The Eagles- Hotel California, Number 37 on the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums List
Think about legendary songs for a moment. Wait, scratch that; rephrase: think about legendary rock songs for a moment. What comes to mind? Most likely, songs like Led Zeppelin
's “Stairway to Heaven,” Queen
's “We Will Rock You,” or maybe even The Beatle
's “Paperback Writer.” All excellent songs, and all capable of being labeled with “legendary” status. However, did anyone think of “Hotel California?” Couldn’t that song be considered as a legend? I think the answer should be a resounding “yes.” After all, it’s only the title track and most famous song of one of the biggest acts in rock and roll’s biggest album: Hotel California
by The Eagles. Think of it this way: an album doesn’t go platinum sixteen times over, get nominated for five Grammy awards (and would win two), and still retain its ability to convey its conceptual message to the masses.
Yes, Hotel California
is a concept album. It’s something of a metaphoric, musical take on the United States of America, in the year of its bicentennial. The album covers points ranging from loss, the dangers of the trappings of power, natural progression of fame, shallow relationships, the final products of American “manifest destiny,” and the so-called “American Dream.” The Eagles as band have gone on record to say that Hotel California
is their take on America’s steady decline into a state of debauched materialism. In an interview with Dutch Magazine ZigZag
shortly before the album’s release, founding member Don Henley stated that:
This Hotel California] is a concept album, there's no way to hide it, but it's not set in the old West, the cowboy thing, you know. It's more urban this time (. . . ) It's our bicentennial year, you know, the country is 200 years old, so we figured since we are the Eagles and the Eagle is our national symbol, that we were obliged to make some kind of a little bicentennial statement using California as a microcosm of the whole United States, or the whole world, if you will, and to try to wake people up and say 'We've been okay so far, for 200 years, but we're gonna have to change if we're gonna continue to be around“.
There you have it: the definitive description of The Eagles’ masterpiece. Of course, that’s merely the conceptual points of the album. We have a lot more to cover in this review (so feel free to pop some corn while you wait).
Musically, Hotel California
is the greatest thing The Eagles have accomplished in their career. With each of the band’s members playing a variety of instruments, as well as contributing to the songwriting, the album has a cohesive, democratic feel to it, that represents the feelings of the group as a whole, not simply one or two individuals. When bands do something of this nature, it generally means that the results are going to be spectacular. This happens to be just such a case. Lyrically, Hotel California
is something of a marvel. From the title-track all the way to the album’s closer “Last Resort,” the songs are full of memorable lines, and charming hooks. The only further accentuates the supreme mastery of Hotel California
. Each individual song is something special, and some (well, at least one) are monumental enough to have carved themselves into the annals of musical history. Good job, Eagles. My hat’s off to you.
“Hotel California” has an accolade sheet a mile long. But how good is the song itself? It’s probably as near to perfection as you can come with a music (all bias aside). From the fantastic guitar work, to the excellent percussion, all overlain by the incredibly deep lyrics, “Hotel” is this album’s greatest triumph. In many ways, this song sums up the metaphorical ambitions of the album on the whole. Take for example the following lyrical selections from each main verse of the song:
On a dark desert highway /Cool wind in my hair /Warm smell of colitis /Rising up through the air /
Up ahead in the distance /I saw a shimmering light /My head grew heavy, and my sight grew dim /
I had to stop for the night /There she stood in the doorway /I heard the mission bell /And I was thinking to myself /This could be Heaven or this could be Hell /Then she lit up a candle /And she showed me the way
There were voices down the corridor /I thought I heard them say…
This selection easily highlights the points of loss and (most likely) death. It’s only a small portion of what the overall message of Hotel California
is, and is continued in the second verse:
Her mind is Tiffany twisted /She's got the Mercedes bends /She's got a lot of pretty, pretty boys
That she calls friends /How they dance in the courtyard /Sweet summer sweat /Some dance to remember
Some dance to forget /So I called up the Captain /Please bring me my wine /He said /We haven't had that spirit here since 1969 /And still those voices are calling from far away /Wake you up in the middle of the night /Just to hear them say …
This section more or less accents the points of lust, shallow love, and illusion of what many might call the “American Dream.” Basically, you can see by this point, that this song is a metaphor that summarizes another metaphor on a smaller scale. The final verse continues this thought by stating:
Mirrors on the ceiling /Pink champagne on ice /And she said /We are all just prisoners here /Of our own device /And in the master's chambers /They gathered for the feast /They stab it with their steely knives
But they just can't kill the beast /Last thing I remember /I was running for the door /I had to find the passage back to the place I was before /Relax said the night man /We are programmed to receive /You can check out any time you like /But you can never leave…
The final verse is the embodiment of the other points of Hotel California
’s message: the trappings of power and the eventual dangers of living sinfully materialistically. As the character in the song becomes trapped in the Hotel California, he begins to (I would assume; based on the lyrics) to regret his past mistakes, such as indulging in mindless pleasures without focusing on his real goals.
After the singing ends, the song concludes with a fantastic guitar solo (the best on the album). Now, I think I’ve ranted about “Hotel California” long enough. I hope I’ve at least drilled into my reader’s mind about how truly amazing this gem is. And we still have another eight songs on this album to dissect.
“New Kid in Town” is another popular song from Hotel California
. It has a very country-esque feel to it. Now, I can’t tolerate country music. Of all the genres of music in the world, country is one of two that I can’t stand. However, I’ve always been able to appreciate the country/rock fusions that are ever-present in The Eagles’ music. “New Kid in Town” is a great, laidback song. Its fantastic sense of melody, with soft (yet effective) instrumentation, and great lyrics, make this tale of “Johnny Come Lately” a most worthy song to hold a place on one of the greatest albums of all time. “Life in the Fast Lane” is the first totally straightforward rock song that Hotel California
dishes up. Appealing guitar work, and catchy lyrics about “the fast lane” (which serve to underscore some of the metaphorical points of the album even further) make this one of the greatest songs on the album. “Wasted Time” is a very tranquil song. From the fantastic piano to the great singing, all the way up to the reprise (the next track), “Wasted Time” is yet another wonderful song to add to Hotel California
“Victim of Love” hardens things up again. The edgy guitar riffs blast in the background, complimented by the pounding drums. Probably the weakest songs lyrically, it makes up for that with the fantastic vocal work. It’s an impressive song, but probably one of the weakest on the album. This is hardly a bad thing, however. Where a song might be relatively poor for Hotel California
, it would most likely shine on any other Eagles album. “Pretty Maids all in a Row” slows things down again. It has a very smooth, very jazzy feel to it, which is an excellent change of pace for this album. Beautiful lyrics and spot-on percussion work make this another one of the gems of Hotel California
. “Try and Love Again” is another example of The Eagles’ mastery of fusing the best elements of country and rock music together. This is evident in the instrumentation (particularly the guitar-work), and overall melody. A simple, effective song, “Try and Love Again” is The Eagles oftentimes do best: write love songs. Hotel California
concludes with the amicable “The Last Resort.” As the album on the whole, is relatively soft, it’s rather fitting that this song should be its final track. “The Last Resort” slowly builds upon itself while demonstrating the marvelous musicianship that The Eagles display time and time again on this album.
is a special album. It was unlike anything that The Eagles had ever done before. It is unlike anything they may ever do again. Hotel California
is a timeless album that needs to be experienced. So, if you’ve heard it before, and enjoy it as mush as I do, then I hope you are satisfied with my assessment. However, if you haven’t ever looked into this album, then I beseech you to put it on your “must listen” list (assuming you have such a thing). I can promise you one thing: you won’t regret it.