The Story of... 'Hotel California' by Eagles (2022)

'Hotel California' by the Eagles is one of the most iconic songs ever recorded, and helped the band's Greatest Hits become the biggest-selling album in United States chart history.

The summery classic rock track from 1976 still sounds fresh over 40 years later, but what is it all actually about and is it based on a real hotel?

  • Who wrote 'Hotel California'?

    The Story of... 'Hotel California' by Eagles (1)

    Writing credits for the song are shared by Don Felder (music), Don Henley, and Glenn Frey (lyrics).

    The song was written for the band's 1976 album of the same name.

  • What inspired the song?

    In general, the song is about materialism and excess. California is used as the song's setting, but it could relate to anywhere in America and beyond.

    In 2007, Don Henley said: "I know, it's so boring. It's a song about the dark underbelly of the American Dream, and about excess in America which was something we knew about."

    In 2013, he added: "It's a song about a journey from innocence to experience."

    The Story of... 'Hotel California' by Eagles (2)

    Henley chose the theme of the song, pointing out how The Beverly Hills Hotel had become a literal and symbolic focus of their lives at the time.

    He said of their personal and professional experience in LA: "We were getting an extensive education, in life, in love, in business. Beverly Hills was still a mythical place to us. In that sense it became something of a symbol, and the 'Hotel' the locus of all that LA had come to mean for us. In a sentence, I'd sum it up as the end of the innocence, round one."

    Frey also came up with a story of a person who, fed up of driving a long distance in a desert, saw a place to rest and pulled in for the night. However, he entered "a weird world peopled by freaky characters", and became "quickly spooked by the claustrophobic feeling of being caught in a disturbing web from which he may never escape."

    Speaking to Cameron Crowe, Frey said he and Henley wanted the song "to open like an episode of the Twilight Zone", saying: "We take this guy and make him like a character in The Magus, where every time he walks through a door there’s a new version of reality. We wanted to write a song just like it was a movie."

    (Video) The Story of How "Hotel California" by the Eagles was Written & Recorded - Don Felder

    Frey described the song as a cinematic montage, "just one shot to the next ... a picture of a guy on the highway, a picture of the hotel, the guy walks in, the door opens, strange people."

    Henley wrote most of the lyrics based on Frey's ideas, and also looked for inspiration by driving out into the desert, as well as from films and theatre.

    Read more: Watch the most incredible vocal harmonies by The Eagles

    Meanwhile, some of the lyrics, such as 'Her mind is Tiffany-twisted, she got the Mercedes-Benz / She got a lot of pretty pretty boys she calls friends', were based on Henley's break-up with girlfriend Loree Rodkin.

    Theuse of the word "steely" in the lyric, 'They stab it with their steely knives, but they just can't kill the beast', was a playful dig at the band Steely Dan, who had previously included the lyric 'Turn up the Eagles, the neighbours are listening' in their song 'Everything You Did'.

  • What other interpretations of the song are there?

    The song has alsp been described as being "all about American decadence and burnout, too much money, corruption, drugs and arrogance; too little humility and heart."

    It has been interpreted as a metaphor for hedonism, self-destruction, and greed in the music industry in the late 1970s.

    In the Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings, Volume 1, Steve Sullivan theorized that the "spirit" that the Hotel California hasn't had since 1969, refers to the spirit of social activism of the 1960s.

    The Story of... 'Hotel California' by Eagles (3)

    The character of the story in the lyrics has inspired several other conjectural interpretations by listeners.

    In the 1980s, the Reverand Paul Risley of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin claimed that 'Hotel California' referred to a San Francisco hotel bought by Anton LaVey and converted into his Church of Satan.

    Other claims suggested that the Hotel California was the Camarillo State Mental Hospital.

    The word 'colitas' in the song has been interpreted as sexual slang or a nod to marijuana. 'Colitas' means 'little tails' in Spanish, while in Mexican slang it refers to buds of the cannabis plant.

    Other interpretations of the song include heroin addiction and cannibalism.

    (Video) Joe Walsh - Hotel California (Eagles) | The Story Behind The Song

    Henley once said: "Some of the wilder interpretations of that song have been amazing. It was really about the excesses of American culture and certain girls we knew. But it was also about the uneasy balance between art and commerce."

  • How was it recorded?

    A demo of the song's instrumental was created by Don Felder in a rented house on Malibu Beach.

    He recorded the basic tracks with a Rhythm Ace drum machine and then added a 12 string guitar on a four-track recording deck in his spare bedroom, then mixed in a bassline.

