He was a hard-headed man
He was brutally handsome, and she was terminally pretty  

He had a nasty reputation as a cruel dude
They said he was ruthless, they said he was crude             (Life In The Fast Lane)

That’s me he’s singing about there.  Well me back in 1976, when I spent all my time swaggering shirtless around various parties in LA, my thousand yard stare hidden behind my mirror shades, suffering from a bad case of frozen face and chronic moral turpitude, my mouth drawn-back into a grim cocaine rictus.  Like my man Charlie said, ‘It was the best of times …’

Eagles Hotel California 06

I picked up Eagles Hotel California in September 2010 when a friend gave me a load of LPs he didn’t want*, but I’ve known the music for ever.  My parents weren’t huge, huge fans but liked all the early Eagles albums and ‘Hotel California’ always thrilled me when it came on the radio, even at the age of about 7 I knew there was something special and different about that song, and there is.  I’m also really rather partial to that whole LA mythology, when the 60’s changed gear into the 70’s, the eyes turned blank and everything got sun-bleached, cynical and morally leached.  When bands like the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac made so much money, for themselves and their record companies, that they had to spend 2 full months out of every 6 living on gold soup and diamond fritters for tax reasons. True story.

Eagles Hotel California 05

How can you even begin to write about the title track of Hotel California? it’s just too big, too pervasive.  I have always loved the lyrics more than the music, it was always so creepy and oblique to me.  I know you’ve all heard it so many times they barely register now, but have a read:

Mirrors on the ceiling,
The pink champagne on ice
And she said “We are all just prisoners here, of our own device”
And in the master’s chambers,
They gathered for the feast
They stab it with their steely knives,
But they just can’t kill the beast

Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
“Relax, ” said the night man,
“We are programmed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave! “

Because it’s hidden behind that upbeat, umm, beat and some seriously wonderful harmonics it doesn’t shock.  Clever stuff indeed.  Welcome to LA, don’t worry about the corpse bobbing around in the infinity pool, just enjoy the sunset.  Personally I have a new theory that will totally blow everyone’s minds and put paid to that silly thesis that the song is about cocaine addiction and the generally vampiric qualities of fame and the music industry of the time, I think it’s meant to be taken entirely literally – there is a master, a beast and some knives and stuff hidden in the back of a hotel with a bit of a strange departure and drinks policy.  Try it, it works for me. Trust me, it’s a dynamite theory – be all over the internet tomorrow.

Eagles Hotel California 01

But there’s other songs on Hotel California of course.  Mrs 1537’s favourite ‘New Kid In Town’ has never and still doesn’t really do it for me I’m afraid and while I’m being negative I’d also like to put the boot in on ‘Try and Love Again’, ‘Pretty Maids All In a Row’ and ‘Wasted Time’.  Sorry but the Eagles of ’76 straddled that ridge between blandness, country and brilliance for me and these tracks rolled off into the guttering of vapidity as far as I’m concerned.

Eagles Hotel California 03

Having trashed over half the album, just put the needle on the record at the beginning of ‘Life In The Fast Lane’ and let Joe Walsh** blow any qualms you have away with that opening.  What a brilliant track too, a fabulous tale of the young and beautiful crashing badly after an enjoyable ride; speaking as a representative of the middle-aged and gnarly I can’t get enough of those stories!  It has such a great funky backbone too, kinda ZZ Top-lite, those Eagle boys really could play, you know.  You know there’s a gruesome car wreck at the end of that highway, but when the journey is as big a blast as this … Ditto, ‘Victim Of Love’ the other real rocker here featuring some great slide from Mr Walsh.

Eagles Hotel California 07

Eagles Hotel California 04

I’m also a bit of a sucker for the grandiose LP closer ‘The Last Resort’, with its sweeping views on religion and building-a-paradise-right-here Californianisms.  I know I’m being shamelessly manipulated by Don Henley’s plaintive vocals and those precise piano chords but I am just powerless to resist, I guess I am only human after all.  I think interestingly it contains a fairly naked exposition of Frey and Henley’s worldview at the time,

We satisfy our endless needs and
justify our bloody deeds,
in the name of destiny and the name of God.

