I know it is all subjective, but now as I have listened to the first five Eagles albums, it is impressive to me that I feel like each one continues to improve on the previous release. That trend can’t last forever, but I do feel like their fifth studio album, “Hotel California”, is by far the most comprehensive and best record they have produced and released to date. Ranked #118 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, this album continues to showcase Don Henley and Glenn Frey as the unquestioned leaders of the band, introduces Joe Walsh in place of Bernie Leadon, and not coincidentally, take the next step down the rock path while leaving solid traces to their country rock roots.
The album opens with the iconic title track, which is every bit the extended classic rock anthem that “Hey Jude”, “Stairway to Heaven”, or “Free Bird” are. Written musically by guitarist Don Felder, Glenn Frey and Don Henley, who sings the song, wrote the lyrics and finished the melody, and Walsh shaped the closing outro to the guitar solo. Like many songs from a variety of genres that pay tribute to the Golden State, this song is broadly considered to be an ode to fame and the southern California way of life, that was considered to be a one-way door by the band. There is probably no other place in America, other than possibly New York City, that is as frequently cited and serenaded like California. Without even straining, I could name 20 songs about California, and I bet you could as well.
Another well-known ballad from Frey, “New Kid in Town” follows, before one of the faster rockers, “Life In the Fast Lane”, another Henley track, kicks the pace back up. For some reason, whenever I hear this song, I think of my friend Matt, who always referred to this song as “Flies In the Last Lane”. That aside, it is a good track, and as a matter of obscure trivia, it is the song the garage band at Ridgemont High is playing when the prom scene first opens.
“Wasted Time” is yet another Henley song (remember when he only sang one or two songs on their early albums?), and it is indicative of the passionate songs that would mark his solo career after the Eagles broke up. One of the best songs on the album, and in their catalog, “Victim of Love”, again sung by Henley, rocks in a manner, thanks to Felder and Walsh, that was unimaginable before those guys joined the band. Joe Walsh sings his debut song, the forgettable “Pretty Maids All in a Row”, and speaking of forgettable, next comes a Randy Meisner song, “Try and Love Again”. He gives it his best, but there is a reason why Henley and Frey are doing most of the singing now. The album closes with one last Henley ballad, “The Last Resort”.
By this point, the Eagles were dominant superstars in the rock domain, with multi-night stadium sellouts and millions and millions of records sold with this release. The band had certainly evolved in sound and in lineup again, but once again, the changes were for the better, at least from where I sit and listen.