Eagles – ‘Hotel California’ (1976)

Released eighteen months after ‘One of These Nights’, Eagles took their time with a follow-up as they spent eight of those months in the studio crafting their infamous magnum opus, Hotel California. The album was a milestone in the band’s career and discography, principally due to the stylistic shift towards mainstream rock rather than pursuing their bluegrass and country-western roots.

Hotel California is a loose concept album, exploring themes such as the stark realities of the so-called “American Dream”, environmental issues and the highs and lows of social culture in Los Angeles, California. Four out of the five band members take up lead vocals, with newly-assigned vocalist Don Henley covering five of the nine tracks. Guitarist Joe Walsh steps in for Bernie Leadon, neatly weaving his funk-rock style into the band to create a fresh sound that was never previously explored.

It should be noted that the musical, lyrical and vocal quality throughout the album is terrific. Both lyrically and vocally, Henley gives fantastic performances on the cuts that he spearheads, most importantly, the infamous title track. Described by Henley as “a journey from innocence to experience”, the clever triple-guitar interplay and reggae influences provide a stellar backdrop to Henley’s collected vocals. Don Felder’s guitar work should also be held in high regard with his remarkable coda that without, Hotel California would surely not be the same.

Glenn Frey covers vocals on track “New Kid in Town”, a laid-back, soft-rock ballad worthy of following up the title track. The band infuse harder rock aspects into “Life in the Fast Lane” with its sharp, multi-layered guitar hooks and Randy Meisner’s funky slap bass-like lines. “Wasted Time” then strips back the tempo, driven by a symphony of soft instrumentation, including excellent use of strings and calm piano play supporting Henley’s soulful expressions.

Perhaps the most thought-provoking and thematically driven, closer “The Last Resort” drives home the dark representation of Californian life that is often channeled through the track listing. There is a somewhat bittersweet contrast between the meaning and its musical counterpart; lonely piano stabs lead to euphoric string crescendos that results in a truly beautiful soundscape.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Essential tracks: Hotel California // Life in the Fast Lane // Wasted Time

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