I love the sheer unironic self-obsession of the Californian bands of this time, they just seemed to get so isolated from anything resembling real life that we could all relate to that they just wrote song after song about their own melodramas and numbness.  If they weren’t so damn good at their craft then it would all be unbearable, but the Eagles, like the reconstituted Fleetwood Mac, were incredibly good at what they did and I defy anyone but the most curmudgeonly ogre not to have a few favourite radio songs written by them.  The fact that the lead players in the Eagles seem to have been such cynical, unpleasant dudes adds even more frisson to it all – Poco veteran Randy Meisner didn’t last much longer after Hotel California.  The party in the hotel lobby looks more and more like the last gathering at Gatsby’s mansion the harder you look at it.  Christ, look into those guy’s eyes in the poster that came with the LP!

Eagles Hotel California 08

Meanwhile a bunch of scabby peasants watched the distant occupants of the palace partying their days away in ever more futile attempts to feel something through their snowstorm, pleasure, pain whatever … they clutched their cheap guitars and began to erect their guillotine … it was high time for something raw in the world.

499 Down.

Eagles Hotel California 02

PS – I unreservedly recommend Barney Hoskyns’ book Hotel California about the LA scene in the 70’s – one of the best music books I ever read. True dat.

*he was getting rid of all his vinyl.  (sombre pause)

**one of my favourite players period.

42 thoughts on “Cruel Dudes

  1. I have the greatest hits on CD…and K hates the Eagles, so that’s it for them at our house…
    The first song of theirs I ever fell for was “One of these nights”. LOVED IT! And the rest of the music wasn’t bad at all. I know they’re overplayed but I still like their music. Desperadooooooo….

  2. I enjoyed the post although I think this is a decent album. I still have trouble with Joe Walsh as the “hired gun”, but for this record – it works.

    1. Hiya, thanks for popping by. The highs here definitely outweigh the bits I find a bit bland and any LP with Joe Walsh on it can’t be bad, I just wish he had been able to fly a bit free-r, but that wasn’t the Eagles I guess!

  3. God, you are so spot on with your write up here that there’s not much more I can add here. One point I will make and I made when I visited this album was the video for the song “Hotel California” which shows Joe Walsh and Don Felder trading off guitar solos on it. I remain convinced that metal bands whose guitarists engaged in this practice in the 80s first learned to do it by watching Walsh and Felder. I too am a sucker for the closer and the last two lines sum everything up for me “Call someplace paradise, kiss it goodbye.”

  4. Great post, sir. However, my feelings about the Eagles make me a curmudgeonly ogre. But I’m totally fine with that. I really hate these guys.

    Don’t get me wrong, there was a time when I thought Hotel California was great (I think even the hardened Eagles haters thought that), but that soon passed when I heard more of their tunes and discovered other more interesting music.

    Joe Walsh, though … he was the best thing about the Eagles. His playing and his songs were the best. Plus, from watching interviews and such, he seems to have been the best of the bunch.

    1. Ogre! It’s interesting, yours is definitely not an isolated view hereabouts. I just thought everyone loved ‘Take It easy’, the way I did.

      Rocky Mountain Way by Joe Walsh was one of the first big guitar freak-outs I loved, my dad had a live version and I just GOT IT.

      1. I associate ‘Take It Easy’ with Jackson Browne. Think that was the first version I heard. Or at least the version that stayed with me.

        As for ‘Rocky Mountain Way’ – that’s a marvellous tune. Walsh just wrote great, great songs. Some wonderfully sharp guitar in that, too. Strings a-buzzin’ … and some tallk-box action. Incredible, stuff. I reckon I’ll need to go listen to that now!

        The Smoker You Drink … and But Seriously, Folks … are two very fine albums.

  5. I quote Jeff Lebowski, “I hate the f*&$#@g Eagles, man!”

    Like you, I was enamored by the song “Hotel California” as a kid. Hearing it on the radio in the car put me in the song. Very descriptive, eerie, and some great guitar playing by both Don Felder and Joe Walsh. It also had that tight, 70s production that made it, as well as albums by Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan sound so damn good.

    But then something happened when I got a little older. I don’t know, I think maybe a combination of radio burnout, Henley/Frey annoyance levels in the 80s, and the fact that these guys had the gall to actually allow fans to pay $3-$400 a ticket for their ‘Hell Freezes Over’ tour really put a bad taste in my mouth. Regardless of how good and how tight of a band they were I’d rather listen to static or the humming of a refrigerator than listen to the Eagles.

