Friday, 15 February 2013
100 LPs Shortlist #27: The Eagles - "Hotel California"
Growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, you couldn't escape the Eagles. Any radio station that claimed to play "Rock" music, even if their mantra was the latest music, always played The Eagles. In a lot of cases, unless they're pure Top 40 stations or alternative or specialist stations, they still do play them. As a collector of vinyl, both new and second hand, Eagles records are plentiful and usually you can get them in good condition very cheaply. All of them are expertly played with loads of great guitar work on them which makes them pleasant enough to listen to, but the experience can ring a little hollow sometimes. After all, they're no longer the coolest band on the block, and we're all a bit tired of the exposure to them, aren't we?
When the Eagles started in the 1970s, radio in Australia wouldn't touch them. The only station that would was 2JJ (later Triple J), as they were considered to be "alternative". They were too country for the rock stations, too rock for the country stations. Of course, by 1975 they'd developed a big enough following to be one of the biggest selling bands in the world with the release of their next record.
"Hotel California" is a record that is completely of its time. It stands as one of the signposts of the debauched post-hippie 1970s, along with "Rumours" (Fleetwood Mac) and "Running On Empty" (Jackson Browne). These were records that highlighted the excess and indulgence that apparently was the late 1970s. They are products by musicians at the height of fame, with stupidly insane amounts of money, loads of groupies and copious amounts of drugs, seeming all on tap. Considering the amount of drugs these bands were rumoured to be taking, it's a wonder any music was made at all, let along stuff this great.
This is a record that contains great songs, but it also has been polished with a studio sheen that makes the music sparkle, despite the woozy, almost hung-over atmosphere of tunes like "Wasted Time" and "Victim of Love". "The Last Resort", with it's plaintive piano figure throughout, is an 8 minute tour-de-force through the US frontier's economic and social history. But most of the songs deal with the fallout of the heady and debauched post-free love era that was starting to burn people out, as evidenced on "Life In The Fast Lane" and "Hotel California". All the hippy idealism of the 1960s had now evolved into grown-up life and clearly it wasn't working for some people.
The bulk of "Hotel California" is still played on radio and in live sets by the band. The title track, "New Kid In Town", "Victim of Love", "Life In The Fast Lane" all get regular runs on classic hits radio even to this day, while on the 1994 comeback special "Hell Freezes Over" they played "Pretty Maids All In A Row", "Wasted Time" and "The Last Resort", as well as two of the aforementioned radio tracks. The only song on the record that gets short shrift is the Randy Meisener composition "Try and Love Again", not that there's anything wrong with it, but it really is the black sheep of the family in terms of appreciation - it's the hidden jewel tucked away at the back of the record. The other part of the record that, in my view, is superfluous, is the orchestral reprise of "Wasted Time" at the start of side 2 - what's the point of it?
The band peaked with this record. They couldn't follow it up quick enough and turned out the flaccid "The Long Run" in 1979. Listening to that record, it really sounded like the drugs had gotten the better of them. Nonetheless, "Hotel California" is the band's piece de resistance, and provided you listen to it on your own terms and not when oldies radio batters you constantly with it, it's still a great listen.