    He gave Don Henley and Glenn Frey each a copy of the recording. Felder, who met the Eagles via his high school bandmate Bernie Leadon, said that Leadon advised him to make tapes of songs he wrote for the band so that other band members like Henley might work with him on finishing the songs they liked.

    Felder's demo for 'Hotel California' had influences from Latin and reggae music, and it intrigued Henley, who said he liked the song that "sounds like a Mexican reggae or Bolero", giving its first working title, 'Mexican Reggae'.

    Read more: Play the ultimate Eagles lyrics quiz

    The Eagles recorded the song with Don Henley on lead vocal three times, twice at the Record Plant in LA, and also at the Criteria Studios in Miami.

    They first recorded the song's riff, but for the vocals, the key was too high for Henley's voice, so Felder lowered the key from E minor, to B minor.

    The second recording was too fast, and so in Miami, the band fine-tuned the instrumentats and lyrics, and recorded several takes. Five or six best ones were selected, and the best parts were mixed together.

    Producer Bill Szymczyk said there were 33 edits on the two‑inch master. The final version had a guitar battle between Joe Walsh and Felder.

  • It was almost not released as a single

    Henley decided that the song should be a single, but Felder had doubts, and the record company wasn't sure about releasing a six minute single, which far exceeded that of the songs generally played by radio stations.

    However, the band took a stand and refused the label's request to shorten the song.

    (Video) The True Meaning of Hotel California

  • How did it perform in the charts?

    'Hotel California' topped the US charts for a week in May 1977, their fourth song to achieve the feat.

    In 2009, the song was certified Platinum by the RIAA for sales of one million digital downloads, and has since sold over 3 million downloads.

    In the UK, it reached a peak of number eight.

  • What is the hotel on the album cover?

    The Story of... 'Hotel California' by Eagles (4)

    The hotel on the album cover is the Beverly Hills Hotel, known as the Pink Palace.

    The photo was taken by photographers David Alexander and John Kosh, who sat in a cherry-picker about 60 feet above Sunset Boulevard to get the shot.

    However, the rush-hour traffic at the time made the experience rather difficult!

  • What happened to the movie version?

    According to Rolling Stone, Julia Phillips, the producer of films Taxi Driver and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, wanted to make a movie based on the song's story.

    The band members and Phillips met up to discuss the idea. In her book You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again, she said that the band members were difficult to deal with and arrogant.

    Henley later said that Phillips offered them cocaine and was "nonplussed" when they turned it down.

    Rolling Stone reported that the band was not upset at the film being scrapped, as they were not particularly in love with the idea of a movie version.

  • What are the lyrics?

    On a dark desert highway
    Cool wind in my hair
    Warm smell of colitas
    Rising up through the air

    (Video) Eagles 'Hotel California' 1994 Live اجمل اغنية

    Up ahead in the distance
    I saw a 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 thinkin' 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

    Welcome to the Hotel California
    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

    Her mind is Tiffany-twisted
    She got the Mercedes Benz, uh
    She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys
    That she calls friends

    How they dance in the courtyard
    Sweet summer sweat
    Some dance to remember
    Some dance to forget

    So I called up the Captain
    "Please bring me my wine"
    He said, "We haven't had that spirit here since 1969"

    And still those voices are calling from far away
    Wake you up in the middle of the night
    Just to hear them say

    Welcome to the Hotel California
    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

    Mirrors on the ceiling
    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

    (Video) Hotel California [History of the Eagles] | Mini doc

    Last thing I remember
    I was 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"

  • FAQs

    What's the meaning of Hotel California by the Eagles? ›

    The song is about "excess in America"

    While there have been many theories that contemplate what the song represents, the Eagles' band members have revealed in multiple interviews that the true meaning behind "Hotel California" is a commentary on the hedonism and self-indulgence of America.

    What is the meaning of warm smell of Colitas? ›

    It's actually the 'warm smell of colitis', an unpleasant bowel disease caused by eating too many refried beans. John Lennon referred to a similar ailment in Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds: "The girl with colitis goes by".

    Why is Hotel California song so famous? ›

    Hotel California drew heroic sales figures and critical plaudits in equal measure, and affirmed the band's shift from laid-back country-tinged pop act to major players in the rock & roll fast lane. The rich lyrics – both introspective and allegorical – had fans pondering their true meaning for decades to come.

    What does Mercedes Benz mean in Hotel California? ›

    She also has a case of "the bends," also known as decompression sickness. You get the bends, for example, if you surface too fast while scuba diving. But the speaker makes a clever pun: Her case of the bends is caused by the expensive car, the Mercedes Benz. Basically, her whole worldview is warped by money.

