Study Guide

Hotel California Introduction

Hotel California Introduction

In a Nutshell

"Hotel California" is a ballad, an anthem, and a mouthwatering masterpiece by America's greatest band whose observations on the shallowness of pop culture in the '70s and '80s are painfully relevant today. Its signature intro played in everything from high strung electric guitar to cold-room acoustic to bongo drums for fans of elevator music signal a warning which has grabbed attention since the song was released as part its namesake album. It remains one of the more recognized songs in all of rock and it's the Eagles' signature song.

The ballad tells a removed, hauntingly-distanced 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. At least that's the physical part of what's happening: The deeper take revolved around the band's experiences with the self-servicing narcissism they encountered rampant in Hollywood. 

Self-styled "green" people from intellectual heartland of America (blue-collar, bald-eagle respect for this country), they were appalled by the lies, deceit, and trickery that was an integral part of contemporary rock-and-roll culture. 

California was itself a hotel with many Midwesterners and East-coasters taking planes, trains, and buses looking for gold, only to find easy success not easy. The emigrating throngs grew more desperate and then...left. California itself was a hotel from which interlopers came and went like it was a revolving door. Under this frame, "livin' it up" at the Hotel California takes a dark caste as the would-be stars and starlets came to the "hotel" with an already-polluted goal and dream: shallow pleasures. 

From this twisted set of goals and sense of self-worth, there was forever a bond, an emotional anchor. And while players in the Hollywood shuffle needed external stimulus to feel good about themselves in order to assuage their own insecurities, the visit to the hotel was doomed—and doomed to repeat itself. 

"You can check out any time you want; but you can never leave." Sodom? Meet Gomora. You're here because you need to be. Read on if you dare.

About the Song

ArtistEagles, The
Year1976
LabelElektra
Writer(s)Don Felder, Glenn Frey, Don Henley
Producer(s)Bill Szymczyk
Musician(s)Don Felder, Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Randy Meisner, Joe Walsh
Learn to playChords
AlbumHotel California

Music Video

Influences on Eagles, The

The Everly Brothers
The Beach Boys
Gram Parsons
Crosby, Stills and Nash
Willie Nelson
Santana
Creedence Clearwater Revival
Gene Clark
The Byrds
Elvis
Hank Williams
The Beatles
Chuck Berry

Influenced by Eagles, The

Country artists
Clint Black
Vince Gill
Trisha Yearwood
Sheryl Crow
Justin Timberlake

Hotel California Resources

Books

Marc Eliot, To the Limit: The Untold Story of the Eagles (2004)
Here's an unauthorized biography of the band.

Don Felder, Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (2008)
Felder wrote the music to "Hotel California," and the title of his autobiography alludes to the song. It tells the usual story of excess and infighting in a major American band.

Images

Mission Bell
The bell that you would find at the top of a Spanish mission in the American Southwest or Mexico.

Album Cover
The cover for the 1976 album Hotel California, with a photo of a Spanish mission at sunset.

The Eagles
A photo of the Eagles "takin' it easy."

Movies & TV

The Big Lebowski (1998)
The introduction of the character "The Jesus" is set to the cover version of "Hotel California" by the Gipsy Kings. Pay attention to when "The Jesus" licks his bowling ball.

History of the Eagles (2013)
This two-part documentary goes in great detail about the band's rocky road toward—and during—success. Complete with honest interviews, this is a must-see.

Websites

The Eagles Official Web Site
Yes, the Eagles are still touring, even after Glenn Frey's 2016 passing. Read all about it—and discover their love for standing on sepia-colored sand dunes—on the band's website.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
The Eagles were inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame in 1998. Now you have an excuse to visit Cleveland, Ohio.

The New York Times Review
The original album review for Hotel California in The New York Times focuses on the darkness of the lyrics and the band's focus on the Southwest.

Video & Audio

"Hotel California" (Live, 1976)
Here's a live performance of "Hotel California."

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