We mourned the death of Eagles founding member Glenn Frey yesterday like many rock ‘n’ roll fans around the world. Along with Don Henley, Frey sang all the Eagles’ biggest hits, including “Take It Easy”, “Peaceful Easy Feeling”, and “Tequila Sunrise.” But it’s one of the songs Frey helped write the lyrics to that conjures the most feeling in our hearts.
“Hotel California,” the Eagles’ most iconic song, is a tale about “the high life in Los Angeles,” according to the group. It’s a haunting, evocative track full of addictive lines and unforgettable moments. You’ll hear it in bars, department stores, commercials, TV shows, and films alike. The song’s been endlessly covered and worn out by DJs since its release in February of 1977. “Hotel California” is impossible to miss if you’re an American.
I’m partial to this version, which features eight guitars and has a flamenco intro:
It’s likely you’ve had your moment with “Hotel California” at some point in life. You heard it on the radio back in ’77 or you discovered it later. You heard the catchy chorus, the guitar battle between Don Felder and Joe Walsh, or the use of the word “colitas” for the first time in your life, and your ears perked up. It’s not an easily-forgotten song and the interpretations are endless. But there’s much about it you were likely never aware of. Read on to discover 10 things about “Hotel California” you didn’t know about:
1. The original working title of the song was “Mexican Reggae,” according to Henley.
2.In an interview with Rolling Stone, Henley said the song was meant to be “more of a symbolic piece about America in general.” He described his and Frey’s writing: “Lyrically, the song deals with traditional or classical themes of conflict: darkness and light, good and evil, youth and age, the spiritual versus the secular. I guess you could say it’s a song about loss of innocence.”
3. According to Frey’s liner notes for The Very Best Of, the use 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 nod to the band Steely Dan, who had included the lyric “Turn up the Eagles, the neighbors are listening,” in their song “Everything You Did.”
4. The term “colitas” in the first stanza means “little tails” in Spanish; in Mexican slang, it refers to marijuana.
5. Don Felder talked about the lyrics in 2008: “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.
6. In a 2009 interview with The Plain Dealer, Henley angrily defended the lyrics: “Please bring me my wine’ / He said, ‘We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969,” which seems to incorrectly suggest wine is a spirit:
“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.”
7. In the 1980s some Christian evangelists alleged that “Hotel California” referred to a San Francisco hotel that was converted into a Church of Satan. Other rumors suggested that the Hotel California was the Camarillo State Mental Hospital.
8. The front cover of the Hotel California LP used a photograph of the Beverly Hills Hotel by David Alexander.
9. Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull pointed out the similarity between “Hotel California” and his song “We Used to Know,” suggesting the Eagles heard it when they toured together in June of 1972. But Don Felder, who wrote the music, didn’t join the Eagles until 1974. Felder has said he never heard “We Used to Know.” But it’s not hard to hear what Anderson is talking about:
10. “Hotel California” hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for a week in 1977 and went on to sell over a million copies in three months. Rolling Stone ranked it #49 on its list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” And it was also named one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.”
10 Things You Never Knew About 'Hotel California'