Pete Johnson’s Blast from My Past: The Eagles – Hotel California
If I hear one more person do some form of a brainless regurgitated sentence passing on the Eagles artistry and success that echoes Jeff Bridges character The Dude from the movie The Big Lebowski, I just may have to slam their heads or mine into a wall a few times. Instead of saying “I hate the f***ing Eagles”, the American people should stand and say proudly. “Look at what freedom has produced and given to the world”.
The Eagles and their music on every level is, (to quote another movie, Full Metal Jacket, “Out f****ing standing”. I am sure by now most people who are interested in music have seen the Showtime documentary The History of the Eagles. There are a few really key comments made by the band about the attitudes they had towards the music they created. One is “s**t don’t float”. The other is “Perfection is not accident”. We have floated down river on what the Eagles created ever since it was made. There is not doubt in any sane rational mind the Eagle’s Hotel California is the perfect crown jewel of their career. It was the one single glorious time that they got everything right 100%. They float almost effortlessly between great hard driving rock and roll, Southern California alt-country, and a little wimpy but beautiful ballads that lament some aspects of how their lives, and girlfriends, were not up to the standards they had at the time. This is kind of amazing since their lives as musicians could have made this record be ten variations of the song Life in the Fast Lane.
I personally cannot say anything more about the song Hotel California than has already been written. It is a pure masterpiece and its only rival for the heavyweight crown in Rock & Roll is Stairway to Heaven. Even Stairway to Heaven sounds kind of dated today with the airy, fairy, Tolkienesque bs lyrics, though the music still sounds great. Don Henley loved Led Zeppelin. The America Henley and Frey were writing about back then still exists today still and the song reflects that fact and makes it sound less dated after a few hundred thousand listens on classic rock radio, iPods and film.
I used to get mildly annoyed when I had to suffer through another airing of the song New Kid in Town. There was always something about that tune that bugged me. I cannot for the life of me tell you why. The only valid reason I can give you is that I was young and stupid and had not matured enough in my own taste to recognize the genius songwriting and performance. What turned me around was watching the video of a live performance from 1977. I have narrowed its magic element down to Joe Walsh playing keyboards as to why I now love this song. The record version got somewhat swamped by maybe the sound they had on the keyboards when recorded, or maybe an extra guitar overdub or something. It was a little too rich for my tastes. Whatever the case was, when I saw this live performance the glory of the song was revealed to me.
I will include the video so you can see what I am talking about. Joe plays the Fender Rhodes in a bandanna, which is quite exciting in and of itself. Then Frey comes in with his laconic and deliberate delivery of those lyrics. Every American kid who went to high school can still relate to it. We have “Fingers” Felder in all his glory spinning out those tasteful guitar lines that add beauty and depth to the proceedings. Henley is in the back singing harmony and goosing the song’s tempo along with that little bit extra live energy that you cannot achieve in the studio in quite the same way. Meisner is there with the rock solid bass playing and angelic like high harmony. There are only the five musicians playing and singing, and it sounds so lush and full with that little bit of toughness that a live performance brings out. You try to do that with your band and we’ll see if you can reach the same level. It is a rare thing.
Wasted Time is a perfect ballad and I won’t go into too much except to say it is one of Don’s best recorded vocals. The strings get a bit cloying, but it is still an unbelievable recording. The guitar always reminded me of George Harrison’s work on Let It Be, and is always a great touchstone for any guitar player playing a ballad. The best heavy rock songs on the record are surely Life in the Fast Lane and Victim of Love. The guitar grooves sound especially great to me. Felder uses this tune and the vocal battle with Henley as a source of contention. I have seen Don Felder sing and the man is pretty good. Henley is better of course and his vocal on this track does win the battle. Though I do wish they could have done a duet or something to alienate Felder a little less. Felder to me is the great unsung member of the Eagles, with Meisner coming in a close second. This opinion is based solely on my esteem for Felder’s writing ability, playing and invention with guitar parts. Victim of Love is one such example. He practically invented a newer sort of guitar groove with his use of the delay on the guitar chords. That sound and groove has been mined by countless musicians ever since. Felder rarely gets credit for it. One of the late highlights for me on any album is when Joe Walsh sings. There is something about my Jersey “Brudda from a different mudda” that I just love. Pretty Maids All in a Row is one of Joe’s finest Eagle songs. I do not think any vocalist in the Eagles could have sounded as unselfconsciously conversational as Joe when he sings “Hi, how are you?” That is what Joe brings to the table with his guitars and vocals, the ability to connect with people through recording and playing. Joe never sounded as standoffish as Henley or Frey. There is simply something about his God given gifts that gets added to a song on tape. I always loved the harmony guitars on Try and Love Again. Meisner sings a great performance track on this one. It rivals Take it to the Limit as his finest Eagles vocal. I always found the song The Last Resort as an oddity on the record about life in California. Its east coast references spoke to me as a kid and Henley’s vocal and the feel of the band, weirdly always made me make a Billy Joel connection. There was a lot of Billy Joel going ’round at the time. In closing, just buy this classic, you need to have it just as mush as you need a bottle of ketchup in your pantry. Life does not taste the same without it. You can thank me later. ;o)