Published on May 15th, 2020 | by Craig Silliphant1
Songs We Hate: Hotel California by The Eagles
With everyone on Facebook sharing their favourite albums of all time, we wanted to talk about songs we hate. Today: Hotel California by The Eagles.
Some say hate has no place in music criticism, but I disagree. If you can’t have the depth of emotion to hate something, then you can’t really love something either. And, hey, sometimes it’s just plain fun to rip into a piece of media that drives you crazy.
This is the maiden voyage of a column we’re calling, ‘Songs We Hate.’ I’m starting with one of my most hated songs, ‘Hotel California’ by The Eagles. I’ve forced myself to listen to it over and over as I write this, so consider this your trigger warning that this brought some of my greasiest bile to the surface. (And watch, now Spotify is going to think I’m the world’s biggest Eagles fan and it’ll start serving me their warmed-over brand of dogshit in every playlist they send my way. Maybe this whole thing was a bad idea).
‘Hotel California’ was released on The Eagles 1976 album, Hotel California. Don Felder and Don Henley wrote the music and Glenn Frey wrote the lyrics. It’s sung by Henley and there’s a big fat guitar solo with Fender and Walsh going back and forth at the end. It won the Grammy in 1978 for Record of the Year, which only goes to show how much of a farce The Grammys is. It became The Eagles’ signature hit and a Boomer anthem.
I don’t just hate ‘Hotel California.’ Like The Dude, I hate the fucking Eagles. They are the poster dicks of fake, corporate CEO dad rock masquerading as the progeny of Willie Nelson by way of the East coast; cool, hippy outlaw country dudes.
The critic Robert Christgau also famously slammed The Eagles:
“The Eagles are the ultimate in California dreaming, a fantasy of fulfillment that has been made real only in the hip upper-middle-class suburbs of Marin County and the Los Angeles canyons.”
The Eagles are competency (notice I didn’t say talent) without a quantum of soul. Like some dimension opened up and nondescript demon things ambled dumbly out to infect the world with the damnation of utter mediocrity.
Sure, they’re competent musicians, fine, Joe Walsh is a decent enough guitar player. But I mean, that coda solo was voted the best guitar solo of all time by readers of Guitarist Magazine, which is a mind-bending crock of shit. It’s like a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy of the string bending country honk that Nashville studio musicians or guys like Mick Taylor played years before. And regarding that harmonized hook at the outro; simplicity is often an amazing thing, but that hook is generic Hallmark card pap trying desperately to sound like it’s imbued with Game of Thrones grandeur.
Speaking of harmonies, The Eagles are lauded for theirs. But their voices sound like watery jam spread too thin on dry toast. Henley was, like, 29 when he sang this and he sounds like he’s 68 with a vocal cord as skinny as the dollar bill he was rolling up to snort coke. While their harmonies are well-balanced and executed, that’s almost the problem. They’re technically proficient, but they are a journey into the heart of The Bland Sea, a place with no waves, where the sirens sing a song about going through the fuckin’ motions.
And don’t get me started on the lyrics.
According to Frey, they wanted to write something “weird” just to see if they could and they leaned on the 1965 novel The Magus by John Fowles, about a man who finds himself in a surreal place where he becomes unsure of reality.
I don’t find ‘Hotel California’ weird at all. Maybe it’s just because I grew up with it so I’m accustomed to it, but saying it’s weird is like teenagers who are all, “Oh, I’m so weird, so quirky, I’m such a nerd,” and then they’re shopping at fucking Hot Topic like every other kid. It’s not nearly as ambiguous as these idiots are patting themselves on the back for. It’s half-baked, nonsensical mysticism that they want to think is as trippy as a 70s Dr. Strange comic or a Twilight Zone episode. I mean, psychedelic bands like Pink Floyd were much weirder, well before this stupid song came out. Imagine if Don Henley heard the Butthole Surfers or something truly weird that can actually snap your brain in two.
People have applied all kinds of meaning to the lyrics over the years, which is inane, considering how straightforward it really is. “It’s a Zen hippy anthem about American decadence, money, corruption, and drugs, about a place with no humanity or soul.” Well, if we’re talking about The Eagles, you’ve got the no humanity part right.
Henley made himself look like a right dickhead in 2009 when he tried to claim that the song was a sociopolitical statement. The Plain Dealer music critic John Soeder asked him if he regretted the line where he asks the Captain to bring him “more wine” and the Captain replies, “we haven’t had that spirit here since 1969.” You know, because wines are fermented while spirits are distilled. Now, I’ll give you that it’s a pedantic question, but his answer was even dumber:
“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. 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.”
I wonder what it’s like to have your head that far up your own ass?
‘Hotel California’ is a concoction of bloated egos, glossy 70s cocaine production and songwriting, all set to a vaguely cowboy reggae vibe, crafted to appeal to the widest audience to nod mindlessly to. What about feeling something? Putting that into a song? Your heart, your soul, your grit, your life, your slow death? ‘Hotel California’ is homogenized garbage that pretends it’s full of Yoda-like epiphanies, but it actually says fuck all. It’s lowest common denominator company rock for people who think they love rock n’ roll, but they’d piss their fuckin’ pants in terror if they sat up front at a Jerry Lee Lewis or Iggy Pop show.
I can’t say it better than Klosterman, who as a critic, admittedly isn’t very interested in hating a band. And yet, he still hits the nail on the head.
“They were rich hippies. They were virtuosos in an idiom that did not require virtuosity. They were self-absorbed Hollywood liberals. They were not-so-secretly shallow. They were uncaring womanizers and the worst kind of cokehead. They wanted to be seen as cowboys, but not the ones who actually rode horses. They never rocked, even after adding Joe Walsh for that express purpose (the first forty-five seconds of ‘Life in the Fast Lane’ are a push). They lectured college kids about their environmental footprint while flying around in private jets. They literally called themselves ‘The Eagles.’”
‘Hotel California.’ I hate it. Though last-minute admission — I actually I don’t mind the Gypsy Kings version, other than that it makes me think of the original. So maybe that means I don’t hate the music so much as I just hate this recording, the lyrics, and The fuckin’ Eagles.
But as long as the boomers still consider it a quintessential part of the rock canon, and it’s ubiquitous, I can check out at any time, but I can never leave.