To hear excerpts, just click the Amazon MP3 widget above
The Eagles released “Hotel California” on December 8th, 1976 and now it is regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time and also one of the biggest selling. However prior to recording “Hotel California” The Eagles found themselves in a strange place.
Bernie Leadon replaced by Joe Walsh
“Hotel California” was the first the band made without founding member Bernie Leadon. Bernie Leadon was a big influence on the original sound of The Eagles. There is no doubt that Bernie Leadon was a factor in the early sound of the band, a sound described as “Citified Country” by Mojo. Bernie Leadon was the big Gram Parsons fan and he was a driving force in The Eagles taking and refining Gram’s country style and polishing it up for major market consumption.
However The Eagles had moved away from this sound on “One of these Nights” and taken on a more rocky edge, which had sold well but did not sit with Bernie Leadon. This, along with, lets just say personal differences (he famously resigned from the band by pouring a beer over Glenn Frey‘s head in by December 1975) with other members of The Eagles saw him being replaced with Joe Walsh.
Joe Walsh was a solo artist in his own right, who, like The Eagles, was produced by Bill Szymczyk and managed by Irving Azoff. Joe Walsh quickly added vibrancy to the Eagles sound and was to become a major player in the band over the following few years. His contributions to stand-out tracks like “Life in the Fast Lane” meant his place in the hearts of fan was assured very quickly.
The “Hotel California” Sessions
As they prepared to enter the studio in March 1976, The Eagles had just released a greatest hits package, “Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975”, which had become a huge seller as had their previous album, “One of these Nights”, both hitting number one in the US Billboard 100 and a staple of FM radio stations. With all the fame and money they could have become complacent, however The Eagles had never been a hit with the critics of the time and this really irked them.
As Glenn Frey said at the time,”We wanted it all – peer respect, number one singles and albums, great music and a lot of money”. With their recent success the money, number one albums and singles (the title track from “One of these Nights” had been number one on the Billboard 100 in July 1975) had been taken care of. Now they wanted peer respect and recognition of their great music….and I am sure they did not complain about more money and number one records!
It was also the USA’s bicentinial year. In the 200 years since 1776, much had changed in the USA and The Eagles were recording in a post Watergate, post Vietnam world and they wanted to reflect this. The title “Hotel California” was chosen as a metaphor for, “something that was once elegant, but now is decadent”.
The Eagles carefully cultivated laid-back image covered over the hugely competitive and at times egotistical personalities of the band members. With new member Joe Walsh eager to make an impact they were fired up and the band were working like dogs. The Eagles started on the “Hotel California” sessions (split between Criteria Studios in Florida and Record Plant Studios in California) with the recording sessions fitted in between tour dates.
For weeks on end the schedule of The Eagles was nothing but playing gigs, sitting in airports or recording. At the end of this, Don Henley boasted of having his first stomach ulcer at the age of 29 and Glenn Frey simply stated, “we’ve tried harder than we’ve ever tried before”.
This schedule had a devastating effect on all of the members of The Eagles as they essentially burnt themselves out. It took three years before they would record another album and then split up soon after. “Life in the Fast Lane”, one of the key tracks, seems to be a perfect metaphor for what is must have been like to be in The Eagles during this time in the same way that the phrase “Hotel California” has become a metaphor, both transcending the world of music to come into everyday usage.
Randy Meisner resigns from The Eagles
Due to this schedule, Hotel California was to be the last with Randy Meisner, the original bass player and one of the vocalists in The Eagles. Randy Meisner was a family man and hated being away from his family so much. According to ex-Eagle Don Felder, Randy Meisner threatened to resign on countless occasions, but after Hotel California was released he did carry out his threat and left the band.
“Hotel California” the album
While the Eagles‘ sound did not change dramatically, lyrically Hotel California touched on so many negative aspects of life and death, despair, the negative side of fame and failing relationships all coming under the spotlight. However this was achieved without sounding bitter but shown through tales of naive innocence told in a tough but tender way on tracks like “New Kid in Town” and “Wasted Time”.
With Hotel California, The Eagles, as the biggest band in the country at the time, managed to catch the mood perfectly and could even be seen as visionaries for their social commentary. In the mid 1970s, there was not too much spoken or reported about environmental issues or the breakdown of modern society, certainly not in the manner they are banded about today. However the album finale “The Last Resort,” the song Glenn Frey, refers to as Don Henley‘s greatest work, covers just those issues.
Don Henley went so far as to claim, “We think this album represents the whole world, not just California.” This was not the only claim made by Don Henley of Hotel California, also claiming they were satirizing “the kind of limbo we are experiencing in the music industry while we are waiting for the next surge of inspiration.”
Sure enough Punk and Disco became the defining sounds of the late 1970s, but “Hotel California” was left behind as a perfect time capsule of the mid 1970s era, both in which it was created and created it.
- Don Felder – acoustic guitar, slide guitar, electric guitar, pedal steel guitar , steel guitar, vocals
- Glenn Frey – electric guitar, acoustic guitar, synthesizer, piano, keyboards, clavinet, vocals
- Don Henley – drums, percussion, guitar, keyboards, synthesizer, vocals
- Randy Meisner – electric bass, acoustic guitar, guitarron, vocals
- Joe Walsh – electric guitar, slide guitar, acoustic guitar, lap steel guitar, keyboard, piano, organ, synthesizer, vocals
- Jim Ed Norman – Conductor and String Arrangements
- Bill Szymczyk – Production, Engineering and Mixing
- Allan Blazek – Engineering
- Bruce Hensal – Engineering
- Ed Mashal – Engineering
- “Hotel California” (Don Felder, Don Henley, Glenn Frey) – 6:30
- “New Kid in Town” (J.D. Souther, Don Henley, Glenn Frey) – 5:03
- “Life in the Fast Lane” (Joe Walsh, Don Henley, Glenn Frey) – 4:46
- “Wasted Time” (Don Henley, Glenn Frey) – 4:55
- “Wasted Time (Reprise)” (instrumental) (Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Jim Ed Norman) – 1:22
- “Victim of Love” (Don Felder, Souther, Don Henley, Glenn Frey) – 4:11
- “Pretty Maids All in a Row” (Joe Walsh, Joe Vitale) – 3:58
- “Try and Love Again” (Randy Meisner) – 5:10
- “The Last Resort” (Don Henley, Glenn Frey) – 7:28
Accolades and Awards
- Number 37 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time
- Number 38 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Albums of all time
The Hotel shown on the cover of Hotel California is the Beverly Hills Hotel as photographed by David Alexander.
The original vinyl pressings had text engraved in the carry-out groove on each side. On side one it said “Is It 6 O’Clock Yet?” On side two it had “V.O.L. Is Five-Piece Live”This is believed to mean the song “Victim of Love” was recorded live by the five Eagles, with no overdubbing. Joe Walsh and Glenn Frey later confirmed this in the booklet that accompanies “The Very Best of The Eagles”.
- To the Limit: The Untold Story of the Eagles
- Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974-2001)
- The Mojo Collection: The Ultimate Music Companion