Hotel California by the Eagles – 30 Facts You Probably Didn’t Know…

Hotel California Album Cover

Hotel California remains one of the most revered and successful records of the last century. Released at the very 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.

But what does is mean? Where is Hotel California and what are Colitas? Read on to find the answers! 

Hotel California – 30 Facts You May Not Know

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, let us begin…

What Is Hotel California About?

  • The album can be seen as a metaphor for their lives in the 1970s. After forming the band in ’71 they had enormous success in a short space of time, and heavily experienced the associated burden that came with it. Money, parties, and drugs all took their toll. Don Henley (long before he wrote songs about New York) came up with the concept and title into which the other band members added songs.
  • Hotel California” opens the album almost like an overture, encapsulating the themes that were to follow on later down the tracklist.
    • 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 prior.
    • “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 – jewelry from Tiffany’s, a Mercedes-Benz. The definite misspelling could also reference ‘the bends’ that a diver would experience if they came up too quickly.
  • New Kid in Town’ was about being the hot new band and watching as the next group on everybody’s lips came into town: “Everybody’s talking… people starting walking…”
  • 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…”, and so a song was born. 
  • ‘Wasted Time’ was a tired band looking negatively at the past and thinking, was this all wasted? Their success clearly dictates otherwise. 
  • ‘Pretty Maids All In a Row’ is a reference to lines cocaine.
  • The last track on the album, the bleak ‘The Last Resort’, ends with what feels like a comment on the industry and the changing culture of California: “You call someplace paradise, kiss it goodbye.”

Where is the real Hotel California?

  •  The hotel on the cover is the Beverly Hills Hotel (one of the many LA Rock n’ Roll Landmarks). If you go there, don’t expect to get a picture like the front cover. That was taken from a cherry picker 60 foot in the air!

When Year Did Hotel California Come Out?

  • The album and single (of the same title) were released in December 1976, less than 5 years after their formation.
  • This was their second album release of that year. In February 1976, they also released ‘Their Greatest Hits’ which remains one of the world’s top-selling albums.
  • The album was recorded at Criteria Studios in Miami and the Record Plant Studios in Los Angeles.
  • Longtime Eagles Producer Bill Szymczyk has been at the controls for all of the band’s albums.
  • The album was released on Asylum Records, the label owned by their former manager David Geffen.

Why Is It called Hotel California?

  • The title is not about an actual hotel but more about the record industry and the excesses brought on by great success.
  • According to journalist turned director (and huge music fan), Cameron Crowe, the original title was “Mexican Reggae”.

Who Wrote Hotel California?

  • The album was written by and shares the perspective of California ‘outsiders’. Despite the Eagles sounding like a California band, only Bernie Leadon was originally from The Golden State. The songwriters (for the single Hotel California) were Don Felder from Florida, Glenn Frey from Detroit and Don Henley from Texas.
  • 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.’
  • The guitar riff from ‘Fast Lane came from Joe Walsh practicing. The other band members loved the riff and built from there.

Just How BIG Was This Album?

  • The album spawned two number one singles, the title track and ‘New Kid in Town’, as well as a third tune which almost reached the top 10 – ‘Life in the Fast Lane’.
  • To date, the album has sold more than 21.5 million copies – that’s massive! Still, that is six million less than Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and a whopping 10 million less than their very own Greatest Hits that was released just before Hotel California. (source)
  • It won many awards:
    • 1978 Grammy for Song of the Year – Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Don Felder. (But lost Record of the Year to Rumours)
    • 1978 Grammy for Best Pop Performance – Eagles
    • 1978 Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance  – Eagles
  • Both the single and album are in the Grammy Hall of Fame, which honors musical recordings of lasting qualitative or historical significance.
  • The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame defined this as a song that shaped rock and roll.

Anything Else?

  • Colitas are 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.
  • 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 Fact!

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

Essential Reading on Hotel California

If you’re still here, then I thank you for reading. I have endeavored 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, with many of my insights have come from watching documentaries like ‘History of the Eagles’ (available to stream) and books.

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. My blog post covers those Rock n Roll Landmarks of Los Angeles.

Hotel California: Live…