1969 had not been a good year for the Doors. On March 1, 1969, Morrison allegedly performed while intoxicated and exposed himself in front of a crowd of nearly 12,000 in Miami, Florida, for which he was charged with indecent exposure on April 4. The incident negatively reflected on the band's publicity, sparking a "March for Decency" at the Orange Bowl. Consequently, 25 dates on the Doors next tour were cancelled, and their records were blacklisted from radio airplay, resulting in the band abandoning the rest of their potential tour and costing what Densmore described as "a million dollars in gigs. In June, the Doors released their fourth album, The Soft Parade, a heavily orchestrated affair that augmented the band's sound with horns and strings. Morrison traded in his stage leathers for more informal attire and grew a beard, trying to live down his "Lizard King" image, but his worsening alcoholism often undermined his efforts. In November, around the same time that the band started recording Morrison Hotel with producer Paul A. Rothchild a drunken Morrison caused such a disturbance on a flight to Phoenix, Arizona to see a Rolling Stones concert that he was charged with a new skyjacking law that carried up to a $10,000 fine and a ten-year prison sentence.
Morrison Hotel's back to basics approach largely stemmed from the group's dismay over the protracted sessions for The Soft Parade, which took nine months to record and cost $86,000, far more expensive than any previous Doors record. The band had also been stung by the critical reception to the record. On this album, there is a slight steer toward blues, which would be fully explored by the band on their next album L.A. Woman. Morrison Hotel was recorded between November 1969 and January 1970 with the exception of "Indian Summer," one of the band's earliest compositions, which was recorded in August 1966 during sessions for The Doors (the additional reverb is evident on Morrison's vocal) and "Waiting for the Sun" which recorded in March 1968 during sessions for its namesake LP. Although Morrison Hotel contains no hit singles, it features some of the band's most popular songs, including "Roadhouse Blues" and "Peace Frog", which would go on to become staples of classic rock radio. "Roadhouse Blues" took two days to record (November 4–5, 1969) with Paul Rothchild striving for perfection. Several takes from these sessions were included on the 2006 remastered album, with Morrison repeating the phrase "Money beats soul" over and over again. The sessions only took off on the second day, when resident Elektra guitarist Lonnie Mack joined in on bass and harmonica player John Sebastian, formerly of The Lovin' Spoonful (appearing under the pseudonym G. Puglese either out of loyalty to his recording contract or to avoid affiliation with The Doors after the infamous Miami controversy) joined in on the sessions. Keyboardist Ray Manzarek switched from his Wurlitzer electric piano to a tack piano (the same used on The Beach Boys "Good Vibrations").
The hook of "Peace Frog" is a distortedG5 chord played three times by Krieger, followed by a brief percussive Wah-wah effect. Morrison, who took the words from a collection he titled Abortion Stories, begins nearly every line with the word "blood", often referring to "Blood in the streets...". A brief musical interlude is next, followed by a guitar solo, and a spoken word verse ("Indians scattered on dawn's highway bleeding..."). The song ends with a final chord as it segues into the next track, "Blue Sunday". The line "Indians scattered on dawn's highway bleeding/Ghosts crowd the young child's fragile eggshell mind" originates from "Dawn's Highway", a poem in which Morrison describes an event that occurred when he was a child.
"The Spy" and "Queen of the Highway" both celebrate Morrison's intense but troubled relationship with girlfriend Pamela Courson. Originally "The Spy" was called "Spy In The House Of Love", as shown on the Master Reel Control File, a line borrowed from A Spy in the House of Love, a novel by Anaïs Nin published in 1954. Both songs are tinged with ambivalence; on "The Spy" Morrison cautions, "I know your deepest, secret fears", while on "Queen of the Highway" he sardonically concludes, "I hope it can continue a little while longer." According to the 1980 Doors biography No One Here Gets Out Alive, it was during the Morrison Hotel sessions that Morrison and Courson had a violent argument after she drank his bottle of liquor so he could not drink it, with engineer Bruce Botnick recalling: "So here were the two of them, completely out of their minds and crying. He started shaking her violently. I think he was putting me on. She was crying out of control, telling him he shouldn't drink anymore and that's why she drank it. And I'm cleaning up and I said, "Hey man, it's pretty late." He looked up, stopped shaking her, said, "Yeah, right," hugged her and they walked out arm in arm...he'd always give you a funny look afterward, to see your reaction."
The cover photo was taken by Henry Diltz at the actual Morrison Hotel, located at 1246 South Hope Street in Los Angeles. Diltz told the desk clerk they were going to take a few photos, and the clerk said they couldn't without the owner's permission and the owner wasn't there. They took the pictures while the clerk was inside the elevator. The elevator numbers right under the 'son' in 'Morrison' are lit in the cover. The band jumped right behind the windows and hit their places without shuffling as Diltz took the shot. The album is divided into two separately titled sides, Hard Rock Cafe and Morrison Hotel (named after Morrison's favorite bars, located on opposite sides of L.A.).The rear cover features a photograph of the Hard Rock Café on 300 East 5th Street, Los Angeles. The founders of the later (and otherwise unrelated) Hard Rock Cafe chain used the name, having seen it on the Doors' album. The original cafe is no longer open for business.
The album became the band's highest charting studio album in the UK, where it peaked at No. 12. Morrison Hotel was, upon its release, seen by many as a comeback for the Doors following the critical failure of The Soft Parade and the Miami incident of 1969. Dave Marsh, the editor of Creem magazine, called the album "the most horrifying rock and roll I have ever heard. When they're good, they're simply unbeatable. I know this is the best record I've listened to [...] so far", while Rock Magazine called it "without any doubt their ballsiest (and best) album to date".Circus praised it as "possibly the best album yet from the Doors" and "good, hard, evil rock...and one of the best albums released this decade".