“There are a lot of literary themes in that song that I learned in college: dark and light, good and evil. There are all these rumors about it being satanic, which only sells more records. If they want to get that goofy about it, that’s okay with me.”
Don Henley on Hotel California
A group that hardly needs introduction, the Eagles were formed in Los Angeles in 1971. With five number-one singles, six number-one albums, six Grammy Awards, and five American Music Awards, the Eagles were one of the most successful musical acts of the 1970s. They’re one of the world’s best-selling bands, having sold more than 200 million records. They were ranked #75 on Rolling Stone’s 2004 list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. As of October 2020, “Their Greatest Hits” was the #2 best selling album of all time at 41.2 million units sold. “Hotel California” is currently at 31.5 million.
The Eagles were inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 by Jimmy Buffet. Bernie Leadon, Don Henley, Don Felder, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh, Randy Meisner, and Timothy Schmit were all included in the Performers category induction.
Over the course of three weeks in the spring of 1997, I had two telephone conversations with the late Glenn Frey. The first time I spoke to him was from his house in Hawaii. The second was a conversation from his home in Los Angeles. He was outgoing and relaxed.
What does the songwriting process look like for you?
Frey: First of all, I don’t write all the time. It’s important to have time away from that process where I can just read books, go to movies, feed the brain, live life.
I tend to set aside periods for songwriting and just say okay, now I’ve got three weeks. I’m writing songs and I’ll make it a point to be a songwriter five or six days a week for that amount of time. During that time, I have slow days. The first day back to songwriting is not particularly fluid. It usually doesn’t yield much.
I found that my best work comes by showing up every day and then somewhere in the middle of that process you have these runs of a couple of hours here or there where you get the good stuff. But to me, it’s pragmatic. Showing up every day, thinking about the titles, playing a few chords, and listening to other people’s records for inspiration. Then having a conversation with my songwriting partner concerning what we should write about. In there you have your moments and that’s been the norm for me.
Guys like Don and myself we wrote together although the emphasis on music would fall on my shoulders and [the] emphasis on lyrics would fall on Don’s. But we did both.
I’ve written songs where I’ve carried the title around and the idea for the story and never really did anything about it until a certain moment in songwriting land when the time was right to write that song.
For example, “Life In The Fast Lane” was a phrase that I heard in a conversation with this guy as we were going 85 miles an hour in the left hand on the Hollywood Freeway—the Ventura Freeway—to the valley. When I was with the fellow, he looks at me and said, ‘Life in the fast lane.’ I said, ‘Oh boy, does that have a lot of potential.’ It happens for me in all sorts of different ways which is why I’m fascinated by the process.
Do you normally write on guitar or piano?
Frey: I have written a lot on piano. Even though I may end up playing guitar on the song, I find there are just a lot more options writing on piano. I do both and that keeps it interesting.
Are lyrics harder to write than music for you?
Frey: I’ve always said that playing music for a musician is like dribbling for a basketball player. Everyone can do it. I think that’s the part that comes easiest. I know a lot of musicians who are a thousand times better than me, but they are not as good of a songwriter. It was all in their talent for creating music. To me, it’s a lot about lyrics.
A lot of your songs seem to come from the perspective of an observer. It doesn’t seem as if they’re from personal experiences. Is that a fair statement?
Frey: Well, because it’s songwriting, I’m not living my life in song. I know that’s different, but I figure you get enough or yourself in it anyway, but it’s not all about me. I’m not that interesting. Maybe other people are more tortured and more fascinating than me. By writing with other people it also becomes less about you as well.
Music and Lyrics: Don Henley & Glenn Frey
Producer: Bill Szymczyk
“Lyin’ Eyes” was the second single from their album “One of These Nights.” It reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #8 on the Billboard Country chart. In 1976, The Eagles received a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Group for “Lyin’ Eyes” and were nominated for Record of the Year.
Henley: I think we wrote “Lyin’ Eyes” in about two days, maybe three. That’s when Glenn and I were living together in 1975. We were living up at the top of Truesdale in an old house that was built by Dorothy Lamour in 1942. We nearly had a 360-degree view. We were on top. That was when we were really having a good time. By ’75 we were having too good a time. Yeah, “Lyin’ Eyes”; Glenn started it and I helped fill in the blanks. We knew it was a cool song when we wrote it.
Frey: That’s part of the unpredictable nature of songwriting. We’ve written songs that took a year to finish. There were even more verses than the seven that are in the album version of that song.
We were hanging out at this restaurant called Dan Tana’s next to the Troubadour on Santa Monica Boulevard. We started seeing all these beautiful girls going into this restaurant. I think we started showing up early once we had a little more money. We’d go to Dan Tana’s for dinner and then go to the Troubadour.
We started meeting some girls who were like the girl in “Lyin’ Eyes”; out on the road in their sports car until midnight and then had to go back home to their sugar daddies. So, Henley and I started talking about this, ‘Boy, there’s a song there, pal.’ As a result, we broadened it out to try and make it, so it wasn’t just about Dan Tana’s. It was one of those songs that almost wrote itself.