    On the other hand, I love Joe Walsh. James Gang, solo stuff, or just a drunken interview with Chicago radio DJs, the guy was entertaining, humorous, and hugely talented.

    Oh, and I love “Pretty Maids All In A Row”.

  6. Another wonderful, enjoyable & even-handed review. I’m more of a fan of this album than you, but maybe that’s because it’s been in my DNA for such a long time. When I bought my first real stereo system (in 1981, I believe)…back in the days when you would choose the individual components with the help of a knowledgeable audio guy and then test everything out together…a half-speed mastered LP copy of “Hotel California” was the album I used to test the system. As a bonus, they gave me that LP after I made my purchase and I still have it in my collection. If 2010 was the first time you played the album in its entirety it makes sense that some of the non-radio songs haven’t made an impact on you yet. Give it another 30 years and they might be your favorites. Or maybe not.

    Oh, and cheers to Mrs. 1537 for loving “New Kid In Town,” a long-time favorite of mine.

  7. I’m not a uge super-fan either, but I have both Greatest Hits, and a couple of their records on LP (Hotel California and Long Run, I think, off the top of my head). Anyway, I don’t care what the Big Lebowski says, I like them. Their music is unlike anything else, instantly just comfortably THEM. Well, not the Van Morrison THEM, but you know what I meant.

    I play a mean air guitar for Hotel, and I can do both parts of the extended outro, so if you ever wanna jam, lemme know…

    Damnit 1537, this is some FINE reprtage. Two thumbs waaaaay up!

    1. Many thanks, my own fave is ‘Take It easy’ – that tune just sends me. I’m also a bit of a sucker for ‘Journey of The Sorcerer’ too.

      I play mean air drums, so we’re most of the way there for the world’s most pointless tribute band.

  8. Beautifully written, quietly insightful, delicately balanced between the highway and the ditch. I hope you get the spike in page views this piece richly deserves (from those gazillion Eagles and MOR fans).
    Just one question, is there any moral turpitude (one of my favourite phrases) involved in writing about a worldwide #1 album? If so, can I steal a swig of your turps?

    1. Thank you very much, again. Nah, no moral turpitude here and you’re welcome to some of my turps, I find it’s great with ginger ale.

      I tagged it ‘moral turpitude’ to snare any time-travelling Victorians seeking pornography.

      1. Oh no…thats the song takes makes me go apoploptic. Makes me really hate Glenn Frey and the 70’s.

        Not only makes me want to change stations, makes me want to yank the damn thing out of the dashboard and throw it out the window.

  9. I learned the term ‘quadrillion’ this year (one followed by 15 zeros) – that sounds about accurate for the sales of their greatest hits!
    As you know, it’s on the 1001 list and I have the LP from a similar bargain/free tale. I struggle with the eagles – no doubt they can play, the word bland comes to mind though.
    Haven’t reviewed this one yet – and 499, I look forward to the next/milestone post!

      1. An unorthodox pick to mark the milestone, but perhaps that makes it all the more appropriate. There’s a step by step &/or the right stuff wordplay opportunity to be had…

  10. i’m with you there on the literal translation thing. i’m drunk now,so alternatively, can’t come up with a witty comparison song, but I do like Holiday In Cambodia actually being about Pol Pottery, a Cornish-run artisan shop, that obviously sells lots of crackle-glazed skulls.That’s the way he ale’d mind works.

  11. Didn’t see this one coming! You’re full of surprises.

    This is one of those bands that I like enough, but not quite enough to go all the way and buy something. If I was going to buy something, it would clearly be Hotel California. I am a curmudgeonly ogre in many respects, but I do have a few favourite radio songs by them. I have “Life in the Fast Lane” stuck in my head right now, so there ya go.

    1. I’m not sure I’d ever have gotten around to actually buying this, but I got given this and Greatest Hits and I’m glad I got them.

      They just sit on that edge of too MOR / too bland for me, BUT when they get it right it is incredible. I guess that’s why they sold 9.889 billion records in 1976 (approx.).

      Life in the Fast lane …

      1. Yes. Exactly like that other 70’s band, that I reviewed today. As you shrewdly observed, it’s such a good idea for them to FINALLY release a greatest hits album. 😉

Leave a Reply