By David Chiu
If there is one rock album that perfectly captured the cynicism and decadence of the ‘70s, it’s undoubtedly the Eagles’ Hotel California. First released in December 1976, Hotel California still remains the Southern California band’s definitive record, cementing the Eagles’ musical shift from Byrds-like country rock to gritty hard rock; the arrival of guitarist Joe Walsh, who replaced founding member Bernie Leadon, proved crucial to the band’s direction at that point. Hotel California contains four of the Eagles’ most popular cuts that are now staples of classic rock radio: the epic title song, “New Kid in Town,” “Victim of Love,” and “Life in the Fast Lane.” But the rest of the album isn’t exactly filler: the philosophical and eloquent “Wasted Time” and “The Last Resort” majestic orchestral-laden tracks; “Pretty Maids All in a Row” is an uncharacteristic and reflective ballad from Walsh; and bassist Randy Meisner’s “Try and Love Again” is a hopeful-sounding pop number.
hile Hotel California representing Southern California rock at its zenith, its true power lies is the songwriting of band leaders Don Henley and Glenn Frey, who documented the ‘Me Decade’ for what it was: a period of greed and excess that contrasted with the hippie idealism of the ‘60s. Those sentiments are certainly expressed on a track like “Life in the Fast Lane” (whose title has gone on to become a popular catchphrase in itself), or “New Kid in Town” (a commentary on fame and one-trick ponies); while “The Last Resort,” which fittingly closes the record, is about the dark side of manifest destiny and how the American dream had become perverted. The flagship track of the album, however, is the title song–an epic Latin-meets-reggae number culminating in the iconic dueling guitar battle between Walsh and Don Felder, remains one of the truly greatest guitar performances of all time, period. Hotel California is a triumphant work in the Eagles’ catalog; ironically, despite its massive success, the album foreshadowed the beginning of the end for the band at that point. Its scathing critique of society’s moral decay then seems so relevant now 40 years later.
This 40th anniversary edition of Hotel California comes with a second disc containing the Eagles’ live performances during a three-night stand at the L.A. Forum in 1976. What’s unique about these shows was that the band unveiled “Hotel California” and “New Kid in Town” to audiences two months before the release of the Hotel California album, so fans in attendance got a preview of what are now two iconic songs. The live disc is essentially an Eagles’ Greatest Hits that contains some favorites like “Take It Easy,” “Take It to the Limit,” “Witchy Woman,” “One of These Nights,” and “Already Gone”; some deep cuts in “Good Day in Hell” and “James Dean”; and Joe Walsh’s “Funk #49, from his time with the James Gang. The Eagles’ live performances were a further extension of their distinct and pristine sound that have been known for in the studio: great and tight musicianship and those signature vocal harmonies.