Wednesday, 15 June 2016

"Morrison Hotel/Hard Rock Cafe" by THE DOORS (Remastered Inside The 1999 Rhino 7CD Cube-Sized Box Set "The Complete Studio Recordings") - A Review by Mark Barry...


"...Spy In The House Of Love..." 

Back when Rhino were amongst the best reissue labels in the world (with access to unlimited primo material from the prestigious WEA umbrella of labels) – they regularly produced fabulous Box Sets like “The Complete Studio Recordings” by THE DOORS. Their six studio albums from 1966 to 1971 plus one filled-out disc of 'Essential Rarities' – all of them in meticulously reproduced Mini LP Sleeves.

But while the explosive and hugely influential self-titled debut album "The Doors" along with winners like October 1967's "Strange Days" and July 1969's "Soft Parade" have always gathered the plaudits – for me – my poison has always been their cool Seventies output - especially the first two of the decade – February 1970's "Morrison Hotel/Hard Rock Café" and April 1971's "L.A. Woman". 

Often shortened to just "Morrison Hotel" – The DOORS' first LP of the new Hard Rock decade was an accomplished blast – a band renewed and ready to take on all-comers. Opening with the fantastic Rock-Blues of "Roadhouse Blues" and working its way to the hooky "Peace Frog" and on the very-Doors sound of "Maggie McGill" – I've always felt it's been overlooked in favour of their more famous predecessors. Let's get to 'the spies in the house of love'…

You can buy the "Morrison/Hard Rock Cafe" album as a March 2007 Rhino single-disc 'Expanded Edition' with 10 Bonus Tracks fro less than six quid – but my preferred tipple is part of a pricier box set that keeps it simple. USA released November 1999 – "Morrison Hotel" the 11-track album is Disc 5 in "The Complete Studio Recordings" Box Set by THE DOORS on Rhino 62434-2 (Barcode 075596243421). This beautifully presented reissue is a 5½ x 5½-inch CUBE BOX with a flip-ribboned-lid (the artwork is a collage of Elektra records album sleeves). Inside are 8 slots – one for the sumptuous booklet and 7 albums in oversized 5½” card repro sleeves (one of which is a Rarities set). The STEREO mixes have been used for all six Studio albums and "Morrison Hotel" plays out as follows (37:24 minutes):

Side 1 'Hard Rock Café':
1. Roadhouse Blues
2. Waiting For The Sun
3. You Make Me Real
4. Peace Frog
5. Blue Sunday
6. Ship Of Fools

Side 2 'Morrison Hotel':
7. Land Ho!
8. The Spy
9. Queen Of The Highway
10. Indian Summer
11. Maggie M’Gill
Tracks 1 to 11 are their 5th studio album "Morrison Hotel/Hard Rock Café" - released 12 February 1970 in the USA on Elektra EKS 75007 (April 1970 in the UK with the same catalogue number). Produced by PAUL A. ROTHCHILD – it peaked at No. 4 in the USA and No. 12 in the UK.

This box set hits you on two fronts – and in my book – the two that matter – sound and presentation. Housed in individual slots  - the attention to detail on the Repro Card sleeves is just superb. The CDs for 1 to 3 have Brown Elektra Records labels, 4 and 5 have Red and 6 is the Butterfly variant as per the 1967 to 1971 vinyl albums. "Strange Days", "The Soft Parade" and "Morrison Hotel" have their Inner Bags repro’d with “The Doors” and “Waiting For The Sun” all with Elektra Records Label Bags (and gatefolds where applicable). And of course there’s the beautiful die-cut sleeve of “L.A. Woman” with its plastic and inner yellow bag (very tasty indeed). The Essential Rarities Disc also sports a gatefold card sleeve. The properly chunky and beautifully laid-out booklet is over 60-pages long with essays on each album (time-lined), lyrics to all at the rear and a plethora of period photos and memorabilia peppering the text throughout (liner notes by DAVE DiMARTINO). It’s a fabulous read. And with regard to "Morrison Hotel..." there’s gorgeous out-take photographs by Henry Diltz of the album cover – colour snaps both inside and outside of the 'Hard Rock Café' on East 5th Street, Los Angeles that was featured on the sleeve (the worldwide chain of restaurants filled with music memorabilia took their name from this album).

