TWO ROOMS AT MORRISON HOTEL
Author: Bruce Jenkins Date Posted:10 September 2021
The Doors fifth studio album came after a period of turmoil for the band, much of it revolving around singer Jim Morrison’s alcohol addiction and associated wayward behaviour. When they began to record the songs that would comprise Morrison Hotel, they were neither a happy nor a harmonious band. It is fitting, then, that the album opens with the raucous “Roadhouse Blues”. With wailing blues harmonica (provided by The Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian), the track rolls like a freight train and sets a bluesy tone for what’s to come. Yet Morrison Hotel is not a blues album.
The charismatic (if unstable) front man was, at this point in time, focussing on writing poetry rather than lyrics and his band mates were less than happy with this. Morrison’s “An American Prayer” was taking shape, as was his immersion in the “doomed poet” archetype. Cue “Waiting for the Sun”, a brooding, poetic song with nice slide guitar touches from Robbie Krieger, and an outstanding coming together of words and music.
Elsewhere Ray Manzarek’s organ gives “Peace Frog” a funky drive as Morrison sings about social change and civil unrest. Love of his girl features in the gentle “Blue Sunday”. Still, the blues are never far away. “You make me real” (with powerhouse piano from Manzarek), “The Spy” and final song “Maggie M’Gill” are all rooted in this simple, potent American music.
In fact it is the variety of styles that makes Morrison Hotel such an enjoyable album, one that generously repays repeated spins. There are shifting rhythms and jazz phrases in “Ship of Fools” that make it a strong closer for side one, while the second side opens with a rollicking “Land Ho!”, one for all sailors lost at sea. “Queen of the Highway” is an observational Morrison story song, elevated by some great Manzarek electric piano and fine drumming from John Densmore. It took them a while to nail this song in the studio, but it was worth it. In fact, the whole album is worth it and definitely one to dig into again and again, especially if you are seeking something beyond its famous successor, L.A. Woman.
The intel on recording “Queen of the Highway” came via a beautifully packaged 2021 RSD release entitled Morrison Hotel Sessions. This double LP is the first vinyl release of material that accompanied the fiftieth anniversary release of Morrison Hotel in 2020. The set will enthral serious Doors fans by providing new insights into both the band and the recording of the parent album. What we get are chunks of session recordings including playful experiments, abortive takes and scraps of banter.
Much of the first disc is concerned with “Queen of the Highway”; nine of the eleven tracks present versions of the song from almost unaccompanied vocal fragments to instrumental takes. These recordings paint a picture of what it might have been like being in the studio with a successful band at the fag end of the 60s. After hearing the first two lines sung repeatedly, you may (like the writer) be delighted by Manzarek’s swinging cocktail jazz versions (Takes 12 and 14) and fascinated by the electric piano version that opens side two.
The song that dominates the remainder of this collection is “Roadhouse Blues”. It is possible Jim Morrison may have got up that morning and got himself a beer. And perhaps a herbal remedy. The tapes provide glimpses of what it might have been like working with Jim Morrison at the dawn of the 70s.
In addition to the raw “Roadhouse”, highlights of the second record include ragged but spirited versions of “Money (That’s What I Want) and “Rock Me Baby” and hearing “Peace Frog” taking shape amidst some impassioned yelping from Jim.
Doors obsessives and fans of alternate album cover art will want Morrison Hotel Sessions for its audio vérité insights, while newcomers would be best served by starting with the album as released in February 1970 and available currently in this excellent contemporary pressing. Alternatively you might wake up one morning, get yourself a beer, and grab them both.
Note: In the photo, the poster comes from Morrison Hotel Sessions. The reverse side has a terrific photo of the band outside the Hard Rock Café.
© Bruce Jenkins 2021