Remaster Class: The Doors: Morrison Hotel

The Doors needed a win. Badly. After the, shall we say, appendage-related kerfuffle at a chaotic March 1969 show in Miami, the band was sidelined with legal troubles and limited performance options. Solace was found within the friendly studio confines of Elektra Sound Recorders in Los Angeles, with February 1970's Morrison Hotel the ensuing vibrant result. Two distinct sides told the tale: Side 1, subtitled Hard Rock Cafe, showed The Doors flexing their collective compositional muscles (the rollicking "Roadhouse Blues," the skittery dream-transfer tandem of "Peace Frog/Blue Sunday"), while Side 2, subtitled Morrison Hotel, took on a more sultry barroom blues attack (the jaunty sea shanty "Land Ho!"; the wispy saloon twang of "The Spy").

"They were an unusual band," Jac Holzman, the founder of Elektra Records who signed The Doors in 1966, once admitted to me. "Had there been rock & roll in the Weimar Republic in the early 20th century, The Doors would have been there."


Jim Morrison In hotel room closet—From CD booklet

The original 1970 Elektra LP is a decent enough talisman for the collector/completist's shelf, but the hands-down winner in the not-so-soft wax parade is the 2020 Elektra/Rhino 180-gram virgin vinyl pressing, mixed and remastered by original Doors engineer/mixmaster Bruce Botnick, with lacquer mastering by the irrepressible Bernie Grundman. This ear-warming platter can be found in the must-have Morrison Hotel 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition 2CD/1LP box set (more on its other contents in a bit).

On the digital side, the 1988 Elektra CD is certainly a pleasant remastering effort from original Doors producer Paul A. Rothchild (who passed away in 1995) and Botnick, but the 2006 DMC/Elektra/Rhino CD upgrade from Botnick opened a much better aural door. (Nine intriguing bonus tracks—a smattering of alternate takes and false starts—are also included on the latter disc.)


2008 Elektra-Rhino DVD-Audio cover

If you're a cardboard sleeve fan, then by all means get yourself a copy of the gatefold Hotel CD that's in Elektra's 1999 The Complete Studio Recordings box set to fulfill that need. But if it's the truly otherworldly, patented Doors-specific sonic juju that you crave, the 2006 24-bit/96kHz DVD-Audio 5.1 mix included in the 12-disc Perception box set is the way to go. (That said, SACD lovers are welcome to access the same mix—albeit up-sampled to DSD—via Analogue Productions' individually released 2013 hybrid multichannel version.)

"I like to think cinematically in my head," Botnick told me about his philosophy of mixing The Doors in surround. "The goal is to immerse people by putting them into the room with the band. When you hear the songs, you know the places they've gotta go without anybody telling you where. It just happens." Indeed, Hotel's "Waiting for the Sun" in 5.1 puts you right in the middle of the band action, with Ray Manzarek's eerie keyboards in the left, drummer John Densmore's subtle rim taps in the center right, and Robby Krieger's creepy guitar accents starting in the right before ultimately getting unleashed as fiercely intermittent 360-degree channel-shifting stabs in the song's back half in order to better engulf Jim Morrison's center-channel vocal growls.


2007 Elektra-Rhino CD cover

But if checking into the stereo wing of Hotel is more your game, then the 2020 Botnick remaster in the aforementioned 50th Anniversary box set is the exact sonic reservation you require. As Botnick explains in the accompanying technical notes, the new mixes benefit greatly from speed and azimuth corrections that simply weren't available to him and Rothchild in 1970. Plus, if you have an MQA decoder, you'll also have access to the album's full 24/176 treatment. Either way, you'll feel a deeper connection with song elements like Densmore's deft cymbal work on "Indian Summer." Not only that, but a second disc with 19 unreleased tracks, split among multiple working takes of "Roadhouse Blues," "Queen of the Highway," and "Peace Frog," all put you in the control room while they're being laid down.


2020 Elektra-Rhino box set cover

Krieger filled me in on the key to the band's sound. "We always wanted to create the perfect audio movie soundtrack," the guitarist theorized. "That's hopefully what you see in your head when you hear Doors music." On Morrison Hotel, that aural movie keeps rolling all night long, and it'll thrill your soul right up to checkout time.