hey, welcome to 12tone! when I was younger,
Hotel California was always one of my favorite songs in my dad’s music collection. it was unlike anything else I’d ever heard,
and the atmosphere it created was mesmerizing, so now that I’m a real music theorist, I thought
it’d be fun to go back and take a look at what it was I was actually hearing. it starts like this: (bang) and I’m just gonna
stop it there for a second. these are what’s called arpeggios, where the
notes of a chord are played one at a time instead of all at once, and they’re all over
this intro. that’s not a problem, though: all we have
to do is squish them all together to get back our full chord, and once we do that, we have
B minor and F#7, which are the I chord and the V chord in B minor. this immediately brings to mind the concept
of functional harmony, which as we’ve mentioned elsewhere is the idea that different chords
in a key have different functions or jobs to do. the I chord has what’s called tonic function,
which means it provides a sense of rest, while the V chord has dominant function, which means
it points back to the I chord. so far, we’re off to a fairly simple start. but the F#7 doesn’t resolve like we’d expect. instead, we get this (bang) which is where
things start to get weird. whereas before the chord qualities were fairly
straightforward, here we’ve got some more exotic sounds. this Asus2 chord, for instance, is what happens
when you take a normal A chord and replace the 3rd degree with a note a major 2nd above
the root. this creates some ambiguity because it’s not clear whether it’s supposed to be
major or minor, and I think that’s the point here: based on the key, we’d expect to see
A major, and using the sus2 chord instead removes some of the brightness that would’ve
created. likewise, this E9 chord has an added note,
called a tension, which again adds more color to it. it’s also worth noting that these alterations
make the chords easier to play on a guitar, but as a theorist I’m sure that’s just a coincidence. anyway, those changes aside, there’s also
something else going on here: a harmonic motif. this is when the same basic chord movement
is repeated over and over, and we can see that by comparing the chords from the first
part (bang) to the chords in the second. (bang) in both cases, you have a starting
chord, followed by a dominant 7th whose root is a fourth lower. all we’ve done is shifted the pattern down
a whole step. that creates a problem, though: the F#7 was
pointing back to the I chord, which means it had dominant function, but the E9 is actually
pointing to some sort of A chord instead. it’s still directional, but instead of leading
home it wants to take us to a secondary location, so we just call it a secondary dominant. that doesn’t resolve either, though, instead
feeding into this (bang) which is another statement of our harmonic motif, again lowered
a whole step. the precise shapes of the chords are slightly
different, but the overall effect is the same, and finally we end with this (bang) which
is just the IV and V chords. the IV chord has subdominant function, which
means its job is to create instability and set up that V chord, which then finally resolves
back to the start of the phrase. but there’s something bigger going on here
that gets lost when we take things in little chunks like this. let’s zoom out a bit and look at the whole
progression (bang) now let’s remove the unresolved dominants. (bang) you know what, let’s drop this E minor
7 too, to get to a nice, even number of chords, and while we’re at it we’ll clean this up
to A major, which leaves us with… (bang) one of my favorite chord progressions, often
called the Andalusian Cadence, which is basically just a walk down the minor scale from the
I chord to the V. it’s a popular technique in flamenco and other guitar-heavy genres,
and this whole intro seems to be just an intensely decorated version of it. that progression continues through the verse,
which means our next stop is the chorus: (bang) first, I want to talk about the transition:
the verse ends with F#7, which we said is supposed to go to B minor, but the chorus
starts with G major instead. this is what’s called a deceptive resolution,
and it works because G major is almost identical to B minor. there’s only one note different, so even though
it’s not where we expect it to go, it’s still a pretty solid resolution. but moving on to the chorus itself, we have
a bit of a problem. we could keep analyzing it in B minor, but
if we do that it doesn’t really make a lot of sense. instead, I’d probably analyze this section
in the key of D major. this is called a relative modulation and it’s
incredibly subtle because we don’t actually change any of the notes, we just change how
we use them in order to create a different sense of tonality. it’s a small difference, but it leads to a
completely new harmonic landscape. anyway, we start here with the IV chord, followed
by the I. the IV chord is unstable but not very directional, so moving from it back to
the I gives us a weaker resolution than we’d get from, say, the V. (bang) this is often
called a plagal cadence, and it helps us avoid creating too much of a sense of finality. then we go to F#7, followed by B minor. this looks a lot like the V-I movement we
saw earlier, but remember, we’re not in B anymore, so the F#7 has become a secondary
dominant, pointing us to the VI chord. then the song does something that honestly
confused me for quite a while: it resolves that VI minor back to the IV chord which…
isn’t really how that works. if you play the chords by themselves there’s
no real resolution, but if you listen to the section (bang) it’s pretty clearly there,
and that clip may have given you a clue as to why: it’s all in the walk-up. the rising line, the accelerating rhythm,
and the big, powerful electric guitar all combine to create a sense of tension and release
that, from a harmonic perspective, really shouldn’t exist, and I don’t know about you
but I find that fascinating. anyway, that feeds into this (bang) which
has that same plagal cadence as before, then we set up a return to the verse key, with
the same IV and V chords we saw at the end of that progression. you may be wondering about the F# augmented,
but that’s mainly just a bit of extra decoration. this song is full of things like that: the
Eagles were all fairly accomplished session players before starting their own band, and
they’re really good at adding little flourishes throughout the song that help keep things
fresh. they go back and forth between these two sections
for a while, then finally we get to a solo over the verse progression. in fact, not just
a solo, but a conversation: this section is a guitar battle between Don Felder and Joe
Walsh, each one masterfully playing off the other. I’m not gonna go through the whole thing ’cause
there’s a lot, but I do want to talk a bit about the end, or rather the lack of an end. like we saw in the Comfortably Numb video,
it doesn’t actually finish. in fact, it’s still building momentum when
they fade the track out, giving the sense that it goes on forever, which is stunningly
appropriate for this song. after all, the last line we hear is “you can
check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” anyway, that’s basically it, but before we
go, I wanted to let you know that next Friday, June 8th, Adam Neely’s gonna be hosting the
inaugural youtube music theory livestream featuring me, Sideways, and 8-Bit Music theory. we’re gonna be hanging out, talking about
music, and taking audience questions, and you may even see my face. it’s at 4pm eastern time over on Adam’s channel,
so set an alarm or whatever, and I’ll see you there! or, I won’t, but you’ll see me,
and I’ll read the things you’re typing and… you know what, I don’t have to explain livestreams
to you. bye! ok, seriously, thanks for watching, and thanks
to Patreon patron Matt Osborn for suggesting this song! if you’d like to see your favorite
song analyzed, just head on over to P atreon and pledge at any level. you can also join our mailing list to find
out about new episodes, like, share, comment, subscribe, and above all, keep on rockin’.