Check in to the ‘Morrison Hotel’ 40 years later

IN 1970, JIM MORRISON was still reeling from the obscenity bust in Miami. Photo courtesy of David Sygal/”The Doors — The Illustrated History “(1993)

For all the chaos that continued gathering around the band, as the dust from Miami refused to settle; for all the disquieting misbehavior that was becoming more and more a part of the Jim Morrison persona; and for all the audience expectation that now seemed to hinge around the possibility of Morrison getting his penis out once again, the shows catch The Doors firing on every cylinder, a blazing rock ’n’ roll band at the height of its creative and improvisational powers.

Plus, says Manzarek, New York was the Doors’ favorite place to play. “The New York audience was always interesting. London was great, and Los Angeles was good. But New York was the best, and you can feel that in the live show.”

“Morrison Hotel” was still several weeks away from release at the time of the Felt Forum shows, but much of the album was already firmly nestled in the live set, including the song that remains the new record’s definitive track, the opening “Roadhouse Blues.”

“What a telltale lick,” says Manzarek. “What a signature lick. That’s all you have to hear, and you know what that song’s meant to be. And that great last stanza by Morrison… ‘I got up this morning and got myself a beer.’ Is that rock ’n’ roll or what?”

On that evidence alone, Manzarek says, “‘Morrison Hotel’ was definitely back to roots, back to basics. Great songs. In fact, the only thing it lacked was, as we called them, an epic. There was no song over five minutes. We didn’t have a ‘Light My Fire,’ ‘When The Music’s Over’ or ‘The End.’ But so what?”

RAY MANZAREK (second from left) believes that a new generation can discover The Doors’ passion and commitment to art. Photo courtesy Elektra Entertainment/Paul Ferarra

What The Doors did have, as both the studio album and the live package exemplify, was an album wherein every song had its own epic quality — and that includes one that had been around for almost as long as the Doors themselves.

“Indian Summer” was an outtake that dated back to “the very first day of recording for the first album. We found it in our bin of stuff. There was us, our producer Paul Rothchild and our engineer Bruce Botnik, and we wanted a simple little song so we could get the sound down. So we did ‘Indian Summer’ and then went into ‘Moonlight Mile.’

Revamped and with much of it rerecorded, “Indian Summer” emerged as one of the most unexpected treats on the new album. But pressed to name his favorite, Manzarek has little hesitation in pointing to another song whose genesis dated back a few years, “Waiting For The Sun.”

The song was originally intended as the title track to The Doors’ third album, back in 1968. “We loved the title so much that we called the album ‘Waiting For The Sun,’ the artwork was done, but the song wasn’t ready. It hadn’t come out of the oven yet. Never mind, nobody will know there’s the song called ‘Waiting For The Sun’ as well. So when it did finally come out on ‘Morrison Hotel,’ people went — wait a sec! But I’m glad we waited, because it came out a stunning piece of music.”

So is the rest of the set, an album that drives from the opening punch of “Roadhouse Blues” to the closing grind of “Maggie M’Gill,” and, in between times, launches such future Doors favorites as “The Spy,” “Ship Of Fools” and “Land Ho!”

Maybe, as the history books remind us, “Morrison Hotel” arrived devoid of any of the hit singles that had sent the Doors soaring in the past (and would in the future — their next, and final, album, “L.A. Woman,” was highlighted by the immortal “Riders On The Storm”). But it was Top Four in the U.S. and became their highest-charting album yet in the UK (#12) and elsewhere around the world.

Even better, pick up the 40th anniversary remix (40 years, that is, since the band’s first album) and 10 bonus tracks take your ears even deeper into the sessions, with multiple retakes of “Roadhouse Blues” lining up alongside an alternate take of “The Spy,” a superb “jazz version” of “Queen of the Highway,” and a clutch of false starts and snippets that really do seem to put you in the room with the band.

And if you want to get even closer up and more personal, reach for a copy of “When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors,” the newly released DVD, that, laughs Manzarek, is “Doors 101 for a new generation.”

The Johnny Depp-narrated documentary was built around “all the footage we’ve had in storage for years. An old friend of ours from UCLA shot it all, this beautiful footage of Jim out in the desert, the onstage footage. We’ve had it all in storage, and we put it together into the story of The Doors, and the story of the sixties. The Doors 101: An intro for all the youngsters.”

Because, Manzarek insists, the youngsters need it.

“It’s also a necessary spirituality that the young people are discovering about The Doors — A love of poetry, an interest in literature, an interest in jazz and classical music,” Manzarek says.

Punning on the Aldous Huxley title that gave the band its name in the first place, Manzarek believes, “If we can open the doors of perception, a new generation is going to discover the passion and the commitment to art, the spirituality and an understanding of all those things. I’m very happy about that.”

And as for why release it now, as opposed to at any other time in the past….

“Why not?” Manzarek says. “People ask why now; well, if we’d done it 20 years ago, we wouldn’t have it now, and it’s exciting for us to be talking about it now, because if we’d had it 20 years ago, we’d have nothing to say today.”

Actually, that’s very unlikely. Ever since “American Prayer” came along at the end of the 1970s, with its poetic promise of the first all-new Doors material to be released in almost a decade, there has been no shortage of fresh treats for the fan, the collector or the just plain curious to pick up. And Manzarek laughs when he’s reminded of that fact.

“It’s true,” he says. “There’s always something else with The Doors. ‘Aren’t they finished yet?’”

Thankfully, no. They’re not.

RELATED STORIES: Find out more about the documentary “When You’re Strange” and read an interview with the director, Tom DiCillo.
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