But all of this is nothing to the AUDIO… Remastered from the original analogue 2-track master tapes to 96K/24-bit digital by BRUCE BOTNIK and BERNIE GRUNDMAN at Bernie Grundman Studios in California in August 1999 – the sound quality is mindblowingly good (Bruce Botnik was the original engineer). Sure there’s been other remasters since and even fatter boxes – but for me – the audio detail presented here has never been surpassed. The only obvious shame is the absence of the rare MONO mixes on 1 to 3 – especially on the stunning debut where the differences are acute (many fans prefer the MONO). But in my book that doesn’t take away from the superlative warmth and presence these remasters have.

Side 1 of the album is called 'Hard Rock Café' and opens with a bona-fide rocking winner – the barroom swagger of "Roadhouse Blues" – a 12-bar tune so good that Status Quo covered it for their "Piledriver" album on Vertigo in late 1972. We return to 60ts weird for "Waiting For The Sun" – a cleverly paced mid-tempo ramble with a Rock riff pumping up the chorus (Robby Kreiger playing up a storm on the guitar). Back to fights in saloons with the barrelhouse piano boogie of "You Make Me Real" - Jim growling out the song title while the band lets rip. But then we get the real deal - a truly fantastic rocker in the shape of the short but brilliant "Peace Frog". You would think with lyrics like "...Blood on the streets runs a river of sadness..." and Jim getting all prophet during the spoken bridge - that the tune is all doom and gloom - but for something so down - it's impossibly poppy and 'so' Doors. The only annoying this is the dead-stop ending that's crudely done on CD but segues into the lovely "Blue Sunday" on the LP. The audio on both of these tracks is sensational. The Side 1 finisher "Ship Of Fools" is another Audio winner - the bass, guitar and organ - all crystal clear and full of presence.

Side 2 opens with a sea-shanty rocker in the shape of "Land Ho!" - I used to dismiss this track but now I love it - catchy as a Californian suntan. "Queen Of The Highway" tells us "...she was a princess...he was a dressed in leather..." - a chugger with a caustic lyric at its poisonous centre (will things work out for the most beautiful people in the world). Based on the 1954 novel by Anais Nin "Spy In The House Of Love" - Morrison shortens it to "The Spy" - a wicked groove allied with his literary fixations. The album’s most trippy track "Indian Summer" wafts into existence - yet just when you think you have the measure of its floating way - the melody just elevates into something special with Krieger picking away as Jim sings "I love you" - and you can't help but think he means it. It ends on the very-Doors "Maggie M'Gill" where they sound like an angrier Dylan circa "Blonde On Blonde" where Jim roars "...people down there really like to get it on!". If you do buy the box set - Track 3 of the 73-minute 'Essential Rarities' disc offers up a live version of “Roadhouse Blues” recorded at Madison Square Gardens in New York. Superb...

Despite being deleted pretty quickly – "The Complete Studio Recordings" was one of those Box Sets you saw cropping up all of the time. But whilst common once – in 2016 it’s not so much any more - with some dealers trying to procure over £200 for a sealed copy. You can still nail it for under £50 in certain places - and if you can't afford that (you're getting their whole catalogue remember) - then just go for the 2007 'Expanded Edition' single-disc variant that can be procured from many online sellers for less than a fiver (including P&P).

"...I'm a spy in the house of love..." - Jim Morrison sang on "The Spy" and "...I've been singing the Blues ever since the world began..." on "Maggie M'Gill" - like fate was already hanging over him - passing through - not staying - just observing before he moved on to something better.

Impossibly cool and still brilliant - "Morrison Hotel/Hard Rock Cafe" by The Doors needs to be in your home in any incarnation...

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