California Connection: 6 Eagles Songs That Capture the Essence of the Golden State

Of the seven musicians who cycled through the Eagles‘ lineup during the 1970s, only two—Randy Meisner and Timothy B. Schmit—were California natives. The rest were carpetbaggers, lured west from places like Detroit (Glenn Frey) and East Texas (Don Henley) by the promise of L.A.’s musical gold rush. The Eagles didn’t just find gold in those California hills—they found platinum, too, releasing a string of chart-topping, multi-million-selling albums that established them as the Golden State’s resident house band. 

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How, exactly, did the Eagles become synonymous with the state they (eventually) called home? By writing songs that blended the native sounds of California—including amplified rock, acoustic folk, cowboy country, and even Mexican music—with lyrics that touched upon the state’s Wild West past and dark, decadent present. Henley once described the group’s magnum opus, Hotel California, as an “exploration of the dark underbelly of the American dream,” and those words neatly sum up the band’s California storytelling. The Eagles’ songs tackled topics like excess, indulgence, heartbreak, and loss of innocence, and no town embodied those themes during the 1970s quite like Los Angeles. 

Here are several songs that capture the Eagles’ connection to California, from the band’s tribute to the Troubadour to their brutal takedown of Hollywood big bosses.  

1. Life in the Fast Lane

It’s appropriate that the Eagles’ wildest member, Joe Walsh, kickstarts this tribute to excess. His guitar riff serves as the backbone, anchoring a song whose title was conceived by Glenn Frey while speeding down a California highway with his drug dealer in the driver’s seat, the car weighed down with contraband.

That’s a mighty hedonistic backstory, and “Life in the Fast Lane” fittingly unfolds like a metaphor for the fast-paced, crash-and-burn lifestyle of the jet-set elite. The song’s anti-heroes—two buzz-chasers who, despite being “brutally handsome” and “terminally pretty,” are too coked-up to even have sex during the second verse—are archetypes of late-1970s L.A., an era in which cocaine became a status drug that boosted not only your mood, but often your social standing.  

2. King of Hollywood

The Eagles were exhausted after touring in support of Hotel California, and that burnout is evident in the sheer darkness that creeps its way into and through The Long Run. “King of Hollywood” is the album’s most sinister moment, telling the tale of a smarmy film director who calls up aspiring actresses to offer them roles in exchange for sexual favors. Like every industry, Tinseltown has its dangerous side, and “King of Hollywood” exposes its seedy secrets like the soundtrack to some casting couch documentary. Yuck.

3. Peaceful Easy Feeling

Is there a better southwestern come-on than “I wanna sleep with you in the desert tonight, with a billion stars all around?” The Eagles didn’t write this feel-good song about feeling good, but they sure did sell it, setting Jack Tempchin’s words to a soft-rock soundtrack of high-flying country harmonies and pedal steel twang. The song sounds like a perfect California day—sunny, sweet, and lovely, with precious few minor chords to sour the mood. 

4. Hotel California

The Eagles’ signature song begins with a “dark desert highway,” and a glimmer of city lights in the distance. According to Don Felder, who introduced the song to his bandmates as an instrumental demo, those opening lines were inspired by nighttime drives across Southern California.

[RELATED: Every Song on the Eagles’ Classic Rock Album ‘Hotel California’ Ranked]

“If you drive into L.A. at night,” he told Howard Stern in 2008, “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.” It’s about more, too: the otherworldly lure of California; the fine line between the American Dream and something more nightmarish; the high cost of living the high life. The bandmates have offered different interpretations in different interviews, leaving listeners to sort through all the myth-making themselves. Perhaps “Hotel California,” like California itself, is simply what you make of it. 

5. Tequila Sunrise

Released on the Old West concept album Desperado, “Tequila Sunrise” is a folk-rock song for campfires and road trips. Its cocktail puns and smoothly-sung vocals helped set the stage for yacht rock, which sailed into the American mainstream several years later, and its south-of-the-border textures nodded to L.A.’s melting pot of American and Latin-American cultures. 

6. The Sad Cafe” 

“The Safe Cafe” is a wistful salute to the Troubadour, the folk-rock destination in West Hollywood where James Taylor made his solo debut, Elton John played his first American show, and Don Henley first met his future bandmate Glenn Frey. As disco, punk, and New Wave made their way into the mainstream during the late-’70s, the Troubadour’s schedule changed to accommodate new trends, prompting the Eagles to write “The Safe Cafe” about the passing of an era.

The crowd that hung out in the Troubadour and the bands that were performing there were changing,” Henley explained in 2016. “The train tracks that had run down the middle of Santa Monica Boulevard had been ripped out. The train no longer came through—the same train that Steve Martin had once led an entire Troubadour audience to hop aboard and ride up to La Cienega Boulevard, then walk back to the club. Those remarkable freewheeling times were receding into the distance.”

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images 

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