// Album Recommendation

The Eagles

Hotel California

(1977)

“Relax, said the night man
You can check out any time you like,
But you can never leave.”

Hotel California by the Eagles

When The Eagles reconvened in 1976 to write songs for their next album, 1977’s Hotel California, main songwriters Don Henley and Glenn Frey were fully intent on creating the band’s masterpiece. The previous year singer/drummer Don Henley and singer/songwriter Dan Fogelberg had dinner one night, where they talked about their ambitions to write and record their hitherto most accomplished works. Fogelberg wanted to use a broader palette of colors in terms of instruments and music genres. Henley wanted to toughen up the sound of his band, not much but just enough to retain some of the old credibility they’d obtained with their second album, 1973’s Desperado, before becoming more polished and radio friendly (1974’s On The Border). Fogelberg went on to record one of his most breathtakingly beautiful albums, 1977’s Nether Lands (the other being his magnum opus The Innocent Age) and – after having spend all of eight months in the studio – The Eagles delivered what many consider to be the album of their career, whether as a band or as solo artists. Fogelberg earned his greatest critical and commercial success up to that point in time (Nether Lands reached no. 13 on Billboard’s album chart), and The Eagles achieved their biggest selling album ever (Hotel California reached no. 1), which to this date has sold in excess of approximately 16 million copies in the U.S. alone.

The opening chords to the Grammy-nominated Hotel California and Henley singing “On a dark desert highway / Cool wind in my hair” surely add up to one of the most evocative and powerful songs to have ever opened an album, setting the scene for nine tales of life and love in the fast lane in 1970s Southern California; the initial excitement of it all, the addiction to it, physically (the drugs) and psychologically (the adoration), and the inevitable comedown. Instantly recognizable, it has long since become The Eagles signature song and is an undisputed classic. Don Felder, who wrote the basic track, presented it to main songwriters Glenn Frey (vocals, guitars, keyboards) and Don Henley (vocals, drums, percussion), and the latter, a renowned perfectionist, labored over its lyrics for months until at long last he was satisfied. Don Felder (playing 12-string) and Joe Walsh (playing 6-string) came up with what amounts to the most distinctive and famous guitar solo of any song in music history; the dual-lead guitars are nothing short of magical. Released as a single Hotel California topped Billboard's Single Chart.

Another signature Eagles song, New Kid In Town, was written by Glenn Frey and Don Henley with singer/songwriter J.D. Souther (who also co-wrote the Eagles hits Best Of My love off On The Border and Heartache Tonight from 1979's The Long Run). Glenn Frey sings lead vocals, Don Henley sings harmony, guitarist Joe Walsh plays electric piano, and bassist Randy Meisner plays the guitarrón, a very large, deep-bodied Mexican 6-string, acoustic bass (primarily used by mariachi bands). Frey’s vocal performance exudes just the right amount of melancholia and disillusion, as he observes the various stages of fame: the initial hype (“Great expectations, everybody's watching you / People you meet, they all seem to know you / Even your old friends treat you like you're something new”), and then the excess due to endless, distracting temptations (“Hopeless romantics, here we go again / But after awhile, you're lookin' the other way / It's those restless hearts that never mend”), and finally the fleeting nature of fame, and the emptiness that follows in the wake of its absence (“They will never forget you 'til somebody new comes along…/ Now he's holding her, and you're still around”).

As the title suggests, Life In The Fast Lane is a depiction of life among the rich and famous (“They knew all the right people, they took all the right pills / They threw outrageous parties, they paid heavenly bills”): the lead characters are a couple, whose party lifestyle and abuse of pills and cocaine is spinning out of control (“They didn't see the stop sign / Took a turn for the worse”), and it’s taking its toll on them, literally leaving its mark (“There were lines on the mirror, lines on her face / She pretended not to notice, she was caught up in the race”), until one day they realize that they’ve been going nowhere real fast with no recollection of the faces they’ve seen, and the conversations they’ve had (“She said, "Listen, baby, you can hear the engine ring / We've been up and down this highway; haven't seen a goddam thing."). For a band known for their polished perfectionism, Life In The Fast Lane is one of their grittiest songs, only outdone by Out Of Control off Desperado. Don Henley’s acerbic lyrics, Joe Walsh’s distinctive and insistent guitar motif, Randy Meisner’s expressive and soulful bass, as well as some creative production details, turn what could’ve ended up as a straight-ahead, standard-fare Rock’n’Roll song into something rather special.

