How a Drug Dealer Helped Inspire Eagles’ ‘Life in the Fast Lane’
In the late ‘70s, Eagles were on top of the world thanks to their massively successful album, Hotel California. The LP’s third single, “Life in the Fast Lane,” released on May 3, 1977, kept them on top.
The song's origins can be traced to three distinct places. Its title was the result of some wild antics, courtesy of Eagles member Glenn Frey.
“I was riding shotgun in a Corvette with a drug dealer on the way to a poker game,” Frey recalled in the documentary History of the Eagles. “The next thing I know we’re going about 90 miles an hour. Holding, big time. I said, ‘Hey, man! What are you doing?’ He looked at me, he grinned and goes, ‘Life in the fast lane!’ And I thought immediately, ‘Now there’s a song title.’”
That phrase sat in the back of Frey’s mind for months. Then one day while getting ready for a band rehearsal, he heard bandmate Joe Walsh prepping his guitar.
“I was just playing, warming up for the show, and Glenn comes busting into my dressing room and says ‘What the hell is that?’” Walsh recounted decades later to Paul Shaffer. “I said, ‘I don’t know, it’s just this lick I warm up with.’ He said, ‘That’s an Eagles song, dude!’”
Listen to Eagles' 'Life in the Fast Lane'
Frey knew Walsh’s riff was the sound of the fast lane. “That’s the lick. That’s what we should build the song around,” Frey later recalled thinking.
Still, much of the song’s lyrics would fall to Don Henley, who carefully crafted a cautionary tale within the tune. Like Hotel California’s overarching theme, “Life in the Fast Lane” would warn of the perils accompanying fame - specifically, drug use.
“Everybody’s got cocaine now, no matter how shitty it is,” Henley explained to Rolling Stone in 1979. “I could hardly listen to that song when we were recording it, because I was getting high a lot at the time and the song made me ill. We were trying to paint a picture that cocaine wasn’t that great. It turns on you. It messed up my back muscles, it messed up my nerves, it messed up my stomach and it makes you paranoid.”
Much to Henley's chagrin, many fans turned “Life In the Fast Lane” into “a celebration of exactly what we were trying to warn them about.”
The song - officially credited as a cowrite among Walsh, Frey and Henley - would become yet another hit from Hotel California, peaking at No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100.