In a Nutshell
"Hotel California" is one of the most recognizable songs in all of classic rock and The Eagles' signature tune. It tells the story of a guy driving along the highway, getting tired, and stopping at a hotel that ends up being a pleasure palace with a sinister side. Most people spend very little time thinking about what the lyrics mean. They hear words like "colitis" and "Tiffany-twisted" and maybe think, "Hmm. I should really look that up." But then the song slides right along and they forget all about their former curiosity. The casual listener, in fact, probably figures that the Hotel California might really be a “lovely place” to crash for a weekend, perhaps a bit like Palm Springs. You can order some room service, maybe shoot a round of 18 holes, visit the local steakhouse . . . but then if you listen a bit more carefully, you might start to wonder whether the hotel is more like Guantanamo than Palm Springs. "You can check out anytime you like/ But you can never leave."
"Hotel California" is a beloved song with a bit of a dark side.
About the Song
||Musician(s)||Don Felder, Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Randy Meisner, Joe Walsh
|Writer(s)||Don Felder, Glenn Frey, Don Henley|
Explore the ways this song connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop
"Hotel California" is a cautionary tale. Many have heard the song as a kind of warning about the excesses of the rock n' roll lifestyle, as The Eagles' lament on the downside of a touring life built on easy money, fast cars, fast women, and lots and lots of booze and drugs. You can check out of that rock-star life anytime you like, but you can never really leave… and you better be careful not to take the same exit taken by Jimi Hendrix
, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and classic rock's many other martyrs of excess.
But maybe "Hotel California" has something even bigger to say, as well… something that speaks even to those of us who will never perform before 100,000 screaming fans or find ourselves hounded by groupies. Maybe the Hotel California is a metaphor for that most universal (if painful) of human experiences: broken dreams. Eagles guitarist Don Felder, who wrote the tune for "Hotel California," has talked about how the song was inspired by driving into Los Angeles filled with high expectations that were later disappointed: "If you drive into LA 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." What happens when those dreams don't pan out? It's a theme that runs straight through American literature and history, the dark underbelly of the American dream. Tom Joad
could tell you a thing or two about it. So could Jay Gatsby
. So could the miners who came west to the California Gold Rush
and never found the mother lode, or the immigrants
who later found more hardship than fortune in American cities' overcrowded tenements.
And yet, even amidst all the hardship, the dream remained. However dark the message of "Hotel California" may be, we just can't stop humming the tune.
On the Charts
The album Hotel California
reached #1 on the US Billboard 200 chart in 1977.
Likewise, the title track, "Hotel California," was #1 on the American Billboard Pop Singles Chart.
"Hotel California" won a Grammy in 1978 for Record of the Year.
In 2009, the song was certified digital platinum for having sold over 1 million digital downloads. Rolling Stone
ranked "Hotel California" #49 on its list of the top 500 rock n' roll singles. It is also included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's list of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.