When one dropped the needle on an album back in the 1970s, there was hope—and often an expectation—that the record would take you on a journey, away from the boundaries of everyday life and into a world of fantasy. With 1976’s Hotel California, the Eagles delivered on that potential from the opening moment of the title track, which led off the album.
The tale vocalist and drummer Don Henley spools out begins in a setting that could be any motel along the highway on a late night, with the traveler’s eyes bleary from driving many hours past the natural point of conclusion for that day. But as Henley steps inside, led by an unidentified female figure, and voices welcome him to the Hotel California, it’s clear he hasn’t stopped in a normal place of lodging. The mysterious feeling that hangs in the air moves into mania, and eventually the realization that he’s trapped, never to leave again. It all unfolds across a song that runs for six and a half minutes and feels even longer than that, in the best possible way.
It’s a gripping story. Henley and his primary collaborator, Eagles vocalist/guitarist Glenn Frey, were masterful storytellers and Hotel California, the album, captured a band reaching its peak. It’s arguably the most well-developed and consistent record the group ever put to tape.
Listening to Hotel California now, it’s interesting to hear the contrast of the material moving from track to track. Frey’s “New Kid in Town” flies close to the California country-rock for which the band had first become known. “Life in the Fast Lane,” a gritty rocker, captures the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle of the day as it musically illustrates the formidable impact of then-new guitarist Joe Walsh, whose presence helped toughen the band’s sound. Henley’s “Wasted Time” and album closer “The Last Resort” bottled up moments of weary resignation, broken hearts, wandering discovery and episodes of wrongdoing that went without prosecution.
Only “Try and Love Again,” featuring bassist Randy Meisner, feels undercooked, a bit of an afterthought compared with the rest. But nearly 45 years after it first arrived, Hotel California remains a stunning achievement—one that should play out well during three full performances of the album at MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Of course, the band’s lineup will look different than it did in 1976. Meisner and Don Felder exited the band in 1977 and 1980, respectively (the latter returned for another stint from 1994 through 2001), while current bassist Timothy B. Schmit came onboard soon after Hotel California’s release. And, most significantly, Frey died in 2016 at age 67. His spot has been filled by two musicians—his son, Deacon Frey (looking remarkably like the ’70s version of his dad) and lifelong Eagles fan (and country veteran) Vince Gill—who have injected new life into the long-running group. It will be interesting to see how their presence transforms the iconic Hotel California here in Las Vegas.
EAGLES September 27-28 & October 5, 8 p.m., $179+. MGM Grand Garden Arena, 702-891-1111.