Hotel California by the Eagles has to be one of the most evocative
tunes in the history of Rock and Roll. It was released in December of 1976. It went platinum within one week of its release, was number one by January 1977, and eventually sold 10 million copies. There is no way you can listen to that song just once and let it go at that. Assuming that music has any effect on you, most people feel compelled to play that song over and over again.
While the lyrics are intriguing (and perhaps harboring a darker message for occult types), it's the cadence and chords employed that create the magnetic effect in my opinion. Of course, the playing is polished and carefully controlled to maximize the atmosphere, and Don Henley's voice and singing style couldn't fit the tune better. Anyone else singing that song could not achieve the same feeling and its effects upon the audience. So there's no debating the quality of the musicianship; it's top shelf, but what is it about that tune that makes it so haunting?
It's the Phrygian mode, and most people who go to rock concerts never heard of it, but they definitely react to it. .
The ancient Greeks are credited with establishing seven modes of music or scales. The one we hear most commonly in Western music is the Diatonic scale (do, re, me, fa, sol, la, ti, do). In the Diatonic scale, there are two half steps in the notes which fall between the 3rd and 4th notes and again between the 7th and 8th notes of the scale.
All the other notes have a full step between them. In the Phrygian mode, we change the location of the half steps so they fall between the 1st and 2nd notes, and again between the 5th and 6th notes. The psychological and emotional effects that can be achieved in music when you change the location of those half steps can be enormous.
People who have a serious interest in flamenco, for instance, are drawn to that idiom because it relies so heavily on the Phrygian mode to achieve that special feeling and haunting effect (the dancing and singing are equally important, but we're just talking music here). This is the effect that pulls you in with Hotel California. It's the final resolution of the half step that does the trick and sets you up to repeat the double 16 beat cycle all over again. There's something about the human psyche that simply grooves on that half step resolution at the end of the cycle.
Here are the 8 chords for Hotel California, 4 beats each for a total of 8 measures: B minor, F#, A, E, G, D, G (or E minor), F#
, and then the cycle repeats.
I've embedded three Youtube videos below of different versions of Hotel California performed by the Eagles. The first version is the nylon string acoustic version and it's simply beautiful in arrangement and performance. The second version uses a trumpet for the intro and steel string guitars for the solos and the finale which, to me, epitomizes the very glory of rock and roll itself~: solid body steel string guitars, amps, and guitarists who know what to do with them. The third version was an earlier performance with most band members sporting 1970s style shoulder-length hair. .
The minor chord at the beginning of the song sets you up for a combination of pathos and mystery (notice the Spanish/Mexican/.flamenco ambiance at the intro).
The change to the major chords is uplifting in one sense, but the Phrygian cadence keeps you locked into the pathos element and you get this strange juxtaposition of uplifting major chords, but an ambiance of pathos or tragedy. It really is a magical combination and produces a very unique effect upon the emotional body and a desire to repeat the feeling with another cycle. This is why you want to listen to this song more than once. Seven or eight minutes is not enough.
You want to drink down that whole bottle of wine.
Music is such a unique and powerful form of expression. Used properly, it can achieve wonderful and profound effects upon our physiology, psychology, and even our spiritual bodies. Used improperly, it can pull you into chaos, dark thoughts, and
destructive behavior. Choose your music wisely. It can affect the way you think and feel.
Subject: Ken Adachi; true patriot for freedom
From: Rock and Jazz for me
Date: Sun, September 27, 2009
To: Ken Adachi
Ken Adachi is the modern times equivalent to Thomas Jefferson.
Subject: Hotel California - music theory terms
From: Ted S
Date: Mon, September 28, 2009
To: Ken Adachi
Interesting article on Hotel California. I'm writing to point out a small
contextual error in your use of musical terms.
Your article says that the scale we hear the most is the Diatonic as Do Re Mi Fa Sol
La Ti, then you state the phrygian mode as different from the diatonic.
In music theory, diatonic means 7 note scale, and both the ionian (major) and
phrygian modes are diatonic scales (being the first and third modes of the diatonic
modal system, each containing 7 notes). The Ionian mode, or Major scale, is the
most common scale that we hear, followed by the minor scale (aeolian mode) and the
pentatonic scales (major and minor pentatonic, blues scale, etc).
So, what I think your article should read is "The one we hear most commonly in
Western music is the Major (Ionian) scale..."
The average reader would probably be familiar with the term "major scale" as opposed
to "diatonic scale", and will avoid confusion on their part.
In all the years I've been reading your site I can't say I've come across anything
I've disagreed with. However, as a classically trained professional musician, I'm a
bit of a stickler when it comes to music terminology.
One other thing I'd like to add, is that I definitely agree with the end of the
article, about the effects of music and choosing music wisely. I was big into heavy
metal before I started studying classical guitar (and found your site and orgonite
back in 2002). I believe the combination of studying classical guitar (I majored in
classical guitar performance in college) and working with orgonite have changed my
life forever. I can hardly stand heavy metal or hard rock anymore, once I was able
to feel what was behind it.
And, as a guitar teacher, I don't just teach my students how to play rock songs,
even though that's all that 90% of them want to learn. After starting with the
basics, I get them into a bit of music theory, and how to create their own music, as
well as introducing them to other kinds of music besides rock (especially
It's insane how the Machine tries to enslave the youth through music. I was
affected by it in high school, but was able to wake up and get out of the trance.
It wasn't easy and took quite a few years.
About a year and a half ago I had a student come in, 7 years old, first guitar
lesson, and he wanted to learn how to play a Slayer song because it was his favorite
song from the Guitar Hero video game! 7 years old and he liked Slayer! When asked,
he couldn't tell me why he liked it, he "just did." Usually it's teenagers who come
in with that type of music, but since those Guitar Hero games came out, the younger
ones are being exposed to more heavier/satanic types of music.
So, to wrap this up, there are some of us out here who know how music works and
effects people, and who are actively working to raise vibration through music.
Subject: Eagles Hotel California
Date: Sun, October 11, 2009
G'day Ken, I was just this moment reading your entry about Hotel
California......fantastic, but for one thing...
The second last chord is not G, it's Eminor followed by F#.
Just thought if there were no other musicians out there who wrote in to correct it,
I'd put in my ten cents worth.
I am after all, a music teacher...a drum instructor actually who also plays guitar &
OK, the relative minor may work better. I just worked it out fast out of curiosity while writing the article. Your ten cents is noted and appreciated.
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the opinion of the author and is provided for educational purposes only.
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