1969 was not a good year for The Doors, who rapidly went from underground cult heroes to critically detested teen idols, due mainly to the albums Waiting for the Sun and the much maligned The Soft Parade (still regarded today as their weakest effort). Jim Morrison had also been charged with felony after being accused of exposing his penis while on stage during a gig in Miami. As a consequence all subsequent shows were cancelled and the FBI was also after him. Jim’s drinking got to a point where the band became seriously concerned, especially when he was eventually found guilty of indecent exposure and sentenced to four months hard labour. The Empire was indeed striking back, deciding that they weren’t going to take any more from those left-wing commie homo-loving hippies. But from all this turmoil, The Doors managed to hold things together, and record what would ultimately be their best album since Strange Days.
The LP opens with the mighty “Roadhouse Blues”, all pumping bass and barrelhouse piano. The band brought in Lonnie Mack to play bass guitar as well as John Sebastian (credited as G. Puglese) on harmonica. It’s a powerful track and one which definitely took both fans and critics by surprise. The song is also one of the band’s ballsiest, where Morrison’s bluesy rasp has never been finer, and which contains the immortal lines “Well, I woke up this morning/And I got myself a beer… The future’s uncertain/And the end is always near”. Such words were not only autobiographical but also rather prescient, not just in Morrison’s case, but the entire counterculture in general. Still, any alternative movement capable of generating a tune as brilliant as this has got my vote any day, regardless of what the Establishment says.
“Waiting for the Sun” is a leftover from the album of the same name, and which would have benefited greatly if they had of included it. But that doesn’t matter, because it’s on here. Ray Manzarek’s keyboards are moody and magician-like, while Robby Krieger throws in some spooky slide guitar just for good measure, as if the whole band were performing a séance. The group rock out on “You Make Me Real”, and you can tell they’re having fun. “Peace Frog” is pure freak-funk, with some radiant interplay between all members. The rhythm section especially excels, yet it’s Krieger who stands out the most, whose guitar not only dominates but also highlights how vital he was to their sound. At the end of the song we gently segue into the elegant and drifty “Blue Sunday”, another one of Morrison’s love ballads dedicated to any one of Jim’s numerous paramours. One would like to think it was written for his soul mate Pam Courson, but of course we’ll never really know. “Ship of Fools” has some great interplay by the band, along with more than a few memorable lines courtesy of our resident rock poet. “The Human race was dyin’ out/No-one left to scream and shout/People walkin’ on the moon/Smog will get you pretty soon”. In other words, we pollute our own world, and yet travel to another, which has no air at all. I guess in that respect nothing much has changed.
“Land Ho!” begins side two, and it’s hard not to enjoy. This song has an almost Treasure Island aspect about it, in that I feel like a young boy again each time I hear it. The semi-jazzy “I’m a Spy” is a plaintive voyeuristic journey through Morrison’s lyrical imagination. Or at least one can assume. “Queen of the Highway” is a blend of metaphor and autobiography, especially in the lines “He was a monster, black dressed in leather/She was a princess…”. If anything the song itself rocks and sways, in a way that is reminiscent of some of their earlier material. “Indian Summer” dates back to 1966, when the band was recording their first album. It fits in well here, and remains a lovely and delicate paean to idealistic love.
The album concludes with the bluesy “Maggie M’Gill”, where Morrison sings “Well, I’m an old blues man/And I think that you understand/I’ve been singing the blues ever since the world began”. Whoever Maggie was the world will likely never be known, but I guess that doesn’t matter, because this is not just white blues, it’s weird blues. The sort that would make even Muddy Waters turn around and raise an eyebrow. It would also serve to reinforce the band’s belief in themselves, and underpin what they were all about in the first place. Making music that was as direct as it was honest. And such honesty paid off, both commercially and critically. Morrison Hotel not only reinvigorated the group; it also offered them a reason to continue, particularly since Morrison had been considering leaving the group on a number of occasions. One can only be the Apollo of rock and roll for so long, for his need to be a poet was strong and most certainly far outweighed any other musical considerations, regardless of what his fans may have been wanting from whom they saw as the anointed one, a concept which Jim himself rejected, and wished to have no part of. Because how can one begin to save others if one cannot even begin to save oneself? Mind you save oneself from what? The 1960’s was not the first era to pose such questions, nor shall it be the last. And let us hope that Jim Morrison is amongst them.