Jacob Mendez
Jacob Mendez

There is no shortage of conspiracy theories about the cult hit. What is “Hotel California” really about?

Can success be scary? It turns out that yes. In 1975 The Eagles (check!) celebrated triumphs thanks to the album “One of These Nights“. Three singles from this album topped the charts. It would seem that musicians should go on tour in such a situation and enjoy their achievement as long as possible. However, the group decided to do something else: cover this success with another, even greater one. Just over half a year After the album’s release, the band released a greatest hits set.Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975)” broke popularity records and eventually became one of the most frequently bought albums of the 20th century in the USA.

On the one hand, the artists had many reasons to be happy, on the other hand, they quickly realized how high they had set the bar. The team treated themselves to something that motivates some, but keeps most people awake at night: pressure. A few decades ago, records were released much more frequently than today. The Eagles, who immediately started working on new songs, had only one thought in their heads: not to ruin it.

The pace at which many musicians worked in the 1970s was impressive. Album “Hotel California“, which the band was so worried about, was released in December 1976. The group started writing songs in the spring, but don’t think that the artists recorded the songs right away. When the crew met, the musicians started by sharing their ideas. Sometimes these are ready-made melodies, and sometimes just fragments or riffs that could be useful somewhere. The guitarist also brought his tape with ideas to the studio Don Felder. Many months earlier, the artist had rented a house by the beach in Malibu, where he wanted to rest and at the same time work on new songs. One day, between baths, Don sat on the couch and picked up his guitar.

The musician had no idea that this would be the beginning of the greatest hit of his career. “I remember sitting in the living room. It was a beautiful July day, the door was wide open. I was still wearing my soaking wet trunks and thinking about what a wonderful place the world could be. I grabbed my acoustic guitar, started playing something for fun, and suddenly the sounds flowed ‘Hotel California’,” Felder recalled in an interview with Guitar World magazine. The artist quickly registered his idea, but at first he was not convinced whether the song would be suitable for The Eagles. Perhaps the beach atmosphere did its job, but the first version of the hit didn’t look much like the ballad we know today. “Hotel California” initially had a… reggae vibe. No wonder the song later had the working title “Mexican Reggae”.

Felder’s tape of ideas for the group included a total of six songs, but none of them impressed the rest of the crew. None – except this one. Don Henley admitted in an interview with Rolling Stone that he listened to the tape while driving at night and when he came across “Hotel California”, he thought: “This has potential. I think we can make something interesting out of this.” He was of a similar opinion Glenn Frey, so the band no longer had any doubts that this “strange piece” had to be taken into consideration. However, there was a small problem at the beginning. The Eagles started working on the album in a studio in Miami, and the full demo version of the recording stayed in Malibu. After so many months, Felder no longer remembered the entire song clearly, especially since he didn’t consider it the best song in his set. For the guitarist, it was just one of many ideas. The distance between Miami and Malibu is almost four and a half thousand kilometers, so no one wanted to go to get the tapes, luckily Don had another idea. The guitarist called the domestic help he employed, the woman put the phone to the loudspeaker and the group listened to the demo version. The musicians already knew exactly what they had to work on.

The Eagles set about finishing the song, which in its final version changed the vibe from beach reggae to something that would be more appropriate as a road movie soundtrack. Or a good drama. Much of this is due to the dark text. The musicians started tossing around ideas, eventually Glenn Frey came up with “Hotel California” and Don Henley created the lyrics. “His texts are like photographs that – more like a book than a film – paint pictures in your head. ‘On a dark desert highway’ is only five words, but you already have the view in your head. ‘ ‘Cold wind in my hair’ – you feel it, you see it,’ said Don Felder in an interview with Loudersound.

The text itself is inspired by dashed hopes and the “American dream”, which, instead of providing happiness, turns into unlimited consumption. The Eagles knew something about this. The group achieved enormous success, but the musicians themselves said that their career was a story “from innocence to experience” – and at an accelerated pace. The artists watched their colleagues implement the slogan “sex, drugs & rock ‘n’ roll” and it must be admitted that they learned quickly. Destroying hotel rooms, bed excesses, illegally obtained drugs and, of course, illegal substances – this became an everyday occurrence for the band. Glenn Frey even came up with the idea for a song about living on the edge while driving with his dealer to a game of poker. Big money and madness often go hand in hand, but such combinations are rarely happy, as musicians have also found out. The Eagles were fully aware of where they were and how much success had changed their lives.

It’s no wonder that “Hotel California” tells the story of a man who is tired of a long drive, so he stops for the night. However, he soon realizes that he has entered an unknown world, full of strange people. He is afraid, but he already knows that he may never escape from there. For The Eagles, Los Angeles turned out to be the equivalent of such a hotel. On the one hand, staying there allowed the artists to reach the top, on the other – this journey cost them a lot and some things could not be reversed.

When the song “Hotel California” was ready, there were some doubts. Don had already realized that his idea was turning into something great, but the guitarist thought the song was too long. Not without reason. The famous unwritten rule is that “a radio song should last a maximum of three and a half minutes” is older than many people think. Even in the 1970s, radio stations were, to put it mildly, reluctant to play longer singles, especially during peak hours. Meanwhile, The Eagles’ song definitely broke more than just this rule. Before Don Henley sang anything in “Hotel California”, listeners received a minute of instrumental introduction and a long guitar solo at the end. No wonder the record company didn’t want to release the song as a single. However, Henley persisted and the company eventually gave in. Theoretically, this was not supposed to happen, this song was not supposed to break through at all, but – as we know – there are exceptions to every rule. Felder said he had never been so happy to be wrong.

After the song’s premiere, a small glitch appeared. Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull was convinced that “Hotel California” was very similar to his song “We Used to Know”. Although the artist did not accuse his colleagues of plagiarism, he suspected that the musicians could have been unknowingly inspired by his work. The Eagles and Jethro Tull had toured together a few years earlier, so there was that risk. The thing is that Don Felder joined the band only two years after that tour, and he listened to this song Jethro Tull for the first time only when Anderson had doubts. Ian didn’t pursue the matter further, admitted that “Hotel California” was a great song and joked that even if there were any similarities, he would take them as a compliment.

Frey and Henley explained that they wanted “Hotel California” to be like a movie, but with sound. The idea was for the listener to imagine everything the text was talking about. Some, however, imagined too much. Although The Eagles have made it clear what the song is about, the single has received many strange interpretations. One of the priests claimed that it was definitely a hotel in San Francisco that Anton LaVey transformed into a church of Satan. There were also versions according to which the song was supposed to be about heroin, cannibalism, and even a psychiatric hospital. Some people tried to take advantage of the song’s popularity. The band even sued Hotel California in Mexico, which “pretended” that the hit song was about them. The owners of the facility even sold special T-shirts, and unsuspecting guests allowed them to earn good money.

Speaking of profits, the song not only became an instant hit, but also confirmed the star status of The Eagles. The entire album with this song sold very well and the musicians could breathe a sigh of relief because “they didn’t ruin it.” No wonder that the band started the tour after the album “Hotel California” in a true rock and roll style. The artists rented a private jet, and Don Henley even ordered the crew to carry a special mattress to the hotels for himself because – as the musician explained – his back hurt from the concerts.

The Eagles joined the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, and “Hotel California” was considered one of the most important songs in the history of rock and roll. Not bad for a song that was supposed to be “nothing special” and not “suitable for a single.”