When this song came out the Eagles were beginning to feel the pressures of fame and they intended to capture the struggles of their rock stardom in their new album. They had just came off from their previous album in 1975 ‘One of These Nights’ which gave them three Top 10 singles with their record sales going into the stratosphere with the possibility of becoming the best-selling album of the century for the United States! For that reason, Glen Frey expressed his feelings about it all saying, “We were under the microscope. Everybody was going to look at the next record we made and pass judgment. Don and I were going, ‘Man, this better be good.’”
The title song from this album went on to cement their status as a rock and roll band, making listeners ponder the meaning of their lyrics for decades to come. According to Don Henley, “The concept had to do with taking a look at all the band had gone through, personally and professionally, while it was still happening to them. We were getting an extensive education, in life, in love, in business. Beverly Hills was still a mythical place to us. In that sense, it became something of a symbol and the ‘Hotel’ the locus of all that L.A. Had come to mean for us. In a sentence, I’d sum it up as the end of the innocence, round one.”
Here’s more about this album and its title song that you probably didn’t know:
1. Instead of being called ‘Hotel California’ they called it ‘Mexican Raggae’.
The song began when Don Felder rented a beach house in Malibu and inspiration hit him while he was strumming his guitar. He told Guitar World in 2013, “I remember sitting in the living room on a spectacular July day with the doors wide open. I had a bathing suit on and was sitting on this couch, soaking wet, thinking the world is a wonderful place to be. I had this acoustic 12-string and started tinkling around with it, and those ‘Hotel California’ chords just kind of oozed out.”
He immediately reached for his 4-track tape recorder to capture it and even added some bass and drum-machine overdubs for emphasis. He said, “I knew it was unique but didn’t know if it was appropriate for the Eagles. It was kind of reggae, almost an abstract guitar part for what was on the radio back then.” When they came back in 1976 to work on their fifth album, Felder let his band members listen to all of his recording to look for some ideas. The reggae-like song was one that the band members decided to work on.
According to Don Henley, “Felder had submitted a cassette tape containing about half a dozen different pieces of music. None of them moved me until I got to that one. It was a simple demo – a progression of arpeggiated guitar chords, along with some hornlike sustained note lines, all over a simple 4/4 drum-machine pattern. There may had been some Latin-style percussion in there too. I think I was driving down Benedict Canyon Drive at night, or maybe even North Crescent Drive (adjacent to the Beverly Hills Hotel) the first time I heard the piece, and I remember thinking, ‘This has potential; I think we can make something interesting out of this’”.
The working title of the song then became ‘Mexican Reggae’ during the early sessions until the lyrics were finalized.
2. Black Sabbath shared the recording studio with the Eagles and their noise next door was disruptive to the Eagles’ sessions.
This fifth album was overseen by their same producer, Bill Szymczyk, who worked on their previous album ‘One of These Nights’ and he insisted on recording it at Miami’s legendary Criteria Studios, far from their previous L.A. Studio, Record Plant.
Apparently, he experienced a recent earthquake in L.A. and subsequently developed a fear of living on a fault line. He said, “The day the earthquake happened was the day I became an independent producer.” He also felt like it was a good way for the band to be out of L.A. as well and away from the partying and people.
Adjacent to their studio was the legendary band, Black Sabbath who was working on their ‘Technical Ecstasy’ album. According to Tony Iommi, “The Eagles were recording next door, but we were too loud for them. It kept coming through the wall into their sessions.” So much so that on of their songs ‘The Last Resort’ had to be re-recorded multiple times due to the noise that Black Sabbath produced.
3. Felder forgot what he had written for the song ‘Hotel California’ when it was time to record it.
It’s been over a year since Felder recorded his ideas for this song and when it came to record it, he had forgotten how it was supposed to go, saying, “Joe and I started jamming, and Don said, ‘No, no, stop! It’s not right.’ I said, ‘What do you mean it’s not right?’ And he said, ‘No, no, you’ve got to play it just like the demo.’ Only problem was, I did that demo a year earlier; I couldn’t even remember what was on it.” Unfortunately, the demo was in Los Angeles!
“We had to call my housekeeper in Malibu, who took the cassette, put it in a blaster and played it with the phone held up to the blaster.” From there, they continued working on the song. “It was close enough to the demo to make Don happy.”
4. Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson thought that ‘Hotel California’ sounded like one of his own songs!
After hearing ‘Hotel California’ for the first time, Jethro felt as if the song sounded like his own composition, ‘We Used To Know’ from the 1969 album ‘Stand Up’. Another coincidence was that the Eagles and Jethro Tull toured together in 1972. He said, “Maybe it was just something they kind of picked up on subconsciously, and introduced that chord sequence into their famous song ‘Hotel California’ sometime later.”
However, the composer of the song, Felder, didn’t officially join the band until 1974 and therefore was not on that particular tour. Felder even said that he never even heard the song ‘We Used To Know’ at the time he wrote the famous .’Hotel California’ song.
5. The song ‘Life in the Fast Lane’ was inspired by a conversation with Glenn Frey’s drug dealer as they were traveling 90 miles an hour.
The Eagles engaged in all the perks of being a rock star back in those days which includes illicit drug use. According to Glen Frey, “I was riding shotgun in a Corvette with a drug dealer on the way to a poker game. The next thing I know we’re doing 90. Holding! Big Time! I say, ‘Hey, man!’ He grins and goes, ‘Life in the fast lane!’ I thought, ‘Now there’s a song title.”
Frey admits that the song was intended to “paint a picture that cocaine wasn’t that great. It turns on you. It messed up my back muscles, it messed up my nerves, it messed up my stomach, and made me paranoid.”