December 8, 2020 – We are doing a live broadcast to chat about John Lennon later today but let’s not forget the 44th birthday of this classic album. Jason Klose, who is the head writer of our sister channel “Rock History Book” wrote this excellent look back at the album. “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Hotel California.”
10 Things You Didn’t Know About the “Hotel California” Album – by Jason Klose
1. The original title of the album’s title track was “Mexican Reggae.”
The origin of the song began when guitarist Don Felder rented a beach house in Malibu. The inspiration came to him while he was sitting on his couch one day and strumming his 12-string acoustic guitar. After playing some chords, he immediately reached for his 4-track tape recorder to capture it and even added some bass and drum-machine overdubs for emphasis.
When the Eagles reconvened in the spring of 1976 to work on their fifth album, Felder let his band members listen to all of his recordings to look for some ideas. The reggae-like song was one that they decided to work on. The demo Felder had made for “Hotel California” showed influences from Latin and reggae music, and it grabbed the attention of lead vocalist/drummer Don Henley, who said he liked the song that “sounds like a Mexican reggae or Bolero.” This gave the song its first working title “Mexican Reggae” during the early sessions until the lyrics were finalized.
2. When it came time to record “Hotel California,” Don Felder forgot what he had written.
It had been more than a year since Don Felder had recorded his initial demo tape of the song, and when the Eagles went into Criteria Studios in Miami to record the track, Felder couldn’t remember what he had written. When he and Joe Walsh began to work out the extended guitar fade, Don Henley felt that something was missing.
“Joe and I started jamming, and Don said, ‘No, no, stop! It’s not right,’” Felder told MusicRadar in 2012. “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.”
The problem was that the demo tape just happened to be at the other end of the country 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,” Felder said.
From there, they continued working on the song, with satisfactory results. “It was close enough to the demo to make Don happy,” he said.
3. A lyric in the title track, “Hotel California,” made a reference to the band Steely Dan.
“Hotel California” included a lyric that was a nod to Steely Dan for a song they had recorded on their album earlier that year. Steely Dan’s 1976 album The Royal Scam included the song “Everything You Did,” which made a reference to the Eagles.
According to Glenn 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 for the publicity to Steely Dan, who had included the lyric “Turn up the Eagles, the neighbors are listening” in their song “Everything You Did.”
Frey had also said that the writing of the song was inspired by the boldness of Steely Dan’s lyrics and its willingness to go “out there,” and thought that the song they wrote had “achieved perfect ambiguity.”
“Apparently Walter Becker’s girlfriend loved the Eagles, and she played them all the time. I think it drove him nuts,” Frey said. “So, the story goes that they were having a fight one day and that was the genesis of the line.”
Given that the two bands shared a manager (Irving Azoff) and that the Eagles proclaimed their admiration for Steely Dan, this was more friendly rivalry than feud.
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 Tull multi-instrumentalist Ian Anderson thought that the song sounded very familiar and believed that it sounded like one of his own compositions, “We Used to Know,” from Jethro Tull’s 1969 album Stand Up. Another coincidence was that the Eagles and Jethro Tull had toured together in 1972.
In an interview with Songfacts, Anderson 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.”
The problem with that was that Don Felder, the composer of the song, didn’t officially join the Eagles until 1974 and was not on that 1972 tour. Felder himself later denied having ever heard the song “We Used to Know” at the time he wrote “Hotel California.”
In a 2016 interview, Anderson stated that the chord progression had likely been used in earlier songs and called “Hotel California” a “much better song” than “We Used to Know.”
5. Don Felder was originally supposed to do the lead vocal for the song “Victim of Love.”
Felder was an important contributor to the Hotel California album. Besides the title track “Hotel California,” he also co-wrote the song “Victim of Love” with Henley, lead vocalist/guitarist Glenn Frey, and singer, songwriter, and musician J.D. Souther.
“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,” Felder told Songfacts. “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.”
Felder initially provided the lead vocals to the song, but his bandmates didn’t like the results.
“Don Felder, for all of his talents as a guitar player, was not a singer,” Frey said in “The History of the Eagles.”
When Felder’s vocals didn’t measure up to the band’s standards, they then broke the news to him that he wasn’t going to be the vocalist on the song, which was then sung by Henley.
6. The title for “Life in the Fast Lane” was inspired by a conversation between Glenn Frey and his drug dealer during a high-speed car ride.
The Eagles’ success allowed them to engage in and enjoy all the perks of being rock stars, and illicit drug use was certainly one of them. One of the standout tracks on Hotel California was inspired by Glenn Frey’s harrowing car ride late one night with his drug dealer.
“I was riding shotgun in a Corvette with a drug dealer on the way to a poker game,” Frey recalled in the 2013 documentary The History of the Eagles. “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.”
Holding on to that idea for months, Frey heard Joe Walsh playing a hard-hitting riff during a band rehearsal one day that stopped him in his tracks. He asked Walsh to play it again, and from there, the song began to take root. When the final track was completed, Frey realized how close his experience was to the drug-fueled reality, which made him uncomfortable.
