Hotel California was the 5th studio album for the Eagles. With the departure of country guitarist Bernie Leadon, and the arrival of rock guitarist Joe Walsh, it signaled the beginning of a new, more rock oriented sound for the band. With 2 singles hitting number 1 on the Billboard charts, and another hitting number 11, it seemed that the new sound had paid off for the band.
The new sound was completely deliberate on the part of the band. Don Henley and Glenn Frey had grown tired of the country rock sound, and wanted to steer the band in a new direction. Bernie Leadon, whose roots were in country music, was not comfortable with the change of style, so he left the band. The Eagles brought in James Gang guitarist Joe Walsh to replace Leadon. The change in sound was noticeable instantly.
Hotel California was recorded in Miami and Los Angeles between March and October of 1976. Producer Bill Szymczyk wanted to record the album entirely in Miami, as he had grown leary of earthquakes after experiencing one in Los Angeles. The band preferred to record in LA, but reached a compromise with Szymczk to split locations. Recording in Miami proved to be rather challenging as the band had to stop recording numerous times as Black Sabbath were recording in an adjacent studio, and were too loud, as the sound could be heard in the Eagles studio.
Tracks and Tidbits
Hotel California – The title track of this album is by far the most recognized of all the eagles songs. It’s meaning has been misinterpreted by many over the years. Some say that it was about an actual hotel in Baja, California, while others claim it is about a mental institution. Some even go so far as to say that it is about Satan worship and the satanic cult, however none of these theories are correct.
The true meaning of Hotel California is about hedonism and living in excess. In a 2002 interview with 60 minutes, Don Henley explains. “It’s basically a song about the dark underbelly of the American dream and about excess in America, which is something we knew a lot about”.
Guitarist Don Felder composed the melody for the song, while Henley and Glenn Frey added the lyrics. Hotel California the song, topped the Hot 100 singles chart for one week in May 1977. It won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1978, and is ranked #49 on Rolling Stone magazine’s top 500 songs of all time list.
New Kid in Town – This is about the fleeting nature of fame, as well as the fleeting and fickle nature of love. One day you may be on the top of the mountain, but there’s always going to be someone new to replace you. Co-writer J.D. Souther once said about the song, “We were just writing about our replacements”.
He went on to use the analogy of a gunfighter who gets defeated by the new kid that rides into town. The song was rumored to be about Bruce Springsteen, who was an emerging star at the time, however Souther denies it. The song would hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, as well as win the Grammy Award for Best Vocal Arrangement for Two or More Voices.
Life in the Fast Lane – I think the title says it all about this song. It’s about a couple taking their excessive lifestyle to the edge. The song came about quite accidentally while Joe Walsh was playing around with his guitar. He played a riff that he liked to practice with sometimes to loosen up.
When Don Henley and Glenn Frey heard it, they knew that they had to make a song out of it. The whole basis of the song was contrived while Glenn Frey was riding on the freeway in a car driven by a drug dealer known as “The Count”. When Frey asked The Count to slow down, his reply was, “What do you mean? It’s life in the fast lane.”
Wasted Time – The woman in this song has just experienced yet another break up, she is facing the prospect of starting all over again, feeling that yet again she has wasted time on a failed relationship. The singer is trying to convey to her that although she is alone again, her time in the relationship was not wasted. Maybe someday, after the initial scars of the failed relationship have healed, she can look back on things in a better light.
It is thought that this song is about the failed relationship between Don Henley and Loree Rodkin.
Wasted Time (Reprise) – This is the instrumental version of Wasted Time. When Glenn Frey was composing the music for this song, he wanted to incorporate a “Philly Soul” sound, that was popular in the 60s and 70s. Philadelphia soul sound included instrumental arrangements featuring lots of strings and horns.
Victim of Love – This song is similar to “Lyin Eyes”, in that the woman is cheating on her husband and he knows it. She’s acting innocent, but he knows she’s not. The line “Tell me your secrets and I’ll tell you mine”, suggests that he is not so innocent himself.
Don Felder was supposed to sing lead in this song, however the rest of the band were not satisfied with any of his versions. They decided to have Don Henley secretly record the vocals while the band’s manager Irving Azoff distracted Felder by taking him out for dinner. Felder was not happy when he found out what had happened. Henley in an interview explained the bands thought process for making the decision by saying “It would have been the same as me demanding to play lead guitar on Hotel California.”
Pretty Maids All in a Row – Pretty Maids was co-written and sung by Joe Walsh. He described it as being a melancholy reflection of his life at the time. Walsh went on to say that it was a kind of an observation on life that would be a valid statement for people from his generation.
One has to wonder if the death of his daughter Emma in 1974 inspired some lyrics for this song. In particular, the lines “And the storybook comes to a close”, “Gone are the ribbons and bows.”
Try and Love Again – While Henley and Frey are the best known of the Eagles for their song writing abilities, Randy Meisner, with songs like “Take it to the Limit” and “Tryin”, proved to be a formidable composer in his own right. This Meisner composition tells of a man who has experienced tough heartache in the past. He meets a special woman, whom he is attracted to, but isn’t sure if he should let himself fall in love and risk being brokenhearted again. In the end, he decides that she is worth it, and he will try to love again.
The Last Resort – The last song of the album looks at the destructiveness of mankind. Henley, whose is a big advocate of the environment and environmental issues, wanted to write a song depicting how man, through his lust for greed is destroying the earth. Henley calls it one of his favorite songs, because of his love for the environment. He was once quoted as saying “We have mortgaged our future for gain and greed.”
The thought of a band changing its sound at the height of their popularity was a bold and risky move on the part of the Eagles, but to introduce it with an album as good as Hotel California, it quickly quieted any naysayers that might have been out there. Hotel California was nominated for 5 Grammy awards, winning 2. Had it not been for Fleetwood Mac releasing their album “Rumours” the same year, Hotel California probably would have won a third for Album of the Year.
Hotel California topped the Billboard 200 album charts for eight weeks in 1977. In August 2018, it was certified 26x platinum in the United States for selling over 26 million copies in that country alone. It was rated 38th in VH1’s rankings of the Greatest 100 albums of all time. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked Hotel California 37, in their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
From start to finish, Hotel California is a masterpiece. It’s collection of stories from greed to lust to heartache, all seem to get tied together in a nice little bow. The sound of this album never grows old. It is truly one of the classics.
All the best,