Of the nine sleekly produced tracks on the band’s blockbuster 1976 LP, Hotel California, this oceanic ballad is probably the eighth- or ninth-most famous. Leave it to Dylan to spotlight a deep cut.
The song was co-written by guitarist Joe Walsh and Joe Vitale, a longtime friend and collaborator. (The two had previously played together in Walsh’s post-James Gang power trio, Barnstorm, and Vitale would later serve as Eagles’ touring drummer.) It’s one of only two Hotel California tracks without writing input from guitarist Glenn Frey or drummer Don Henley — but the group prioritized quality over credits, and the piano-heavy waltz fit perfectly on the record’s softer second side.
The tune originated with Walsh, who had “a couple verses of lyrics” and “verse music” but needed help completing it.
“He had a beautiful start,” Vitale recalled in a 2018 interview with The College Crowd Digs Me. “And Joe called and asked if I’d help him finish writing this song. So I went over to his house. I heard what he had and I sat down at his piano and I threw a few things at him. We were there for two or three hours, until we finally arrived at it. I wrote the chorus and added changes in the chorus. And then he added the words. And in a matter of two or three hours, we finished it.”
Walsh told the BBC that Henley and Frey “really thought that it was a good song, and meaningful.” “To make the Eagles really valid as a band, it was important that we co-write things and share things,” he said.
“‘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 … ‘ – 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.”
Two months after Dylan praised the song, Vitale enthused about earning that recognition. “Coming from Bob Dylan, it doesn’t get any better than that,” the drummer told Rolling Stone. “I called Joe immediately. And he goes, ‘I know what you’re calling about.’ I said, ‘This is so cool, Joe.’ He was excited, too. He thought that was really cool. I printed out that article and framed it.”