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50 Greatest City, State, And Town Songs – #6: “Hotel California” by The Eagles

April 26, 2008

Hotel California50 Greatest City, State, And Town Songs: #6

“Hotel California” by The Eagles

Album: “Hotel California”

Chart Peak: #1

City, State, or Town: Los Angeles, California

What could loosely be called the most significant and well known song by the immortal Eagles became a #1 rock hit in the 70s. Although it never hit the country charts, it has become a popular re-current on most radio stations of almost every genre you can think of. In one of the most glorified, memorable and constructive forms of songwriting to hit the airwaves in the past 50 years the Eagles, led by the master Don Henley, the biggest group ever to hit the music business created and allegory towards personal destruction and addiction as well as the conditions and entrapment that can and does come from the southern California lifestyle. In fact Henley himself interpreted his work as his look at the high life in the city of Los Angeles.

On the surface this song tells the story of a traveler who is exhausted and finds a hotel that turns out to be a nightmarish place that he can’t seem to escape. However, it is what lies beneath the lyrics that makes this one of the most important and successful songs in not only the career of the Eagles, but in the entire music industry in itself. As the song begins we find Don singing in the persona of the traveler. He describes his surroundings as he brings up the famous line about being on a desert highway at night. He also describes the smell or colitas, a Spanish word for small tails, in reference to the character’s use of marijuana at this point in the song. This reveals his destructive addiction which eventually becomes significant in the rest of the song.

When the traveler realizes he needs to stop for the night he then sees a dim light which leads him to a hotel towards which he shows an obvious personal conflict as to whether to trust the place or not by questioning it as Heaven or Hell. A mysterious woman lights a candle and shows him the way, another reference to his temptation considering his lack of resistance despite his questioning the place, and upon entering immediately hears voices from what seems to be rooms welcoming him to the Hotel California. This becomes the first chorus in which the voices describe the building as lovely and welcoming.

As the traveler’s nightmarish experience continues he draws attention to a girl, it can be disputed whether this is the same woman that led him into the hotel or if it is a fellow resident. He explains how this girl has many boys she calls friends, a probable reference to strippers and hookers from the Los Angeles area, and explain how these boys, not men, are dancing in the courtyard either to remember or forget. