Welcome to Open Quarter: 15 minutes of song connected to one idea. My name is Andrew Wang and I will explain the connection between the songs Hotel California by the Eagles, Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin and Movin’ Out by Billy Joel.
The lyrics of the three songs all discuss how the negative aspects of materialism affect people. The central idea of Hotel California is about how the celebrity life in Hollywood leads to a destructive lifestyle. In the lyrics, when the protagonist enters the Hotel California, he discovers the world of drugs, sex and money in the Hollywood industry. Later, the protagonist says to “bring your alibis” after “living it up at the Hotel California” which highlights how celebrities often hide their involvements with drugs, prostitution and other illegal activities.
The lyrics to Stairway to Heaven features a cynical woman who exhibits materialistic traits. The lyrics begin with, “There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold/ and she’s buying the stairway to Heaven.” At first, it seems as if the lady believes she can buy her way to whatever she wants, even salvation. However, as the song progresses, the lyrics reveal that the woman is an angel who “buys” her way to heaven by paying with her life of spirituality and suffering. The progression of the lyrics in Stairway to Heaven contrasts the materialistic and idealistic versions of the same story. It is not materialism, but rather idealism that allows the woman to find her way to salvation.
Billy Joel’s Movin’ Out uses characters in the real world to communicate why a materialistic life cannot guarantee happiness. One character in Joel’s song, Anthony, works long hours in the grocery store and prefers to save his money rather than spending it. In the lyrics, Anthony’s mother lets him know that “Workin’ too hard can give him/ A heart attack.” The lyrics then continue to read, “You oughta know by now/ Who needs a house in Hackensack/ Is that all you get for your money?” These lines highlight Anthony’s materialistic qualities: instead of being satisfied with living the typical American middle-class life, Anthony works longer hours just so he can earn enough money to buy a house in Hackensack, New Jersey.
Based on the lyrical evidence in Hotel California, Stairway to Heaven and Movin’ Out, the three songs from the Seventies aim to warn against living a materialistic life. Thank you for listening to this podcast and enjoy listening to the songs themselves.