After the experiment of “The Soft Parade,” and its use of saxophones and violins that fans and The Doors themselves thought diluted the sound of the band (in retrospect), The Doors decided to go back to their blues/rock origins and create a stripped down, good time, rollicking rock and roll album. This effort came to fruition with the February 9, 1970 release of “Morrison Hotel”.
“Morrison Hotel” was also different from “The Soft Parade” or other previous Doors albums in that no singles were released before the album itself. The public would be coming into the album cold, unsure of what to expect. The Doors did preview the “Morrison Hotel” album songs in the Felt Forum shows in January 1970, where numbers like “Roadhouse Blues,” “Peace Frog,” and “Ship of Fools” met a warm reception despite the audience’s unfamiliarity with the material.
“Morrison Hotel” is also one of The Doors’ more autobiographical albums, at least from the perspective of Jim Morrison’s lyrics. Lines like “keep your eyes on the road/your hands upon the wheel” were reportedly Morrison’s driving instructions to Pam Courson. Other songs have deeper meanings and origins. “Peace Frog” was recorded as an instrumental (and was frequently played live as an instrumental), and then Morrison and Paul Rothchild went through Morrison’s notebooks and found a poem titled “Abortion Stories” whose words seemed to pop right into the music. The name of the song was changed to “Peace Frog” because, as Ray Manzarek said, “even The Doors couldn’t name a song ‘Abortion Stories’ in 1970.”
“Peace Frog” also includes a passage telling of Morrison’s encounter as a child with the truckload of Indian workers where he believed the soul of one of them may have jumped into his. The song also includes direct references to Morrison’s life, from the inception of The Doors in “blood stains the roofs and palm trees of Venice,” to his arrest in New Haven in 1967 with “blood in the streets in the town of New Haven,” to a lyric that is often mistakenly attributed to the police riots in Chicago at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, in “blood in the streets of the town of Chicago.” But in all likelihood “Chicago” refers to The Doors’ appearance at the Chicago Coliseum in May 1968, which is credited with being the first concert in which Jim Morrison provoked a riot.
“Queen of the Highway” could arguably be about his relationship with “Cosmic Mate” Pam Courson, with lyrics like “he was a monster/black/dressed in leather,” or “no one could save her/save the blind tiger” a sort of thumbnail description of their relationship. The song does include some elements that aren’t directly autobiographical such as “now they are wedded” and “soon to have offspring.” Morrison could have considered himself married. Morrison called Courson his “Cosmic Mate” and she would frequently call herself Mrs. Morrison or sign checks Pamela Morrison. And what of the line “soon to have offspring”? While it’s not known whether Courson was ever pregnant, or thought she was, at least shows it Morrison thinking about the subject in the present tense and in the context of his own life.
The song “Waiting For The Sun” was a lyric Morrison had written with a melody supplied by UCLA film school friend Paul Ferrara, who also shot “Feast of Friends” and “HWY” with Morrison as well as the cover photo of the “Waiting for the Sun” album. Robby Krieger reworked the melody into more of a Doors-esque song, but in the end the song is credited only to Jim Morrison.
‘Morrison Hotel’ featured a couple of guest stars. Ray Neapolitan played bass on most of the album except for “Roadhouse Blues”. On the day the band was recording “Roadhouse,” Neapolitan was running late. Doors producer Paul Rothchild knew that legendary blues guitarist Lonnie Mack was recording his own album in another studio, so Mack was recruited to play bass on “Roadhouse Blues” and “Maggie M’Gill.”
For the harmonica solo on “Roadhouse” both Jim Morrison and Robby Krieger took a stab at the punctuating statements (on the demo The Doors did early in their career, Morrison did provide some harmonica on “Hello, I Love You”), but no one was satisfied. So Rothchild brought in John Sebastian for the harmonica solo. And either because Sebastian thought a credit on a Doors album wouldn’t jibe with his image as part of The Lovin’ Spoonful, or due to contractual obligations, Sebastian is credited under the name of G. Puglese.
The photo shoot for ‘Morrison Hotel’ may be one of the most famous in rock history. No one had any idea what to do for the album cover until Ray and Dorothy Manzarek were driving around Los Angeles and found the Morrison Hotel, a transient hotel for men, at 1246 S. Hope Street. With photographer Henry Diltz they went down to the hotel to shoot some pictures but were denied access by the desk clerk.
As they were trying to figure out what to do next, Diltz saw the clerk go into an elevator. Diltz told the group to go inside and sit in the window, where they hit their marks automatically, and Diltz snapped off a roll of pictures from the outside. After which Morrison suggested they get a couple of drinks. After a bit of a drive they found the Hard Rock Café and shot some pictures there as well. A note, the Hard Rock Café also reentered rock ‘n’ roll history when it was used in the Michael Jackson video ‘Beat It’.
‘Morrison Hotel’ quickly shot up the charts, attaining gold record status on February 23, 1970.
Originally published February 9, 2016.