison’s increasing alcohol dependence, was long and drawn out), and its critical reception (which was largely negative).  The album did, however, sell well, hitting number 6 in the Billboard album chart and spawning the number 4 hit single, Touch Me.  Nevertheless, the band realized that their next album would need to be something special if their reputation at the pinnacle of American rock was to be retained.

Things didn’t get off to a good start…  in November 1969, Morrison was involved in a further legal tussle, this time following an incident on a flight from Los Angeles to Phoenix.  He was charged with interfering with the flight of an international aircraft and public drunkenness. The more serious of these charges (the flight interference one) carried a potential jail sentence of ten years but, fortunately, the charges were dropped.  So it was a confused, scared and desperate band that arrived in the Elektra Studios in Los Angeles that month to start work on their important fifth album.

Amazingly, it turned out to be a stormer, certainly their best since their eponymous debut back in 1967, and critically, it was welcomed as a massive return to form.  Rockier than their previous couple of efforts and with a return to the band’s roots evidenced by a rich influence of blues, the album delivered classic cuts. These included Roadhouse Blues, Waiting for the Sun (a track that they’d attempted, then abandoned, during the recording of their third album), Peace Frog, with its compulsive riff and Blood In The Streets lyric, Ship Of Fools, Land Ho, which seems to have incorporated a degree of influence from The Band, and the majestic Queen of the Highway. 

The packaging was interesting too.  Famously, the band stumbled upon the site of the cover photo, the Morrison Hotel on South Hope Street in Downtown LA, and snuck into situ in the lettered window for the classic cover shot, without seeking the permission of the hotel’s owners.  On the original vinyl release, side one was titled Hard Rock Café (a location also in Downtown LA which preceded the establishment of the HRC chain) and Morrison Hotel.

Public response was immediate and significant.   Morrison Hotel was a huge hit in the US, reaching number 4 in the Billboard album chart, and was The Doors’ highest selling album in the UK.  It was the first Doors album that I heard and remains a personal favourite.

So – what about this 50th Anniversary Edition?  What do we get that is different, extra and exciting?

Well – First of all, the original album has been remastered by Bruce Botnick, The Doors’ trusted Engineer.  Unfortunately, I found it difficult to distinguish the features of the remastered version (which, admittedly, I’ve heard only on download) from the production on the 2007 expanded CD.  I suppose that the real ace in this particular rerelease pack is the vinyl version – a remastered reissue of the original album on 180-gram virgin vinyl.  Surely a product that will ignite desire in the heart of every discerning Doors fan!

The second disc of the 2-CD pack comprises a whole pack of previously unreleased studio out-takes, including eight takes of Queen Of The Highway, five more takes of Roadhouse Blues and a couple of versions of Peace Frog.  All great tracks that are amongst the treasures of The Doors’ portfolio, but perhaps, in this particular case, of genuine interest only to the most committed Doors obsessives.

1970 continued to roll after Morrison Hotel was released.  In August, the Doors came to the UK to perform at the massive Isle of Wight Festival, along with Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Jethro Tull and Chicago. In December, Morrison was at the centre of yet another on-stage incident. This time in New Orleans, when he suffered what appeared to be a breakdown.  The band was in the midst of recording what would become their last studio album during the lifetime of the band, the excellent LA Woman (and I’m expecting a similar treatment of that album, when its 50th Anniversary comes around, next March.)

Just 17 months after the release of Morrison Hotel, Jim Morrison was found dead in a Paris bathroom.

So there we have it.  I’m delighted that Rhino has seen fit to mark the 50th Anniversary of one of the all-time classic albums, and that part of the reissue options is a quality vinyl version of the album.  Personally, I could have happily grown old without hearing the out-takes on the second CD, but I’m sure that there will be some who are thrilled by the very thought of their existence.

Watch the video for Peace Frog from the original album here:

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