    Is Hotel California about a mental hospital? ›

    Hotel California is a mental hospital

    In this song the narrator describes his firsthand experience at the mental hospital. His delusional thought process is described as follows.

    What is the beast in Hotel California? ›

    The line, "They stab it with their steely knives but they just can't kill the beast" is a reference to Steely Dan. The bands shared the same manager (Irving Azoff) and had a friendly rivalry.

    What is a calita? ›

    The term "colitas" in the first stanza ("warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air") has been interpreted as a sexual slang or a reference to marijuana. "Colitas" means "little tails" in Spanish; in Mexican slang it refers to buds of the cannabis (marijuana) plant.

    What is Politas? ›

    po·li·ta Adjective. Translate "polita" to English: pretty. Spanish Synonyms of "polita": bonito, lindo, mono, precioso, coqueto, hermoso, chévere, bonico, chuly, churro.

    Where is the actual Hotel California? ›

    The hotel is located in the town of Todos Santos on Baja California Sur, about 1,000 miles (1,609 km) south of San Diego and 48 miles (77 km) north of Cabo San Lucas. “Hotel California” is known for abstract lyrics that lead singer Don Henley has said describe excess in America.

    Is Hotel California the greatest song of all time? ›

    The peace and love of the '60s was well and truly over, and this record was here to confirm it. 'Hotel California' opens its namesake album, and is unanimously one of the greatest guitar songs of all time.

    Is the Hotel California real? ›

    There is a real establishment in Mexico called Hotel California, however, it is not what is referenced in the song, even though guests have long been encouraged to believe otherwise.

    Is Hotel California the greatest song ever? ›

    In addition, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ranks it among the '500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll,' and Rolling Stone magazine calls it the 49th greatest song of all time.

    What does the term Tiffany Twisted mean? ›

    Tiffany twisted means a mind twisted or intertwined with materialism and status.

    Who is Tiffany twisted? ›

    Tiffany Twisted are a London-based rock band led by Hetti Harper's distinct vocals and Adam Davies' dynamic guitar.

    What is the mission bell in Hotel California? ›

    The mission bells can have two connotations: on the one hand, they call the people to worship and salvation, but on the other hand they indicate the domination and oppression of the indigenous people by the power of the colonial Spanish church.

    What happened to California mental institutions? ›

    Gov. Reagan signed the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act in 1967, all but ending the practice of institutionalizing patients against their will. When deinstitutionalization began 50 years ago, California mistakenly relied on community treatment facilities, which were never built.

    What was Hotel California written about? ›

    The song has been described as being "all about American decadence and burnout, too much money, corruption, drugs and arrogance; too little humility and heart." It has also been interpreted as an allegory about hedonism, self-destruction, and greed in the music industry of the late 1970s.

    What is Hotel California based off of? ›

    The inspiration for the name of the song, however, was not a real-life hotel, Eagles lead singer Don Henley once told Rolling Stone. (Sorry, Hotel del Coronado, but you're not it.) "We were all middle-class kids from the Midwest. 'Hotel California' was our interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles,” Henley said.

    Is the Hotel California about death? ›

    The song is an ode to Satanism (based on the lyrics we haven't had that spirit here since 1969 - some take this spirit to be God.) The song is about getting cancer. There was a real Hotel California, and it was run by cannibals.

    Who wrote lyin eyes? ›

    Lyin' Eyes

    Who was the best guitarist in the Eagles? ›

    With Eagles, Joe Walsh released three studio albums and became one of their iconic members with his guitar skills. He also has a solo career consisting of eleven studio albums and was praised by many icons, including The Who's Pete Townshend.

    Is the song Hotel California about the Cecil Hotel? ›

    Fun fact, the song was based on real life Cecil Hotel, the center of the Elisa Lam mystery and subject of the Cecil Hotel documentary that is now trending on Netflix. 21-year-old Canadian Elisa Lam, was tragically found dead in the water tanks of the Cecil Hotel, Los Angeles, in 2013.

    Who was the drummer in Hotel California? ›

    "Hotel California" is the Eagles best-known song and the title track from their fifth album of the same name (released in 1977). The song features drummer, Don Henley, singing lead vocals as well as two highly acclaimed solos by guitarists Don Felder and Joe Walsh.

    Who wrote Hotel California lyrics? ›

    Hotel California

    Can you visit Hotel California? ›

    Yes – the very structure of the six and one half minute song leaves you plenty of space to take a trip to the Hotel California, all on your own.

    What is the building on the cover of Hotel California? ›

    The front cover is a photograph of the Beverly Hills Hotel by David Alexander. Hotel California topped the US Billboard Top LPs & Tapes chart.

