Hotel California: the meaning and story of Eagles’ greatest song

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Hotel California was born as often happens with songs: almost by accident, at night. It was 1976, Don Henley and Glenn Frey were driving on Los Angeles’ streets, while the bright lights of the city accompanied them, reminded them how seductive California could be.

The fascination of the West Coast was also stronger for those coming from far away, like the two Eagles leaders: Frey was from Detroit and Henley from Texas, both gave up to the possibilities that California (and especially Los Angeles) offered them. That’s how the song was born: with the musical draft provided by Don Felder and the two leaders writing the lyrics of Hotel California, describing their new home as the best possible hotel ever and Los Angeles as the most requested suite to stay in.

After that night, however, something more came up in the authors’ mind and Hotel California was modified again: the lyrics started to show also how difficult is to leave from that place, so full of temptations and often hidden traps that could corrupt you. “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave” became the sentence that reveal the hoax and showed the dark side of the place. The song thus depicted a veil of social criticism towards the foundations of the American Dream, symbol of the illusion of a better future that can also turn into an endless torment, able to lure you with its promises and then deceive you: leaving California means losing hope forever, and it would be a shame to leave the suite in the hotel of dreams.

But lyrics are not the only thing that made Hotel California unique: the captivating progression that Don Felder composed with his guitar immediately struck the rest of the Eagles, conquered by the exotic mix of reggae and flamenco that allowed them to develop the song making use also of the talent of the newly arrived Joe Walsh.

Felder’s superb technique matched perfectly Walsh’s passionate and instinctive brilliance and Hotel California solo shows how their guitar peculiarities could blend together: the final part of the song, with the two guitars playing together (the “Da-da-da-da” of the two instruments was Joe Walsh’s idea), is something that can bring any song to a new level.

The record company vetoed the publication of Hotel California as a single, at least in its full length, claiming that seven minutes were too much for radio broadcasting. The Eagles fought against that and finally got what they wanted: if the song was shortened, they would have blocked the release, so Warner Records had to surrender. the song became number one, an almost unique event for a similar duration, which enriched its value even more.

Hotel California has slowly begun to live beyond the meaning that the authors wanted to send, reaching a mythical state that only few songs can afford. “A journey from innocence to experience”: in this way Don Henley described in 2013 his most famous song, providing a different point of view on the evocative and abstract magic that the Eagles masterpiece managed to keep for decades.

In the end we have to rely on the definition of Eagles’s voice and consider Hotel California as a way through the knowledge of good and evil, dream and nightmare. Two sides so subtly close to each other that we often cannot distinguish between them. Preventing you to check out.

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