(Pictured: the Eagles on stage circa 1977 with a backdrop from the Hotel California album art.)
Between the last week of March 1977 and the beginning of July, the #1 album in America was either Hotel California or Rumours, a collision of giants that seems ever more remarkable as the years go by. Last spring I ranked the tracks on Rumours. This spring, Hotel California gets its turn. If you haven’t heard it all in a while, go here.
9. “Wasted Time (reprise).” Eighty-two seconds of strings reprising the main theme of “Wasted Time.” This actually works better on the CD, where it immediately follows “Wasted Time.” On vinyl, you had to walk over to the stereo and flip the record, and you were greeted with this. Dropping the needle on Side 2 and getting immediately to “Victim of Love” would have been much more satisfying.
8. “Pretty Maids All in a Row.” The most noteworthy thing about “Pretty Maids All in a Row” is how it showcases the Eagles harmonizing together without words. That sound is everywhere on Eagles records, and once you start noticing it, you realize how lovely a trademark it was.
7. “Wasted Time.” The Eagles were famous for having a high opinion of themselves, and on “Wasted Time,” you can tell they’re trying to make a Big Philosophical Statement. They nearly pull it off: the melody and the production are like nothing else they ever did, although the lyrics, which sure sound like they ought to be important, don’t make a whole lot of sense on the page. Some of the individual lines are striking, however, none more than “I could have done so many things baby / If I could only stop my mind.” Feelin’ you, man.
6. “Life in the Fast Lane.” I liked this a lot more in 1977 than I do now.
5. “Try and Love Again.” This should have been a single. That ringing lead guitar would have sounded great on the radio.
4. “The Last Resort.” A better Big Philosophical Statement, about the taking of the West and the closing of the frontier. It suggests that every generation of Americans has had the urge to start over, but that urge comes from the fact that we never change, and that we learn nothing from all of the other new starts we made, so we’re fated to keep making the same mistakes. It’s just as relevant in 2017 as it was in 1977.
3. “Victim of Love.” If you have a vinyl copy of Hotel California, you can find these words etched in the Side 2 run-out groove: “V.O.L. is five-piece live.” For a band whose studio obsessiveness would soon approach Steely Dan levels, “Victim of Love” is already a throwback, with no overdubs and solidly kicking ass. “Victim of Love” was the B-side of “New Kid in Town” and was listed with it on the Hot 100, and it certainly got some Top 40 airplay during the latter’s winter run to #1. In the summer, WHYI in Fort Lauderdale would list “Victim of Love” on the station survey by itself, at about the time “Life in the Fast Lane” was riding high. Somebody at the station had a pretty strong jones for the twin guitars of Don Felder and Joe Walsh, apparently.
2. “New Kid in Town.” I wrote about this song on the 40th anniversary of its lone week at #1.
1. “Hotel California.” When “Hotel California” first hit Top 40 radio in February 1977, nobody had ever heard anything quite like it. We’ve all heard it so much in 40 years that it’s hard to hear it well anymore. Nevertheless, if you can make yourself notice, it’s got some cool little moments. Here’s just one: at the 5:30 mark, after the Felder and Walsh guitar solos build to a peak, Randy Meisner comes in, underpinning the guitars with an urgent, stabbing bass line, like a heartbeat out of control at the horror of being trapped in a place one could never leave. But then Meisner backs off. As Felder and Walsh repeat the same theme, Meisner’s bass becomes mere punctuation again, and “Hotel California” fades with the feeling that even the worst horror is something you can get used to.
And that, too, is just as relevant in 2017 as it was in 1977.