Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Such a Lovely Place


I recently saw the new documentary “The Eagles – Part I” at a premiere showing at the Sundance Film Festival.  While I admittedly was never a huge Eagles fan, I really enjoyed the film. The live footage from the 70’s was fantastic, especially since it had enhanced audio using modern technology. The Eagles have often been called America’s biggest music act during the 70’s, and in terms of hits and record sales, it is hard to argue that fact.  The group, led by Don Henley and Glenn Fry, churned out hit after hit during their tenure at the top, at a pace that has rarely been matched. 

Henley & Fry began playing together in Linda Ronstadt’s back-up band in the early 70’s. The pair also lived together with Jackson Brown in a small Los Angeles apartment and were a part of the early Southern California music scene at the time. The pair eventually decided to strike out on their own and convinced David Geffen and his new Asylum Record label to sign them as an unknown act. Their first effort, The Eagles, was recorded in England with producer Glyn Johns and released in 1972. It featured the song, “Take It Easy”, and launched the band to immediate fame. It was in 1976, however, that The Eagles achieved their crowning success with the album, “Hotel California”.

I said earlier that I was never a huge Eagles fan, primarily because their sound was just a bit too commercial for my tastes. I was, however, a big Joe Walsh fan, and “Hotel California” was the band’s first release featuring Walsh as a full time member.
Joe had worked on his previous solo records with Eagles then producer and engineer, Bill Scymczyk. The Eagles were looking to add some more “Rock credibility”, and Walsh was just the ticket.  Walsh had a hit in 1976 with “Rocky Mountain Way”, and provided The Eagles with a great guitarist, singer, and “rock” song-writer that the band wanted. 

The song, “Hotel California” began when guitarist Don Felder submitted a cassette tape of random riffs and progressions to Glenn Fry at the beginning of the writing process. Glenn said that most of the tape was nothing too interesting, but there was one guitar chord progression that Felder had come up with that jumped off the tape. It was the first incarnation of what would become the progression to the song “Hotel California”. Now many invested classic rock fans also say that the chord progression to Hotel California was stolen from an early Jethro Tull song, “We Used To Know”, released in 1969. If you go back and listen to both songs, you can definitely see the similarity. Although many Tull fans argued that The Eagles stole the progression, Ian Anderson of Tull later played down any of those accusations and called, “Hotel California” a great song with different time signature & lyrics, even if the chord progression was very similar.  Once Fry and Henley got a hold of the chord progression that Felder wrote, the rest of the song came to shape quickly. Producer Bill Scymczyk claimed in the Eagles documentary that the ending guitar duet riff that fades the song is the absolute, “musical highlight” of his producing career. The band then decided the rest of the album needed to follow the theme of the title song, and they embarked on creating a, “concept album”.  As described by Don Henley in and later interview:

“This is a concept album, there's no way to hide it, …It's our bicentennial year, you know, the country is 200 years old, so we figured since we are the Eagles and the Eagle is our national symbol, that we were obliged to make some kind of a little bicentennial statement using California as a microcosm of the whole United States, or the whole world, if you will, and to try to wake people up and say 'We've been okay so far, for 200 years, but we're gonna have to change if we're gonna continue to be around.”

The band then commenced to writing and recording the rest of the album. Most of the work was done from March through October of 1976 at the Record Plant in Hollywood, California with Bill Szymczyk at the production helm again. The album was also noted for it’s iconic cover photo of the Beverly Hills Hotel shot at sunset, and tied together with the music in a seamless way.

“Hotel California” was released in December of 1976, and produced several long lasting hits for the band. The first single, “Life in the Fast Lane” hit quickly and climbed up to #11 in the US charts. The second single was the monster hit – “Hotel California”. The tune went to #1, and has become what many fans say is the band’s “quintessential song”.  It lasted for many weeks on the charts, and seems just as popular today.  The third single, “New Kid in Town”, also went to #1 in the charts, and the success for the album, and the band, just kept rolling.  “Hotel California” became the bands best selling studio album with over 16 million copies sold. The Eagles garnered two Grammy awards from the album for the songs, “Hotel California” and, “New Kid in Town”.  The album was nominated for “Album of the Year”, but just lost to Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumors”.

Even though I said I’ve never been a huge Eagles fan, “Hotel California” was an iconic release. It represented the southern California sound of the mid-seventies, and captured the band at the height of their artistry and creativity. The album is still selling all over the world and has kept the Eagles going with intermittent world tours every few years.  I saw The Eagles live in 2009, and it was an enjoyable show, with seemingly hit after hit after hit being played.  I have to admit, however, that when the show was turned over to Joe Walsh and some of his solo work, the concert really got good.  It certainly seems like, “Life’s Been Good” for Joe, Glenn, Don, and the rest of the Eagles.

Eric Winger
The Winger’s Brothers