“I could hardly listen to [‘Life in the Fast Lane’] when we were recording it because I was getting high a lot at the time and the song made me ill,” he told Rolling Stone in 1979. “We were trying 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.”
7. While recording the album at Criteria Studios in Miami, Black Sabbath were recording their album Technical Ecstasy in an adjacent studio, causing a lot of noise that was disruptive to the Eagles’ sessions.
The Eagles’ fifth album was overseen by veteran producer Bill Szymczyk, who had worked with the band on their previous album One of These Nights. Szymczyk, however, had one condition – that they record at Miami’s legendary Criteria Studios instead of the band’s standard base at L.A.’s Record Plant. Szymczyk, who was paranoid about earthquakes and insisted on recording away from L.A., made a compromise with the band to split time between both favored studios.
During the sessions, the band was forced to stop recording on numerous occasions because in the studio next door was the heavy metal band Black Sabbath, who were so loud that the sound was coming through the wall.
“The Eagles were recording next door, but we were too loud for them,” Black Sabbath lead guitarist Tony Iommi told “Uncut” in 2014. “It kept coming through the wall into their sessions.”
So much so that the album’s delicate closing ballad, “The Last Resort,” had to be re-recorded multiple times due to the noise that Black Sabbath produced.
8. Don Henley brought his own mattress to each hotel during the Hotel California tour.
The grueling business of touring can take its toll on rock and rollers over time, so it’s no surprise that some may take extreme measures to find some sense of comfort while on the road. Joe Berry, the Eagles’ head electrician, recalls Don Henley’s special request for the Hotel California tour.
“He insisted on having a king-size bed and mattress available at all times, which the crew had to drag around everywhere,” he told Marc Eliot in To the Limit: The Untold Story of the Eagles. “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’s bed, it went everywhere.”
Henley defended this necessity for his personal comfort due to excruciating back pain exacerbated by the nightly performances.
“I used to have to hold my body in such a position that my spine got out of alignment,” he explained to Modern Drummer. “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 ‘70s where I literally could not sleep.”
Unfortunately, the hotels were less sympathetic to Henley’s bad back, as none of them would allow the mattress to be brought in, and it was never used.
9. The cover photo on the album was shot by the man who did the Beatles’ Abby Road and the Who’s Who’s Next – and it almost got the band sued.
To shoot the album cover for Hotel California, the Eagles enlisted the services of British art director Kosh (a.k.a. John Kosh), the man responsible for the Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover, the Who’s Who’s Next, the Rolling Stones’ Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! and many others. Kosh listened to a rough version of the album’s title track and recalled this in a 2007 interview with the Rock and Roll Report. “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, Kosh assembled a short list of suitable venues, then quickly narrowed it down to his favorite, The Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. His goal was to later erase all traces of the bright and beautiful qualities of the hotel, which proved to be a technical challenge.
“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,” Kosh said. “Both of us brought our Nikons up in the basket and we took turns shooting, ducking, and reloading. We used high-speed Ektachrome film as the light began to fade. This film gave us the remarkable graininess of the final shot.”
The chosen shot, captured at the remarkable “golden hour” just before sunset, thus would become one of the most recognizable album covers in rock music history. At first, the hotel in the picture was not easily recognized as the famous Beverly Hills Hotel; but when word did finally spread of the building’s identity, the hotel’s representatives were not too pleased. But when lawyers for the Beverly Hills Hotel threatened Kosh with a ‘cease and desist’ action, the dispute was quickly dropped. “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.”
10. The Eagles didn’t attend the Grammy Awards and instead watched their win from band rehearsal.
At the Grammy Awards in February 1978, the Eagles received several nominations, including the prestigious “Record of the Year” for ‘Hotel California.” But Eagles manager Irving Azoff didn’t want any part of it and was unwilling to subject the band to any kind of PR humiliation, as their image had taken a beating in the music press despite the album’s meteoric sales.
Azoff suggested hiding the band in a secret dressing room, where they would emerge only if they were to win the award and their name was called. This scheme of course was rejected. The Eagles ultimately won the award, but with nobody there to accept the award for them, Azoff quickly released a statement saying that the band was in Miami working on their new album, ending the statement with a dismissive “That’s the future, this is the past.”
The band then watched their win from the studio during their rehearsal. But if they were disappointed that they couldn’t accept their award in person, they certainly didn’t show it. They seemed to be content with their choice.
As Henley told the Los Angeles Times, “The whole idea of a contest to see who is ‘best’ just doesn’t appeal to us.”
This video was written by “Rock History Book” (our sister channel) head writer Jason Klose Jason Klose is an arts and entertainment writer based in Central Pennsylvania, with experience in print and online media. He has a particular interest in music and television history and is always looking for new and exciting projects. Jason has interviewed several prominent artists and personalities in the entertainment industry including: Linda Ronstadt, Barry Manilow, Tony Bennett, Charlie Daniels, Dennis DeYoung (Styx), Nancy Wilson (Heart), Lou Gramm (Foreigner), Amy Grant, Rosanne Cash, Clint Black, Sara Evans, Carrie Underwood, Bob Eubanks, and many more. Jason’s work can be found on his website:
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