45 years after the Eagles album ‘Hotel California’

“The biggest group in the world” is something impossible to really quantify, but it’s not hard to see who it is when it happens. No one could beat the sales and cultural influence of The Beatles throughout the 1960s, but when it came to hits and popularity, the Rolling Stones and even the Monkees could sometimes make their own claims. Bands like The Police and Kiss liked to use the line for dramatic effect, while The Clash purposely took down the idol worship that accompanied the tag by calling itself “The Only Band That Matters.”

But for about two years it was almost indisputable that the biggest group in the world was the Eagles. Formed in Los Angeles in 1971, the group were originally a country rock band, having nabbed Bernie Leadon of the Flying Burrito Brothers and Randy Meisner of Poco to raise relative strangers Don Henley and Glenn Frey. Largely thanks to the dominance of Henley and Frey, the band began to shift away from country after the 1973’s release. Desperado, bringing in guitarist Don Felder to add an extra edge to the group.

Leadon’s disgust with leading the band and discomfort with his place in the band led to his departure in 1975. In his place came Joe Walsh, the Detroit-born guitarist who brought an even more rock and roll orientation. wild to the group. Now almost completely rid of their country rock past, the Eagles set out to create a new record that balanced their desire for rock and roll power with their signature blend of harmonies, ballads, and commentary on the excesses of the California way of life. in the 70s. .

But the group still couldn’t quite get away from their gentler past. In early 1976, just before the band entered the studio, their record company came out. Their greatest successes: 1971-1975. Primarily made up of the band’s greatest ballads, including “Best of My Love” and “Take It To the Limit”, the greatest hits album became one of the best-selling albums of all time. In the documentary History of the Eagles, Frey claims there was an 18 month period in which the band sold a million records per month.

With the three singles of the group’s previous LP One of those nights reach the top five of Hot 100 display panel, there was a strong sense of pressure, both internal and external, over the group’s next outing. This meant Frey and Henley were reducing their control, insisting the group had no room for infill and no patience for anything other than the best. With Walsh as the new guy and Meisner being non-confrontational, that meant the main source of contention would occur between Frey, Henley, and Felder.

Felder landed his first lead vocals on an Eagles song with ‘Visions’ on One of those nights. The guitarist made it clear that he wanted more vocals in the band’s music and that he wanted to sing more. Frey countered that even as the frontman of the group, he himself was singing less in order to give the lead to Henley’s more commercial voice. Felder helped compose the song “Victim of Love” and began to try it out frequently during the recordings. Frey and Henley decided it wasn’t up to the band’s standards, so they planned a distraction: Band manager Irving Azoff would take Felder out to dinner while Henley recorded the lead vocals. Felder was told this was “best for the Eagles,” and the division of power left lasting scars that would arise decades later.

But Felder also provided the impetus for the crux of the entire album: the title track ‘Hotel California’. Originally an instrumental written by Felder, Henley and Frey divided a story involving fuzzy area-as characters representing the savage turmoil of the Los Angeles rock and roll scene. With the story over, Felder took the reins again with a guitar solo, only for Walsh to come in and they dueled. As the track reached its climax, the two triplet figures conceived what sent the song into overdrive. The group’s record label wanted to cut the song’s instrumental ending for a single, but the group refused. The nearly seven-minute California hotel reached number one on the Hot 100 display panel in 1977.

From there, the basic framework of the album had been drawn. A guitar riff from Walsh and a high-speed ride with a drug dealer from Frey inspired ‘Life In the Fast Lane,’ a commentary on excess that brought the band closer to hard rock like never before. never been. “Victim of Love” was designed for raw efficiency and was the only song recorded live with all of the members playing on the backing track at the same time. “New Kid in Town” found Frey ruminating on how quickly the pop star machine built and knocked out artists, while “Pretty Maids All In a Row” finds Walsh ruminating on love lost and the painful realities of a life that has always kept you from any sense of normalcy.

“Try and Love Again,” much like “Take It Too The Limit,” describes Meisner’s struggles to balance his rock star life with his desires to keep his family life together. The album’s two radical ballads are both the final chapters of their respective sides, the first, “Wasted Time”, counting on the fall of romantic love, and the second, “The Last Resort”, focusing on the destruction of nature, a personal crusade of Henley. In all, California Hotel is an album filled with anxiety, nervousness, despair, excess and burnout.

But it never feels like a chore. Instead, producer Bill Szymczyk makes every instrument absolutely gigantic. Even the album’s only country song, ‘New Kid In Town,’ has a sort of finish the band had never produced before. California Hotel was the Eagles’ rock and roll statement that also let in facets of mainstream pop.

Immediately after its release, the band began to wobble under their own weight. The Eagles had never been bigger, and yet their success only amplified the problems that already existed before the album was recorded. Meisner left after the supporting tour, replaced by another easygoing former Poco member, Timothy B. Schmit. Felder and Walsh began to push back on the leadership of Frey and Henley, while the two main songwriters also began to have their own differences. The next LP of the group, The long term, was so hardworking and cocaine fueled that it took over a year and a half to complete. By the time the group hit the road, tensions were so high that arguments on stage began to erupt.

California Hotel was a high not just for the Eagles, but for all 70s rock and roll. In its wake, punk and disco were positioned to completely thwart the bloated, sometimes pretentious, finely refined rock that the Eagles were iconic of. And even, California Hotel still stands because of this impeccable craftsmanship.

The Eagles were never in danger of being cool, and their major success ensured that they would inevitably reach a point where pop culture actively took root against them (see The great Lebowski for the best example). But at a time when the music of all generations is becoming homogeneous on streaming services, California Hotel feels like the Eagles at their most timeless. Ballads might be sweet and no one needs to hear the song ‘Hotel California’ for the millionth time, but California Hotel remains one of the best examples of a group recognizing their heyday and enjoying it.

Nicholas E. Crittendon