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"Hotel California" is the title song from the Eaglesalbum of the same name and was released as a single in February 1977. It is one of the best-known songs of thealbum-oriented rock era. Writing credits for the song are shared by Don FelderDon Henley, and Glenn Frey. The Eagles' original recording of the song features Henley singing the lead vocals and concludes with an extended section of electric guitar interplay between Felder and Joe Walsh. The song has been given several interpretations by fans and critics alike, but the Eagles have described it as their "interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles".[1] In the 2012 History of the Eagles, Don Henley said the song was about "a journey from innocence to experience...that's all".

History and recognition[edit source | editbeta]Edit

"Hotel California" topped the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for one week in May 1977 and peaked at number ten on the Adult Contemporary charts. Three months after its release, the single was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), representing one million copies shipped. The Eagles also won the 1977 Grammy Award for Record of the Year for "Hotel California" at the 20th Grammy Awards in 1978.[3]

In 2009, the song "Hotel California" was certified Platinum (Digital Sales Award) by the RIAA for sales of one million digital downloads.[4]

The song is rated highly in many rock music lists and polls, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it number 49 on its list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time".[5] It is also one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. The song's guitar solo is ranked 8th on Guitar Magazine's Top 100 Guitar Solos and was voted the best solo of all time by readers of Guitarist magazine.[6]

As one of the group's most popular and well-known songs, "Hotel California" has been a concert staple for the band since its release. Performances of the song appear on the Eagles' 1980 live album, simply called Live, and in an acoustic version on the 1994 Hell Freezes Over reunion concert CD and video release. The "Hell Freezes Over" version is performed using eight guitars and has a decidedly Spanish feel to it with Don Felder's flamenco-inspired arrangement and intro. During the band's Farewell 1 Tour-Live from Melbourne, the song was performed in a manner closer to the original album version, but with a trumpet interlude in the beginning.[citation needed]

Glenn Frey described the origins of the song:

The song began as a demo tape, an instrumental by Don Felder. He'd been submitting tapes and song ideas to us since he'd joined the band, always instrumentals, since he didn't sing. But this particular demo, unlike many of the others, had room for singing. It immediately got our attention. The first working title, the name we gave it, was 'Mexican Reggae'.[7]

Interpretation[edit source | editbeta]Edit

The lyrics weave a surrealistic tale in which a weary traveler checks into a luxury hotel. The hotel at first appears inviting and tempting but it turns out to be a nightmarish place where "you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave." The song is an allegory about hedonism, self-destruction, and greed in the music industry of the late 1970s.[8] Don Henley called it "our interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles"[9] and later reiterated: "It's basically a song about the dark underbelly of the American dream and about excess in America, which is something we knew a lot about."[10] In 2008, Don Felder described the origins of the lyrics:

Don Henley and Glenn wrote most of the words. All of us kind of drove into L.A. at night. Nobody was from California, and if you drive into L.A. at night... you can just see this glow on the horizon of lights, and the images that start running through your head of Hollywood and all the dreams that you have, and so it was kind of about that... what we started writing the song about. Coming into L.A.... and from that 'Life in the Fast Lane' came out of it, and 'Wasted Time' and a bunch of other songs.[11]

The term "colitas" in the first stanza means "little tails" in Spanish; in Mexican slang it refers to buds of the cannabis plant.[12]

In a 2009 interview, Plain Dealer music critic John Soeder asked Don Henley this about the lyrics:

On "Hotel California," you sing: "So I called up the captain / 'Please bring me my wine' / He said, 'We haven't had that spirit here since 1969.'" I realize I'm probably not the first to bring this to your attention, but wine isn't a spirit. Wine is fermented; spirits are distilled. Do you regret that lyric?

Henley responded:

Thanks for the tutorial and, no, you're not the first to bring this to my attention—and you're not the first to completely misinterpret the lyric and miss the metaphor. Believe me, I've consumed enough alcoholic beverages in my time to know how they are made and what the proper nomenclature is. But that line in the song has little or nothing to do with alcoholic beverages. It's a sociopolitical statement. My only regret would be having to explain it in detail to you, which would defeat the purpose of using literary devices in songwriting and lower the discussion to some silly and irrelevant argument about chemical processes.[13]

According to Glenn Frey's liner notes for The Very Best Of, the use of the word "steely" in the lyric (referring to knives) was a playful nod to band Steely Dan, who had included the lyric "Turn up the Eagles, the neighbors are listening" in their song "Everything You Did".[14]

Conjectures[edit source | editbeta]Edit

The metaphorical character of the story related in the lyrics has inspired a number of conjectural interpretations by listeners. In the 1980s some Christian evangelists alleged that "Hotel California" referred to a San Francisco hotel that was purchased by Anton LaVey and converted into a Church of Satan.[15][16] Other rumors suggested that the Hotel California was the Camarillo State Mental Hospital.[17]

Cover art for single[edit source | editbeta]Edit

The front cover art for the 45rpm release of the song was a reworked version of the Hotel California LP cover art, which used a photograph of the Beverly Hills Hotel by David Alexander with design and art direction by Kosh.[18]

Harmonic structure[edit source | editbeta]Edit

The intro and verse's chord pattern counts eight measures, each one assigned to a single chord. Seven different chords are used in the eight measures. As the song opens, it is not until the eighth measure that a chord is repeated. The song is initially in the key of B-minor.[19]

The chords are played as follows:

Bm-F#-A-E-G-D-Em-F#
or
i-V-VII-IV-VI-III-iv-V

The eight measure sequence is repeated in the intro, for each verse and in the outro, providing the harmonic framework for the entire extended dual guitar solo at the end of the song.[19] Although this chord sequence is not a commonly-used progression, it does resemble Jethro Tull's "We Used to Know" from their 1969 album Stand Up.[19] One explanation of the progression is that it is a common flamenco chord progression called the "Spanish progression" (i-VII-VI-V in a phrygian context) that is interspersed with consecutive fifths.[19]

The chorus, or refrain, uses five of the song's seven chord set, structured with the melody in a way that shifts the key from B-minor to its relative major of D:[19]

G-D-F#-Bm-G-D-Em-F#
or assuming a key of D:
IV-I-III-vi-IV-I-ii-III

Certifications[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Region Certification Sales/shipments
Italy (FIMI)[20]

Digital download

Gold 15,000
United States (RIAA)[21]

Physical single

Gold 1,000,000^
United States (RIAA)[21]

Digital download

Platinum 1,000,000

  • sales figures based on certification alone ^shipments figures based on certification alone

Personnel[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Cover versions and parodies[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Covers[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Many cover versions of "Hotel California" have been released:

Parodies[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Parodies include:

  • Christian parody band ApologetiX redid the song as "Hotel Can't Afford Ya", about Jesus' nativity, on their album Jesus Christ Morningstar.
  • Country music parodist Cledus T. Judd parodied the song as "Motel Californie" on his 1995 debut album Cledus T. Judd (No Relation).
  • Christian comedian Tim Hawkins performed a parody of the song, called "WalMart in California",as part of his "Future Hits" compilation, changing the lyrics to what they would have supposedly been if the Eagles were older at the time they wrote Hotel California.
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