Depending on your musical leaning, The Eagles song ‘Hotel California’ will either be a masterpiece or a throwaway piece of soft-rock garbage. Naturally, we’re only really talking to the former set here as we take a listen back to the legendary song through the isolated vocals of Don Henley.
The song has remained an integral part of every classic rock radio station since its release in 1977. Becoming a chart-topping success and leading the titular album, the single is regarded as one of the best of its class. Wildly interpreted at every turn, the song’s true origins are rooted in the fabric of American culture.
Speaking in 2013 about the song, Henley noted: “On just about every album we made, there was some kind of commentary on the music business, and on American culture in general. The hotel itself could be taken as a metaphor not only for the myth-making of Southern California but for the myth-making that is the American Dream because it is a fine line between the American Dream and the American nightmare.”
Though Henley and Glenn Frey took on the song’s lyrics, Don Felder handled the music. About the song’s lyrics, Felder said in 2008: “Don Henley and Glenn wrote most of the words. All of us kind of drove into L.A. at night. Nobody was from California, and if you drive into L.A. at night… you can just see this glow on the horizon of lights, and the images that start running through your head of Hollywood and all the dreams that you have, and so it was kind of about that… what we started writing the song about.”
Much of the reason the song was so beloved, aside from the lyrical construction, was the dynamic interplay between Felder and Joe Walsh. The duo works around one another with some of the gorup’s finest licks and delivers a backdrop for Henley’s vocals to truly shine. In honesty, it is those vocals that bring the song up another echelon into legendary status.
Hearing the inner workings of a classic song is always a delicate balance of seeing how the sausage is made and knowing the provenance of your pork. Luckily, the intrigue surrounding this song is sufficient enough that picking out only Henley’s vocals is a unique experience in ascertaining the essence of the track.
However, before we go pawing through every lyric, it’s worth reminding ourselves of Henley’s biggest regret while writing the song. When asked whether he knew the difference between wines and spirits, a reference to the lyric “So I called up the captain / ‘Please bring me my wine’ / He said, ‘We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969′”, the singer coldly responded to The Plain Dealer critic John Soeder: “Thanks for the tutorial and, no, you’re not the first to bring this to my attention — and you’re not the first to completely misinterpret the lyric and miss the metaphor.
“Believe me; I’ve consumed enough alcoholic beverages in my time to know how they are made and what the proper nomenclature is,” he continued. “But that line in the song has little or nothing to do with alcoholic beverages. It’s a sociopolitical statement. My only regret would be having to explain it in detail to you, which would defeat the purpose of using literary devices in songwriting and lower the discussion to some silly and irrelevant argument about chemical processes.”
With that in mind, let us return to the pure isolated vocals of Don Henley for Eagles song ‘Hotel California’ below.