When Hotel California was released on December 8, 1976, I didn’t run out and buy it. In fact, I don’t think the copy we now have on CD is one I bought but something my wife bought.
Granted, part of the reason I didn’t buy it at the time was that, as a college student, I didn’t have a lot of disposable income. While that didn’t keep me from buying LPs I wanted, I was of the opinion at the time that Joe Walsh would ruin the Eagles. What makes that funny in retrospect isn’t just that Hotel California became one of the biggest selling albums of all time. There’s also the fact that if you’ve seen the Eagles over the last several years, particularly since the band fired Don Felder, Walsh tends to outshine the other remaining members.
The fact remains, though, that when I heard the album I wasn’t overly impressed. Walsh did change the Eagles, although not in the manner or to the extent I thought.
Those first albums were a wonderful combination of the country rock sound I enjoyed at the time and the increasingly popular so-called Southern California sound. Walsh, though, came from a more hard rock background, both as lead guitarist in the James Gang and on his own. I figured his harder rock background would alter the trademark Eagles sound. I was right but it evidently was a move the public loved.
There’s no doubt the guitar interplay on the title cut, particularly that between Walsh and Felder (who wrote the song’s intro and the ending solos), is top-notch. I’ll even admit Walsh’s own “Pretty Maids All in a Row” as well as “Wasted Time” and “The Last Resort” (both Don Henley-Glen Frey compositions) are worthy tunes. Quite frankly, though, I didn’t really come to appreciate even those songs until hell froze over nearly two decades later. To this day, the rest of the album just doesn’t grab me aside from certain bits and pieces of the songs (e.g., the background guitar work Walsh does on “Life in the Fast Lane”).
I know Hotel California has sold a bazillion and a half copies, went platinum within a week of its release and remains among the top 20 bestselling albums of all time in the U.S. I know it won a Grammy for Record of the Year. I know it’s No. 37 on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 greatest albums. And maybe a contrarian attitude kept me from buying it. Even so, I’ll still take any of the band’s prior releases over this one.
Why do we give up our hearts to the past
And why must we grow up so fast?
“Pretty Maids All in a Row,” Eagles, Hotel California