This is about materialism and excess. California is used as the setting, but it could relate to anywhere in America. Don Henley in the London Daily Mail November 9, 2007 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."
On November 25, 2007 Henley appeared on the TV news show 60 Minutes, where he was told, "everyone wants to know what this song means." Henley replied: "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."
Don Henley: "We were all middle-class kids from the Midwest. Hotel California was our interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles.
This won the 1977 Grammy for Record Of The Year. The band did not show up to accept the award, as Don Henley did not believe in contests.
Don Felder got the ball rolling on this. He had the chord progressions and took it to Don Henley and Glenn Frey. They put the words down, then Joe Walsh wrote all the guitar parts and arranged them for everyone. (thanks, Les - Dannevirke, New Zealand)
"Colitas," in the line "Warm smell of coolitas," is often interpreted as a flower or a sexual reference. It is a Spanish word translated to Henley by the Eagles Mexican-American road manager meaning "Little Buds," and is a reference to marijuana.
This was recorded at 3 different sessions before the Eagles got the version they wanted. The biggest problem was finding the right key for Henley's vocal.
Glenn Frey compares this to an episode of The Twilight Zone, where it jumps from one scene to the next and doesn't necessarily make sense.
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 and had a friendly rivalry. The year before, Steely Dan included the line "Turn up the Eagles, the neighbors are listening" on their song "Everything You Did."
Don Felder and Joe Walsh played together on the guitar solos, creating the textured sound.
The lyrics for the song came with the album. Some people thought the line "She's got the Mercedes Bends" was a misspelling of "Mercedes Benz," and wrote Henley to complain. The line was a play on words.
Glenn Frey: "That record explores the under belly of success, the darker side of Paradise. Which was sort of what we were experiencing in Los Angeles at that time. So that just sort of became a metaphor for the whole world and for everything you know. And we just decided to make it Hotel California. So with a microcosm of everything else going on around us." (thanks, Moomin - London, England)
When the Eagles got back together in 1994, they recorded a live version of this for an MTV special that was included on their album Hell Freezes Over. The album was #1 in the US its first week.
All 7 past and present members of the Eagles performed this in 1998 when they were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
The hotel on the album cover is the Beverly Hills Hotel, known as the Pink Palace. It is often frequented by Hollywood stars. 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 of the hotel at sunset from above the trees. The rush-hour traffic made it a harrowing experience. Check out the hotel.
Although it is well known that Hotel California is actually a metaphor, there are several strange Internet theories and urban legends about the "real" Hotel California. Some include suggestions that it was an old church taken over by devil worshippers, a psychiatric hospital, an inn run by cannibals or Aleister Crowley's mansion in Scotland. It's even been suggested that the "Hotel California" is the Playboy Mansion. (thanks, Adam - Dewsbury, England)
The music may have been inspired by the 1969 Jethro Tull song "We Used to Know," from their album Stand up. The chord progressions are nearly identical, and the bands toured together before the Eagles recorded "Hotel California." In a BBC radio interview, Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson said laughingly that he was still waiting for the royalties. In Ian Anderson's interview with Songfacts, he makes it clear that he doesn't consider "Hotel California" to be borrowing anything from his song: "It's difficult to find a chord sequence that hasn't been used, and hasn't been the focus of lots of pieces of music. It's harmonic progression is almost a mathematical certainty you're gonna crop up with the same thing sooner or later if you sit strumming a few chords on a guitar. There's certainly no bitterness or any sense of plagiarism attached to my view on it, although I do sometimes allude, in a joking way, to accepting it as a kind of tribute."
In Chicago at the time of this song's popularity many people called Cook County jail "Hotel California" because it is on California street. The name stuck and now people of all ages and races refer to the jail by this nickname. (thanks, jesse - chicago, IL)
Don Felder: "I had just leased this house out on the beach at Malibu, I guess it was around '74 or '75. I remember sitting in the living room, with all the doors wide open on a spectacular July day. I had this acoustic 12-string and I started tinkling around with it, and those Hotel California chords just kind of oozed out. Every once in a while it seems like the cosmos part and something great just plops in your lap." (thanks, Stone - Libertyville, IL)
An alternative interpretation of the meaning of the lyrics is that the song is a description of the journey from Need to Love and Marriage to Divorce and ultimately to the impossibility of regaining the life and happiness of the pre-divorce state.
Initially the traveler is feeling the need of a relationship ("My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim, I had to stop for the night"). The traveler meets his love and gets married ("There she stood in the doorway. I heard the mission bell"). A marriage commitment opens up the possibility of happiness but also the traveler is aware and vulnerable to the possibility of intense unhappiness ("And I was thinking to myself, this could be heaven or this could be hell")
Unfortunately the marriage dissolves and his love becomes obsessed with money ("Her mind is Tiffany-twisted") where Tiffany" refers to the very expensive jewelry store, Tiffany & Co. With the divorce there is the division of property - she got the Mercedes Benz. After the breakup when he sees her with any guys she reassures him that the pretty, pretty boys" are just friends." In this new world of being single the other singles he meets do their dance in the courtyard" of life. They generally fall into two groups: There are those who can't stop talking about their Ex ("Some dance to remember") and there are those who don't what to say anything at all about their past marriage ("some dance to forget").
Now in this world of being divorced he longs to return the pre-divorced state of happiness ("So I called up the captain, please bring me my wine"), but he finds that his happiness is now irrevocably in the past ("We haven't had that spirit here since 1969").
Deep into the post-divorce single's scene with "mirrors on the ceiling, the pink champagne on ice" he is reminded that "we are all just prisoners here, of our own device." He and others want this divorce nightmare to be over, yet - "they stab it with their steely knives, but they just can't kill the beast." Now frustrated, he panics and is "running for the door. I had to find the passage back to the place I was before" But he is brought up short when the night man informs him that "You can checkout any time you like (commit suicide), but you can never leave" (become pre-divorced).
There are two choruses in the song and each mention the "Hotel California." Around the time the song was written, California was experiencing the highest divorce rate in the nation. Each chorus has lines that remember his past marriage ("Such a lovely place") and his past lover ("Such a lovely face"). The first chorus indicates that there can always be more divorces ("Plenty of room at the Hotel California, any time of year, you can find it here"). The second chorus points out that as a part of divorce you will always "bring your alibis." (thanks, David - Redwood City, CA)
The Hotel California album is #37 on the Rolling Stone list of the 500 Greatest Albums of all time. According to the magazine, Don Henley said that the band was in pursuit of a note perfect song. The Eagles spent 8 months in the studio polishing take after take after take. Henley also said, "We just locked ourselves in. We had a refrigerator, a ping pong table, roller skates and a couple cots. We would go in and stay for 2 or 3 days at a time." (thanks, Ray - Stockton, NJ)