    Who is the owner of Hotel California? ›

    Foley Entertainment Group, founded by Las Vegas Golden Knights hockey owner and Santa Barbara County wine magnate Bill Foley, has purchased the Hotel Californian on lower State Street in Santa Barbara. Foley Entertainment Group announced the purchase Sept.

    Where is the real Hotel California? ›

    The hotel is located in the town of Todos Santos on Baja California Sur, about 1,000 miles (1,609 km) south of San Diego and 48 miles (77 km) north of Cabo San Lucas. “Hotel California” is known for abstract lyrics that lead singer Don Henley has said describe excess in America.

    Is the song Hotel California about the Cecil Hotel? ›

    Fun fact, the song was based on real life Cecil Hotel, the center of the Elisa Lam mystery and subject of the Cecil Hotel documentary that is now trending on Netflix. 21-year-old Canadian Elisa Lam, was tragically found dead in the water tanks of the Cecil Hotel, Los Angeles, in 2013.

    What is the meaning of Colitas? ›

    Noteworthy is that colitas has no meaning in the English language, but in Spanish, the word does have meaning. It translates as "little tails" and refers to the tips of marijuana leaves, said to be the most potent part of the plant. _ Michael C.

    What is the mission bell in Hotel California? ›

    The mission bells can have two connotations: on the one hand, they call the people to worship and salvation, but on the other hand they indicate the domination and oppression of the indigenous people by the power of the colonial Spanish church.

    What is the real name of the Hotel California? ›

    The inspiration for the name of the song, however, was not a real-life hotel, Eagles lead singer Don Henley once told Rolling Stone. (Sorry, Hotel del Coronado, but you're not it.) "We were all middle-class kids from the Midwest. 'Hotel California' was our interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles,” Henley said.

    What was Hotel California written about? ›

    The song has been described as being "all about American decadence and burnout, too much money, corruption, drugs and arrogance; too little humility and heart." It has also been interpreted as an allegory about hedonism, self-destruction, and greed in the music industry of the late 1970s.

    Can you visit Hotel California? ›

    Yes – the very structure of the six and one half minute song leaves you plenty of space to take a trip to the Hotel California, all on your own.

    Is the song Hotel California based on a real hotel? ›

    The inspiration for the name of the song, however, was not a real-life hotel, Eagles lead singer Don Henley once told Rolling Stone. (Sorry, Hotel del Coronado, but you're not it.) "We were all middle-class kids from the Midwest. 'Hotel California' was our interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles,” Henley said.

    Is Hotel California a horror song? ›

    The True Meaning of Hotel California - YouTube

    Who actually wrote Hotel California? ›

    Hotel California

    What is a calita? ›

    The term "colitas" in the first stanza ("warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air") has been interpreted as a sexual slang or a reference to marijuana. "Colitas" means "little tails" in Spanish; in Mexican slang it refers to buds of the cannabis (marijuana) plant.

    Who was the drummer in Hotel California? ›

    "Hotel California" is the Eagles best-known song and the title track from their fifth album of the same name (released in 1977). The song features drummer, Don Henley, singing lead vocals as well as two highly acclaimed solos by guitarists Don Felder and Joe Walsh.

    When did Hotel California come out? ›

    Why are there 3 bells at missions? ›

    Two of Mission Santa Clara's three bells were gifts from the King of Spain in 1799. For 126 years they rang every evening at 8:30 PM. In 1926 a big fire destroyed the mission church, by then part of the University of Santa Clara. One bell was melted in the fire, and a second was cracked by the heat.

    Why were the bells at the mission so important? ›

    OETTING: The first highway mission bells were installed in 1906. They were roadside markers placed every mile or so to help travelers find their way between California's coastal towns. By the mid-1950s, the highway bells were drumming up car tourism, leading road trippers between the missions.

    What do the bells on the 101 mean? ›

    So what's up with those bell markers on the 101? According to the California Department of Transportation, the Mission Bell Marker system has existed on the historic El Camino Real route since 1906. The original marker system called for installation of bells one mile apart along the entire length of the El Camino Real.

    Videos

    1. Eagles - Hotel California (Lyrics)
    (ALL MIXED)
    2. Hotel California Story Behind The Lyrics (1970s Music History) Eagles Music History
    (Remember This History & Nostalgia Channel)
    3. The Eagles making of Hotel California
    (BeanJolie)
    4. Eagles perform "Hotel California" at the 1998 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony
    (Rock & Roll Hall of Fame)
    5. Hotel California (2013 Remaster)
    (Eagles)
    6. Hidden meaning | Hotel California | The Eagles
    (Music Video Decoder)

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