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An Analysis of Hotel California and American Pie

In: Film and Music

Submitted By azobel
Words 892
Pages 4
Andrew Zobel
MUS 1014
February 13, 2016
Analysis of “American Pie” and “Hotel California”

Perhaps no other song better expresses the overall attitude of the United States (U.S.) in the 1970s than Don McLean’s “American Pie”. Released in November 1971, the song is still considered one of the greatest songs in U.S. history. Additionally, the Eagles’ song “Hotel California”, released in 1976, also exemplifies American culture during the turbulent decade of the 70s. “American Pie” is, for lack of a better word, a long song, with a run time of over eight minutes. The song consists of seven verses, as well as a chorus which is repeated seven times. The song begins with McLean’s voice over a piano. When the opening verse ends, the piano becomes less relevant in the song, and an acoustic guitar becomes the predominant instrument. The song employs a standard AABA structure, alternating between choruses and verses, except at the end, when the chorus is repeated, with the second iteration acting as the coda. Like most popular songs of the 70s, The Eagles’ rock epic “Hotel California” is written in a verse/chorus format. It contains four verses, two iterations of the chorus, a coda, and a lengthy guitar solo to end the song. The standard Eagles’ instrumental setup for the song includes drummer Don Henley singing, as well as playing the drums. Joe Walsh, Don Felder, and Glen Frey play guitars, and bassist Randy Meisner plays the bass. All four offer backup vocals during the chorus. It is safe to say that both songs are considered “legendary” rock songs, as they are still very popular today. “American Pie” tells the story of the U.S. in the 1960s, starting on the “day the music died”, referring to the 1959 plane crash that killed musical icons Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens and Buddy Holly. McLean then tells the story of the 60s in the United States via metaphors. From the death of James Dean, to the decline of Elvis and the rise of Bob Dylan and the Beatles. A major part of the song tells about the infamous Rolling Stones concert at Altamont Speedway. Recapping of the dynamic changes of the 60s, both musically and socially, invokes a sense of nostalgia to baby boomers who were alive during the time. This is one of the reasons that it has stood the test of time. Furthermore, the lyrics are poetic, and the tune is very catchy, which is why the song resonates with younger audiences as well. “Hotel California” also tells a story, but with a much deeper meaning. On the surface, the story is of a traveler in the Southwest United States who stops at a hotel to recuperate. At first all is well: the hotel is full of beautiful people, signing and having a good time. But then, the traveler realizes that this paradise is not what it seems. He hears the voices talk of alibis, and the woman in the song tells him that “we are all just prisoners here of our own device”. Moreover, when they gather for the feast with the “Master”, all the patrons of the hotel try to stab at some beast that will not die. The narrator tries to escape the hotel, only to be informed that he cannot leave. When looked at from a deeper perspective, the song is about excess, specifically excess sex, alcohol and drugs. Southern California is the epicenter for partying and getting rich quick, which makes the name of the hotel fitting. Furthermore, the fall of the Eagles was largely caused by the band’s many vices. Like “American Pie”, “Hotel California” still resonates today with a large variety of audiences. Older generations remember the songs’ release and the golden age of the Eagles in the 1970s, and younger generations listen for the beautiful lyrics and dynamic use of instruments. Oxford Music Online states that “Rock can be defined along three dimensions... Ideologically, it is associated with an aesthetic programme of ‘authenticity’, developing elements from discourses around folk-revival (‘community’, ‘roots’) and art music (‘originality’, ‘personal expression’, ‘integrity’).”1 Don McLean’s “American Pie” definitely falls along the ideological dimension. McLean did not make the folk song for money, he did it to tell his story, and his coming of age in the 1960s. The song invokes a sense of community, as it refers to “a generation lost in space”: a reference to the space race and Apollo programs that the U.S. obsessed over in the 1960s. Furthermore, music brings people together more than any other medium, and so making a tribute to the dynamics of the music industry in the 60s definitely reinforces community. The song is clearly a personal expression by McLean, paying tribute to three of his biggest influences: Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens and Buddy Holly. Both “American Pie” and “Hotel California” are great songs in their own regard. They represent different aspects of the 1970s. “American Pie” shows that after the 1960s, the U.S., and the world for that matter, would never truly be the same. “Hotel California” warns of a life of excess, and how it could lead to self-destruction.

Bibliography 1. http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com.ezp1.lib.umn.edu/subscriber/article/grove/music/49135?q=rock&search=quick&source=omo_gmo&pos=1&_start=1…...

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