Hotel California

Song Review by

"Hotel California" was the title track of the Eagles' most successful regular album (though second overall to the astronomical sales of Eagles/Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975) and a chart-topping hit in its own right. It also featured one of the more mysterious lyrics of a popular song in the 1970s. Like much of the Eagles' output, Hotel California was an implicitly autobiographical album of songs about the group's rock & roll lifestyle. Their songs tended to be both lascivious and prudish, detailing excesses and then disapproving of them, and the tunes that comprised Hotel California were no exception. As the leadoff track, the title song was a proper introduction to an album that would contain other material in the same vein, such as "Life in the Fast Lane" and "Wasted Time." The song is built on a modified reggae beat that is not quite as syncopated as conventional reggae, with a distinctive guitar riff that recalls some of David Gilmour's favorite licks. It sounds as if, prior to composing the song, the members of the Eagles listened closely to Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here and Bob Marley & the Wailers' Rastaman Vibration, both recent hit albums, and combined elements from each. Over the catchy result, Don Henley sings the song's nightmarish lyrics. The narrator, driving at night on the desert, grows tired and stops at a hotel. Things are immediately disturbing: He is greeted by a woman who leads him to his room as he thinks to himself, "This could be heaven or this could be hell." In the succeeding verses, the scene becomes increasingly strange until the narrator attempts to escape, only to be told that he can't leave. The song concludes with an extended twin-guitar coda. The lyrics had the tone of a drug reverie and were filled with references to intoxicants and excess, but they also referred to criminality and imprisonment. The Hotel California seemed to be a metaphor for the world encountered by the bandmembers, who had come from other places. (Henley was from Texas and co-author Glenn Frey from Michigan. Don Felder, who wrote the guitar riff, was a Florida native.) It was a world they found fascinating and dangerous, but which they ultimately condemned without being able to escape. The ambivalence of that stance came out in the song. The Hotel California album was released on December 8, 1976, and went to number one in early 1977, eventually selling more than ten million copies. "Hotel California" the song was released as a single on March 12, 1977, and also hit number one, going gold. There have been a handful of covers of the song over the years, including a particularly interesting version by the Gipsy Kings on the 1990 Elektra Records label celebration Rubiyat -- Elektra's 40th Anniversary and one by R&B artist Al B. Sure! on his Private Times...and the Whole 9! album. But the songs remain closely associated with the Eagles, who re-recorded it on Eagles Live (1980) and Hell Freezes Over (1994), and included it on Eagles Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (1982).

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 1976 Rhino 0:00
Hotel California 1976 Elektra / Asylum 6:30
Hotel California/Desperado 1976 Take 2 6:30
Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 1982 Asylum 6:29
No Image 1984 Elektra / Asylum
Hotel California 1994 Elektra 6:32
Learn to Be Still 1994 Geffen 7:12
The Very Best of the Eagles [1994] 1994 Elektra 6:30
The Very Best of the Eagles [2001] 1994 Warner Elektra Atlantic Corp. / Elektra 6:29
Kuschelrock, Vol. 3 1999
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 6:30
And My Heart... 2000 Mondo Melodia / ARK 21 4:42
Selected Works 1972-1999 2000 Elektra 6:57
Desperado/Hotel California/The Long Run 2003 Warner Bros. 6:30
The Complete Greatest Hits 2003 Warner Music 6:30
The Very Best of the Eagles [Rhino] 2003 Elektra / Rhino 6:31
The Very Best Of [2003] 2003 Warner Music 6:29
Eagles [Box Set] 2005 Warner Music 7:00
The Studio Albums 1972-1979 2013 Elektra / Rhino 6:30
Their Greatest Hits, Vols. 1 & 2 2017 Elektra / Rhino 6:30
The Kings of Hollywood 2017 Good Ship Funke 7:18
Legacy 2018 Elektra / Rhino
25 Jaar Top 40 Hits, Deel 4: 1977-1980
Various Artists