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Hotel California

Hotel California


by The Eagles


Musically, "Hotel California" is propelled by Don Henley's incomparable voice, which sounds a bit like someone trying to play it cool while straining to be heard above a noisy room. The song also combines acoustic and electric guitars to great effect. The ending guitar solo with Don Felder and Joe Walsh was named the eighth best of all time by Guitar World magazine.

Even if you only heard the first chord of "Hotel California," you could probably recognize the song. The chord, played by bass and acoustic guitars, mimics the ringing of the "mission bell" on top of the hotel. This intro sounds like a vaguely flamenco or Spanish-style guitar part – perhaps an homage to California's Spanish heritage. The lengthy introduction includes a ten second-long shaker sound that resembles a rattlesnake, placing us in the middle of the lonesome desert. Together, these sounds and noises create a concrete tone, setting, and mood. In some live versions of the song, The Eagles play up the Spanish element in the song by adding a flamenco-style trumpet solo at the beginning. The introduction seems to build up and then stop, build up and stop . . . until finally it comes to a complete halt and two quick drum beats pave the way for the vocals. Dum. Dum.

Don Henley has a voice we could never get tired of. It's not so much the range of his voice as its dark, simmering quality, which conceals his emotion like gray coals in a fire pit conceal their heat. Just like the speaker, he never gives away his true feelings – fear, anticipation, or curiosity? He keeps his tone cool and level and just barrels through the narrative. In the two choruses, he is backed by other members of the band to give the impression that a crowd of "voices" echoing through the halls of the hotel.

The steadiness of Henley's voice forms a contrast with the guitars that slowly begin to rise up behind him. By the fifth and sixth sections of the song, the electric guitars have begun to whine, as if to signal the speaker's loss of control. They are like the voice of the "beast" that can't be silenced. When all the lyrics have been sung, those guitars take center stage and launch into one of the most famous solos (or, really, duets) in rock and roll. The song fades out as the guitars play descending arpeggios. This is the true voice of the Hotel California, and it's appropriate that we don't hear from the singer again: his fate has long been sealed.

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