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.”
6. Don Felder was supposed to originally sing the song “Victim of Love”.
Felder contributed a lot to this album besides the title track ‘Hotel California’ including ‘Victim of Love’. He says, “We were trying to move in a heavier direction, away from country rock and so I wrote 16 or 17 song ideas, kind of in a more rock & roll direction, and ‘Victim of Love’ was one of those songs. I remember we went in the studio and we recorded it live with five guys playing. The only thing that wasn’t played in a live session was the lead vocal and harmony on the choruses. Everything else was recorded live.”
Felder initially provided the lead vocals to the song but his bandmates didn’t like the results saying, “Don Felder, for all of his talents as a guitar player, was not a singer.” Also, “He sang it dozens of time over the space of a week, over and over. It simply did not come up to band standards.”
So, they broke the news to Felder that he wasn’t going to be the vocalist on this song.
7. Don Henley brought his own mattress to each hotel during the tour ‘Hotel California’.
Being on the road is a challenging business and so many band members take extreme measures to make the tour feel more like home. In this case, the band’s head electrician, Joe Berry, reveals Henley’s special request, “He insisted on having a king-size bed and mattress available at all time, which the crew had to drag around everywhere. The tour seamstress made a special cover for it, with handles, to make it easier to pack it in the truck every night. It was Don’t bed, it went everywhere.”
Henley describes why he felt that this was necessary for his comfort, saying, “I used to have to hold my body in such a position that my spine got out of alignment. Between playing the drums and keeping my mouth in front of the microphone, it really twisted my whole body. I got to a point in the Seventies where I literally could not sleep.” For that reason, he insisted on his own, comfortable mattress each night instead of a hotel bed.
8. The cover photo on the album was done by the man who did the Beatles’ ‘Abby Road’ and the Who’s ‘Who’s Next’ and this almost got the band sued!
He is a British art director named Kosh (a.k.a. John Kosh) and after listening to a rough version of the album’s title track Kosh said that he was told this: “Don wanted me to find and portray the Hotel California – and portray it with a slightly sinister edge.”
While scouting for different locations with photographer David Alexander, he quickly decided that The Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset Boulevard was his favorite. His goal was to later erase all of the bright and beautiful qualities of the hotel which proved to be a technical challenge.
He says, “To get the perfect picture, David and I had perched nervously atop a 60-foot cherry picker dangling over Sunset Boulevard in the rush hour, shooting blindly into the sun. Both of us brought our Nikons up in the basket and we took turns shooting, ducking and reloading. We used high-speed Ektachrom film as the light began to fade. This film gave us the remarkable graininess of the final shot.”
The final picture was captured at the remarkable “golden hour” just before sunset and thus become one of the most recognizable album covers of all time. At first, nobody noticed that it was the famed Beverly Hills Hotel but when word did finally spread about the image in the photo and its location, the hotel was not thrilled about it at all. Lawyers for the Beverly Hills Hotel threatened Kosh with a ‘cease and desist’ action but the dispute was quickly dropped when, “As the sales of ‘Hotel California’ went through the roof . . .it was gently pointed out by my attorney that the hotel’s requests for bookings had tripled since the release of the album,” says Kosh.
9. They didn’t attend the Grammy’s and instead watched their win from band practice.
In January 1978 the Eagles received several Grammy awards one of which was Record of the Year for “Hotel California”. At the time, the band’s image was being attacked in the music press and so they decided against adding to any PR humiliation by not showing up and declining to perform at the ceremony as well. Unless, of course, they were guaranteed to win!
Unfortunately, rigging the Grammy’s was out of the question and so they offered to hang out in a secret room in the back until their name was called (if it was called) in order to be available to perform. This request was prompted denied. The final outcome was when the Eagles won, they were no where around to accept the award. Instead, they were having band rehearsal while watching it on T.V. They seemed happy with their choice.
The Eagles 1977
10. This female producer wanted to turn ‘Hotel California’ into a movie.
Her name is Julia Phillips and she was the first female producer in win an Academy Award in 1974 for the movie ‘The Sting’ with Robert Redford and Paul Newman. She’s had many other success as well including ‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ and now, she has her sights set on producing ‘Hotel California’.
However, the meetings between her and the band did not go well. She tells the story in her memoir, ‘You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again’ saying that the rock stars were arrogant and difficult with a tremendous cocaine appetite. All of which the band completely denies.
Afterwards, the deal was deal and nobody seemed to mind with one band associate saying, “They didn’t really want to see ‘Hotel California’ made into a movie. They were suspicious of the film business. After all, that was what ‘Hotel California’ was all about. I remember from the first day, Henley seemed really reluctant about it. Being the control freak that he is, he sensed he’d never be able to control the making of a film and was afraid of seeing what he considered his finest, most personal work reduced to the level of a sitcom.”