Growing up on the vocal stylings of Don Henley sets a high bar. It’s one thing to have such a unique timbre – but it’s another entirely to have the sort of mastery over it Henley possesses.
Today, this American rock icon turns 74. Born on July 22, 1947, as Donald Hugh Henley, the Texas native remains on constant radio spin. Which is no surprise, as combining his solo work with that of the Eagles results in a remarkable 25 top-40 singles.
And once his voice hits, you know it immediately. Whether crooning “Desperado” or belting “Hotel California,” the Eagles co-founder front-manned the band into stratospheric success with his sound. And the latter song is, for all purposes, the perfect example of this.
From its release in 1977 onward, “Hotel California” would set the Eagles apart in a class all their own. Both the song and the album that shares its name are largely responsible for making Henley’s group the best-selling American band of all time. As such, countless think-pieces have been written on the meaning behind “Hotel California.” Is it a drug-addled nightmare? An introspective on American culture? Or a scathing look at the music industry?
Don Henley says it’s all of the above.
‘Hotel California’: ‘A Fine Line Between the American Dream and the American Nightmare’
Quoting an interview from 2013, the U.K.’s FAR OUT sets the record straight courtesy of the man himself:
“On just about every album we made, there was some kind of commentary on the music business, and on American culture in general,” Henley said of “Hotel.”
“The hotel itself could be taken as a metaphor not only for the myth-making of Southern California but for the myth-making that is the American Dream because it is a fine line between the American Dream and the American nightmare.”
And of the chart-topper’s most oft-discussed lyrics, Henley offers that “The song has little or nothing to do with alcoholic beverages. It’s a sociopolitical statement.”
Yet none of this holds any meaning without the voice of Don Henley to back up the lyrics. Isolating his vocals results in an eerie exercise in storytelling as effective as the full song itself:
Listen to Don Henley’s Isolated Vocals from ‘Hotel California’
Hotel California (Eagles) – ISOLATED VOCAL TRACKRob Tomasini
But as Eagles fans know, Don Henley is not solely responsible for the words he sings. He and fellow Eagles legend(s) Glenn Frey would craft “Hotel California”s lyrics together, with Don Felder composing the music.
Of the words, Felder (the man responsible for ‘Hotel’s iconic, unmatchable guitar solo) describes: “Don Henley and Glenn wrote most of the words. All of us kind of drove into L.A. at night. Nobody was from California, and if you drive into L.A. at night… You can just see this glow on the horizon of lights, and the images that start running through your head of Hollywood and all the dreams that you have, and so it was kind of about that – what we started writing the song about.”
What a legend. What a song. Happy Birthday, Don Henley!