Hotel California is one of the Eagles’ most popular songs – but what is the song actually about? Some have suggested that it’s a metaphor for America, while others believe that it’s a tale of drug addiction. Let’s take a closer look at the lyrics and see if we can uncover the meaning behind this classic song.
The Eagles had written a dozen of hits before they started working on first single of Hotel California album. They had a major success with Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) album that was ranked first among albums in the US regarding their selling. It was then when Bernie Leadon decided that that was the best they could get, and they had no room for improvement anymore. So he quit his band activity and this being done, the band set a new course, enriching their sound with Joe Walsh clear-cut guitar riffs.
They worked on the album for a year and a half and their efforts clearly paid off. Not only The Eagles got its brand new sound but the Hotel California album got a platinum disc. Hotel California single was on the top of the charts in May 1977 and became the band most recognizable song.
What does Hotel California plot cover?
Felder, Henley and Frey co-wrote the song. The lyrics cover a story about a traveler who happened to visit a luxurious hotel and got trapped in there forever. He became enchanted with a beautiful hostess and decided to spend the night. A night grew into endless nights filled with champagne and idle partying. No one but that particular traveler seemed to care. Driven by arising fear he tried to leave the hotel only to find that was impossible. The porter gave him a helping hand by telling him to relax and enjoy his staying. Once you got in the California Hotel, you would never be able to leave the place.
What is hidden between the lines?
Mysterious and in a way ominous lyrics gave birth to plenty of theories on their true meaning. Some claimed it was a song about drug addiction. This theory was based on the line Warm smell of colitas. Supposing this line was a key one, we face a story about the drug journey. We learn about a life of a man who started doing drugs (thus entered a splendid hotel), then he became a junkie and finally his addiction crashed him (he tried to quit, namely to leave the hotel but failed). The theory being quite solid, it still has plenty of supporters despite authors revealing the true meaning of the song.
Of course, someone was bound to suggest a crazy explanation to the lyrics. Some fans believed they managed to read between the lines and find connection between Satanism and the song story. They claimed that the idle visitors of the hotel were a part of a Satanic cult, the traveler being led in the mysterious passage with people worshiping the hotel and all. No surprise here, the authors denied addressing any religious themes.
True meaning of the song
Actually, fans were pretty close anyway. Don Henley told the fans that the song was simply about the detrimental effects of the American Dream. Being from the middle class himself, Henley imagined that the upper-class life was about having everything in financial regard and nothing beyond. Money is a band-aid, not a cure, and if you put it on top of your life priorities it is bound to throw you down.
The whole setting could also be related to the Hollywood society of that period. Hotel California was used as an abstract place introducing Hollywood scenery, where everyone relished in fame and had nothing left, when spotlights were turned off.
The history of the creation of the song Hotel California – The Eagles
At the time of writing the song “Hotel California”, Bernie Leadon was the only member of the band, and the former, who was born in the state. Nevertheless, it was California, overgrown with myths and dreams, that attracted the Eagles the most. Just imagine: you drive into Los Angeles at night, you see shining signs and lights of Hollywood, and images stretching for miles, reminiscent of your favorite films. Avenue of Stars and Hollywood Boulevard, beaches and palm trees, girls on roller skates and mojitos. It was the mythology of the “City of Angels”, with its ambiguity, that served as the basis for the future hit.
It all started when the Eagles wanted to distance themselves from country rock. A rented beach house in Malibu, Don Felder lazily strums chords on a 12-string guitar, and suddenly a melody comes by itself, as if from the unconscious … The music was born immediately, almost finished. As he himself later recalled: “There was such a cosmic feeling, as if something great had fallen right into your hands.”
Don Henley, having heard echoes of Latin music and reggae in the sent recording, immediately ignited with enthusiasm. “The music sounds like Mexican reggae or bolero,” he told Felder, and after coming up with a concept for the lyrics, he gave the “working” title “Mexican Reggae.” Glenn Frey helped finish the song.
“Eagles” was recorded in several sets, twice at Record Plant in Los Angeles and finally at Criteria Studios in Miami. The biggest challenge was finding the right key for Henley’s vocals. More than one day the band spent in the studio, polishing the same track to achieve perfection. Henley would later say, “We just locked ourselves in. We had a fridge, a ping-pong table, roller skates and a couple of baby beds.”