Glen Frey’s and Don Henley’s melancholic Wasted Time, a stripped-down piano piece with strings and subtle flourishes of percussion and guitar, is the songwriting duo’s darkest, most melancholic song. With the perfect balance of restraint and sadness, Don Henley’s lead vocal is simply exquisite, possibly his greatest vocal performance ever. The lyrics deal with a single woman, who hasn’t found love at a time in her life, when she should have (“You never thought you'd be alone this far down the line / And I know what's been on your mind / You're afraid it's all been wasted time”), and now – older, lonely and hurting – she’s afraid she’ll never find it, easing her pain with pills, drugs or alcohol (“So you live from day to day / And you dream about tomorrow / And the hours go by like minutes / And the shadows come to stay / So you take a little something to make them go away”). Usually when you feel lonely or impatient, time drags and the minutes feel like hours, but Don Henley’s lyric “And the hours go by like minutes” turns the phrase around, and thus vividly conveys the swift passage of time, and the woman’s steadily growing desperation. Wasted Time (reprise), an instrumental almost classical string piece full of yearning, is a haunting, cinematic epilogue to the main track itself.

The fired-up Victim Of Love starts off efficiently with an edgy, insistent guitar intro, upon which Henley’s punchy drums kick in, and he sings of a young woman seeking affirmation, some sort of love, outside of the troubled relationship with her boyfriend (“What kind of love have you got? / You should be home, but you're not / A room full of noise and dangerous boys / Still makes you thirsty and hot”). Allegedly, the young woman in question was singer Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac (The Eagles biggest rivals in the 1970s), with whom Don Henley had an affair, while she and her boyfriend, Fleetwood Mac genius Lindsey Buckingham, were drifting apart (“I heard about you and that man / There's just one thing I don't understand / You say he's a liar and he put out your fire / How come you still got his gun in your hand?”). The fling with Stevie Nicks didn’t last; neither did her relationship with Buckingham. Joe Walsh’s nostalgic and reflective Pretty Maids All In A Row is a fairly obscure song in the Eagles back-catalogue, even if it features on this their best-selling album (wisely, they also included it in 1994’s low-key live set, Hell Freezes Over). Joe Walsh’s wistful lead vocal sets the poignant scene, his lyrics depicting two old friends, as they run into each other (“Hi there / How are ya? / It's been a long time / Seems like we've come a long way”). They reminisce about earlier times, dreams, hopes, former friends and lovers (“Why do we give up our hearts to the past? / And why must we grow up so fast?”), but as they part, they must return to reality, the present day (“And the storybook comes to a close / Gone are the ribbons and bows / Things to remember, places to go / Pretty Maids all in a Row”). It’s a moving song that should connect with most people, who’s drifted apart from old friends and felt nostalgic about it.

The vastly underrated Try And Love Again, written and beautifully sung by bassist Randy Meisner, is another Eagles song that’s rarely emphasized. It wasn’t included in the Don Henley/Glenn Frey-dominated double-disc retrospective entitled The Very Best Of The Eagles, which it should’ve been. A favorite among many long-time fans, it’s a wonderfully melodic and uplifting, guitar-dominated composition that sounds like it could’ve been released as a single, if The Eagles had decided to release yet another one after the first three hit singles. The lyrics deal with how hard it can be to maintain one’s faith in true love and to find the courage to stay vulnerable (“Should I stay or go? / I really want to know / Would I lose or win / If I try and love again?”), even when you’ve had your heart broken one too many times (“Well, it might take years / To see through all these tears / Don't let go / When you find it you will know”); it’s easier to just engage in superficial one-night stands out of fear of getting hurt, but you’ll still be longing for a meaningful relationship, when you wake up in the morning (“Right or wrong, what's done is done / It's only moments that we borrow / But the thoughts will linger on / Of the lady and her song / When the sun comes up tomorrow”).

If there’s a common theme to the album, it’s dreams: dreams of a better life, dreams of happiness, dreams coming true, shattered dreams. And in that context the closing song The Last Resort is a fitting epilogue to the album. At 7:30 minutes, it’s an epic tale of the pursuit of the American Dream in all its incarnations, from the first settlers (“And they came from everywhere / To the Great Divide / Seeking a place to stand / Or a place to hide”), who “came and raped the land”, to the actors, models and musicians in the Dream Factory of 20th century Los Angeles (Then the chilly winds blew down / Across the desert to the canyons of the coast / To the Malibu, where the pretty people play / Hungry for power”). The lyric is classic Don Henley, laying the ground work for themes he’d return to many times in his future solo work (e.g. on the albums The End Of The Innocence and Inside Job) and on the Eagles’ 2007 reunion album Long Road Out Of Eden. In typically cynical Don Henley fashion, he bluntly states how we’ll do anything to reach our self-righteous goals (“We satisfy our endless needs / And justify our bloody deeds…”) and make our dreams come true at all costs, even at the expense of our own credibility and integrity (“…In the name of destiny and the name of God”). In the end the only place we’ll find the peace and happiness that we’re so desperately searching for is within ourselves (“'Cause there is no more new frontier / We have got to make it here”), and if we can’t find it, the last resort may be God (“And you can see them there / On Sunday morning / They stand up and sing about what it's like up there / They call it paradise”). The story telling is a testament to Henley’s lyrical prowess – a talent he’s also put on full display throughout his laudable solo career. Having sold 32 million copies worldwide (and counting), Hotel California is The Eagles' masterpiece, a classic 1970s album that continues to influnce younger generations of music listeners and musicians.

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