Why does Bob Dylan so like this track taken from Hotel California?

by Tony Attwood  Song nominated by Aaron Galbraith

In a recent interview Bob Dylan was asked about his favourite songs, and particularly mentioned the Eagles.  He then went on to cite three Eagles songs, each from 1976’s Hotel California.

‘New Kid in Town,’ ‘Life in the Fast Lane,’ ‘Pretty Maids All in a Row.’  And of the last one he then added, “That could be one of the best songs ever.”

I’ve put in both the original and the remastered version in the links below.  Here’s the original version first…

And in case you prefer it the remastered…

“Pretty Maids All In A Row” has Joe Walsh on piano and synthesiser rather than guitar, and this isn’t really what, I suspect, most of us probably remember from this album.  It was written by Joe Walsh who on this occasion wrote this with Joe Vitale.  Joe played with the Eagles on tour.

In a 1981 interview with the BBC, Walsh explained: “To make the Eagles really valid as a band, it was important that we co-write things and share things. ‘Pretty Maids’ is kind of a melancholy reflection on my life so far, and I think we tried to represent it as a statement that would be valid for people from our generation on life so far. Heroes, they come and go… Henley and Frey really thought that it was a good song, and meaningful, and helped me a lot in putting it together. I think the best thing to say is that it’s a kind of melancholy observation on life that we hoped would be a valid statement for people from our generation.” 
Hi there, how are 'ya?
It's been a long time
Seems like we've come a long way
My, but we learn so slow
And heroes, they come and they go
And leave us behind as if
We're supposed to know why

Why do we give up our hearts to the past?
And why must we grow up so fast?

And all you wishing well fools with your fortunes
Someone should send you a rose
With love from a friend,
It's nice to hear from you again
And the storybook comes to a close
Gone are the ribbons and bows
Things to remember, places to go
Pretty maids all in a row

It is a song which appears to me to use Dylan’s own technique of giving hints of where we are, with lines that can be interpreted in many ways.  But I have the feeling that if we get too close the meaning will evaporate before us.

The lines…

“heroes, they come and they go And leave us behind as if We’re supposed to know why”

are to me the key.  If Dylan had said that in a song we would nod and understand at once.  He is a great hero to so many people, but he is also forever moving on and on.  As he travels in his own musical and poetic world, and from time to time seemingly amends his beliefs, he leaves behind those who admired him in an earlier age with an earlier set of lyrics and an earlier set of songs.

Dylan is living out the life he has portrayed through all his songs of moving on – that great traditional blues theme.  And here, that original blues message is turned into a contemporary format, but the message is clear.  You have to keep on keeping on.

For many people, why Dylan has moved on and doesn’t sing the old songs in the old way any more is a mystery.  Why is each new album going somewhere new, with a new style and new messages?  Why does he turn from the past where he was so perfect, so magnificent?

In truth he doesn’t know the answer to that one himself.

There is one other point: the song uses chords and chord sequences that I don’t think Bob has ever used (my apologies if I simply can’t find an example which is out there and obvious).

By way of example take this sequence

Gmaj9        F#m7     Cmaj9                 G
and leave us be  hind as  if we're supposed to know
 Bm7            F#m7      Gmaj9

If you are a musician you will know that the major 9ths are not a common part of Bob’s musical agenda.   But major 9ths followed by a minor 7th?  Absolutely not.  I dare you to prove me wrong.

So an interesting song, an interesting lyric / message, and interesting music.  Yep I can see what I Bob likes it.   But one of the best songs ever?  It’s an interesting idea.

I wonder if he really meant it.

Why does Dylan like?   The series index

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  1. Pretty maids all in a row lined up
    Outside my cabin door
    (Bob Dylan: Red River Shore)

  2. It’s a sort of ‘goodbye to fairytales’ diatribe. Something Dylan has said himself about his own work, in an interview at the time of the release of ‘TIme Out Of Mind’, that he did not deal in a ‘Pollyanna’ view of the world, but (as if we needed telling) subscribes to a more realistic, or predictably, darker view of reality. I think this has been the case since he was to some extent ridiculed and castigated for his so-called ‘religious period.’ I hope he gets back to the good news soon.

  3. I would agree with Bob, it’s a fantastic track. The performance from the Hell Freezes Over album could be the best version ever.

  4. The Joe Walsh/Joe Vitale song is a personal favourite of mine, and is a song I easily recall from ‘Hotel California’ , which is not hard because EVERY song on that album counts, I think. That’s why many consider it a classic album. Now with respect to Bob Dylan, I don’t think that I need his opinion or recommendation here. However, if his comments give the song more attention, then great!
    Is he joking? Who knows. Was he joking when he said, at one time, that Smokey Robinson was “America’s greatest living poet”?

  5. maybe the Satan connection.
    God and Satan run through the three songs that have been released early. if you are not a Bible-reader, the references may just slip right past you.
    Hotel California is ‘supposedly’ written about the church of satan and references in the song pin it down to that. the photo of Anton LaVey, founder of church of satan, is found on and LP cover. just as real as Jesus is Satan. why would he stuff your mouth with gold? to keep you out of heaven. he has played both sides of this fence for a long time. he has said so.

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