From the moment of writing the original demo to the “finish line” it took about a year. In one interview, Felder recalls how he started to improvise with a guitar part at the end. Henley stopped him and asked him to do everything exactly as it was in the original version. Felder had to call his wife and ask her to hold the included demo to the phone so that he could remember the authentic sound. In doing so, the original version of the track ends with an electric guitar interaction between Felder and Joe Walsh creating a textured sound.
Henley immediately saw the song’s potential and hoped to release it as a single, although Felder had his doubts. Also, the record company didn’t want to release it because of the length – to be a hit in the seventies, a song had to follow the typical formula of no more than three minutes, and no lengthy intro. However, the band took a stand and did not give in to the label’s request to cut the song’s length. As a result, the composition was not only released as a single, but also became the most successful from the New Kid in Town album and the discography in general. Released in February 1977, “Hotel California” continues to be heard in all corners of the world.
Interesting Facts about of the song “Hotel California” – Eagles
- The composition “Hotel California” after the official release immediately took the top line in the chart “Billboard Hot 100”, and also brought the group a Grammy Award. The album of the same name, which included the composition, was ranked 37th in the list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” compiled by Rolling Stone, and 15th in a similar list from VH1.
- In the song’s intro, you can hear the warning rattle of a rattlesnake, a reptile characteristic of Californian places. It produces a peculiar “thundering” sound when the segments collide as a result of vibrations of the tip of the tail. This sound in the composition immediately sets in an alarming and intriguing way.
- According to a reader poll by Guitar World magazine, the guitar solo that plays the last two minutes of the song was the eighth-most ever played.
- Reunited in 1994, the band recorded a new, acoustic version of the song exclusively for MTV. Subsequently, the reworked composition was included in the Hell Freezes Over album. It was not released as a single, but it helped the album to immediately take first place in various charts and receive a Grammy nomination.
- While the title of the song is commonly known to have a metaphorical meaning, there are several strange Internet theories and urban legends about the “real” Hotel California. According to various assumptions, this is a hotel turned into the Church of Satan, a former psychiatric hospital, or Aleister Crowley’s asylum in Scotland. The most innocuous version says that the Hotel California is the mansion of the founder of Playboy. The cover of the album depicts The Beverly Hills Hotel, popularly known as the Pink Palace and attracting many Hollywood stars.
- In 1998, when the Eagles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, all the members of the group, including former ones, gathered to perform “Hotel California” live.
- The group never left the composition “Hotel California” at the end of the performance, and often even opened the concert with it.
- Over the years, cover versions of the compositions were performed by Gipsy Kings, Marilyn Manson, The Killers, Resurrection, and many other musical groups.
- There is a misconception that Hotel California was inspired by Jethro Tull’s 1969 song “We Used to Know”. The songs have similar chord progressions and the bands toured together before The Eagles had their hit. However, Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson himself does not believe that the Eagles borrowed anything from them.
- The song was featured on the American Horror Story soundtrack. The season she’s in is about a terrifying haunted hotel run by the heroine played by Lady Gaga. In many ways, it is a visual reading of the composition. This was not the first time the song had been used on a TV show, having previously featured on The X-Files and The Sopranos.
Eagles – Hotel California: Lyrics
Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air
Up ahead in the distance, I saw shimmering light
My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim
I had to stop for the night
There she stood in the doorway;
I heard the mission bell
And I was thinking to myself,
‘This could be Heaven or this could be Hell’
Then she lit up a candle and she showed me the way
There were voices down the corridor,
I thought I heard them say…
Such a lovely place (Such a lovely place)
Such a lovely face
Plenty of room at the Hotel California
Any time of year (Any time of year)
You can find it here
She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys she calls friends
How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat.
Some dance to remember, some dance to forget
‘Please bring me my wine’
He said, ‘We haven’t had that spirit here since nineteen sixty nine’
And still those voices are calling from far away,
Wake you up in the middle of the night
Just to hear them say…
Such a lovely place (Such a lovely place)
Such a lovely face
They livin’ it up at the Hotel California
What a nice surprise (what a nice surprise)
Bring your alibis
The pink champagne on ice
And she said ‘We are all just prisoners here, of our own device’
And in the master’s chambers,
They gathered for the feast
They stab it with their steely knives,
But they just can’t kill the beast
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
‘Relax, ‘ said the night man,
‘We are programmed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave!’