Dear Straight Dope:
Well, just for a possible "FYI," I think there's a bit of media that contains the Hard Rock reference before the Mega-Conglom-O-Corp used it or its musical love slave Carole sang it. I'm pretty sure the phrase "Hard Rock Cafe" is included in the Doors' Morrison Hotel album cover artwork, which, if I'm not mistaken, came out before '71. If so, I'm certain that that's where the guys who started up the company got the name.
I'm not exactly sure of all this (I'm not a fan of the Doors, so I don't have a copy of the album handy), but I thought as a pursuer of truth you might want to check it out.
Since there’s no time to muddle in the mire, let’s get right down to it.
The Doors’ Morrison Hotel album did indeed come out in February 1970, a bit before Americans Peter Morton and Isaac Tigrett opened the first Hard Rock Cafe in London on June 14, 1971, in an old Rolls-Royce store.
The album cover artwork consists of the band members standing behind a plate glass window of the “Morrison Hotel” (“Rooms For Rent”). Nothing else.
However, the Doors (who are self-admittedly “strange”) gave a name to each side of the record. On the back of the cover, side two is sub-headed “Morrison Hotel,” while side one is simply entitled “Hard Rock Cafe.” Otherwise, there are no songs or lyrics on the album that use the words “Hard Rock Cafe.”
Did this influence the men who founded the Hard Rock Cafe? Yes, according to the guy who took the picture, rock photographer Henry Diltz. In a 1997 interview with radio personality Paul Harris (www.harrisonline.com/intvws/DILTZ.HTM), Diltz tells how in 1969 he took the group’s picture at the seedy Morrison Hotel–yes, it really existed–in downtown L.A. Looking to grab a beer afterward, the group was driving through L.A.’s skid row when someone spotted the Hard Rock Cafe. Of course they had to stop. Having tossed back a few with the local winos, they posed for the picture that wound up on the album. Says Diltz:
I guess though sometime the next year after the album came out with that picture on the back, they got a call from England and this guy says, “Hello. Would you mind if we use that name on the back of your album? We’re starting a cafe over here in London and we would like to use that name.” And they said no, go ahead, and that was the beginning of it. Now every time I go into a Hard Rock Cafe, whatever city I’m in, I always feel like I should get a free hamburger.
If the Doors did inspire the Cafe’s name, it seems odd that when Hard Rock Records (a joint venture label created by Hard Rock Cafe International and Rhino Records) released its first album in 1997, Hard Rock Cafe: Classic Rock, no songs by the Doors were included.
You’re right in calling the Hard Rock Cafe a "Mega-Conglom-O-Corp." The Hard Rock Cafe International made an operating profit of $66 million on sales of $231 million in 1995, which is pretty impressive for a place that only served 12 customers its first day.
Obviously they found some way to light their fire.
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