Hotel California by the Eagles – 30 facts you may not know

Hotel California remains one of the most revered and successful records of the last century. Released at the every height of the band’s fame, the album and single and have remained evergreen to this day. Covering themes of excess and success, the album continues to entertain and beguile in equal measures.

I only started listening to this album around 5 years ago. Until then I was an Eagles fan but had never strayed from the original, and the updated Greatest Hits albums. It is without exaggeration to say that I still listen to this album at least once a week. From the classic single, ‘Hotel California’ to the burnt out ending of ‘The Last Resort’ I still find this album has so much to give.

As a huge music fan, I am always keen to understand more about the stories behind the albums, the personnel, locations and inspirations that were distilled into 45 minutes of wonder. So, I present to you:

Hotel California – 30 Facts you may not know

When was it recorded and released?

  1. The album and single were released in December 1976, less than 5 years after they had formed.

2. This was their second album release of the year. In February 1976, they released ‘Their Greatest Hits’ which remains one of the world’s top selling albums.

3. The album was recorded at Criteria Studios in Miami and the Record Plant Studios in Los Angeles.

4. Long time Eagles Producer Bill Szymczyk was at the controls for this and every other Eagles album.

5. The album was released on Asylum records. The label owned by their former manager David Geffen.

Who Wrote it?

6. The album was written by and shares the perspective of California Outsiders. Despite the Eagles sound like a California band, only Bernie Leadon was from the State. The songwriters (for the single Hotel California) were Don Felder from Florida, Glenn Frey from Detroit and Don Henley from Texas.

7. Whilst the band sang harmonies, four different members took lead vocals on different tracks. Don Henley on the title track, Life in the Fast Lane, Wasted Time, Victim of Love and The Last Resort. Glenn Frey on New Kid in Town, Joe Walsh on Pretty Maids in a Row and Randy Meisner on ‘Try and Love Again.’

8. The guitar riff from ‘fast lane came from Joe Walsh practicing. The other band members liked the riff and built from there.

Why is it called Hotel California?

9. The title is not about an actual hotel but more about record industry and the excesses brought on by success.

10. According to journalist turned director (and huge music fan) Cameron Crowe, the original title was “Mexican Reggae”

What is the album about?

11. The track list could be seen as a metaphor for their lives in the 1970’s. After forming the band in 1971 they had enormous success in a short space of time and the associated burden that came with it. Money Parties and Drugs all took their toll. Don Henley came up with the title and concept into which the other band members added songs

12. “Hotel California” opens the album almost like an Overture, encapsulating the themes that were to follow on the album.

13. The line “They stab it with their steely knives, but they just can’t kill the beast,” is a playful jab to at Steely Dan. On ‘Everything You did’ Walter Becker and Donald Fagen wrote, “Turn up the Eagles the neighbors are listening. Taken from the album ‘The Royal Scam’ which was released six months before.

14. “Her mind is Tiffany Twisted, she got the Mercedes Bends” seems to be a reference to a divorce settlement. Considering the album was about the dark side of success you can see how the valuations were in material things – jewellery from Tiffany’s, a Mercedes-Benz car.  The definite misspelling could also reference ‘the bends’ that a diver would experience if they came up too quickly.

15. ‘New Kid in Town’ was about being the hot new band and watching as the next hot new band came into town.. “Everybody’s talking… people starting walking..”

16. ‘Life in the Fast Lane’ was a line the band heard whilst literally ‘racing up and down the freeway’ trying to find drugs. Another member of the party kept saying, life in the fast lane…”

17. ‘Wasted Time’ was a tired band looking negatively at the past and thinking, was this all wasted?

18. ‘Pretty Maids all in a row” is a reference to lines cocaine.

19. The last track on the album, the bleak  ‘The Last Resort’ ends with what feels like a comment on the industry and or the changing culture of California, “You call someplace paradise, kiss it goodbye.”

Just how big was this album?

20. The album spawned two number one singles, the title track and New Kid in Town and one that almost reached the top ten – Life in the fast Lane.

21. To date, the album has sold more than 21.5 million copies.  That is 6 million less than Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and 10 million less than their own Greatest Hits that was released before Hotel California. (source)

22. 1978 Grammy for Song of the Year – Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Don Felder. (But lost Record of the Year to Rumours.)

23. 1978 Grammy for Best Pop Performance – Eagles

24. 1978 Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance  – Eagles

25. Both the single and album are in the Grammy Hall of Fame, which honors musical recordings of lasting qualitative or historical significance.

26. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame defined this as a song that shaped rock and roll

But where is the Hotel?

  1. The Hotel on the cover is the Beverly Hills Hotel (one of the many LA Rock n’ Roll Landmarks.). If you go down there, don’t expect to get a picture like the front cover. That was taken from a cherry picker 60 foot in the air!
  2. The back cover was taken at the Lido Apartments, 6500 Yucca St, Los Angeles. (read more about the album cover in this great article, ‘Location of the Ghostly Eagles “Hotel California” Lobby Gatefold Photo.’

Anything Else?

  1. Colitas are allegedly a plant found in the desert that emanates a sweet smell in the warm evenings. But there is no such plant on a Google smell. Despite their denials, maybe the “Warm Smell of Colitas” was indeed a reference to Marijuana buds.
  2. The Eagles have just successfully defended a trademark after a hotel chain requested the trademark for a ‘Hotel California’ in Mexico, located around 1,000 miles south of San Diego.

Bonus!

A near mint condition copy of the original pressing of the album will cost you around $60.

Further Reading on Hotel California

Much of my insights have come from watching documentaries like ‘History of the Eagles’ (available to stream) and books including

If you’re still here, then I thank you for reading. I have endeavoured to double check these facts along the way. Some of them may be my personal interpretation of the songs and their meanings. Whilst band members including Don Henley and Glenn Frey have shared thoughts on the meanings of some songs, they have never explicitly stated the connections. Perhaps the music is better for your interpretation that simply following the dots.

The Eagles grew up in  Los Angeles at a time of great cultural change, well documented in the BBC’s ‘Hotel California – LA from the Byrds to the Eagles’ which is available on the Internet archive. This album and these stories were the influence for me to take a small pilgrimage of sorts to Los Angeles and seek out some of the locations, like the Troubadour Club and Laurel Canyon, made famous by the Eagles and others. This blog post covers those Rock n Roll Landmarks of Los Angeles.

Hotel California, Live…

Jamie is a luxury travel blogger and the creator of Wine Travel and Song. You can find him on a ‘plane with a head full of music or in the pages of this blog! Next Stops; Berlin, Vancouver, Alaska…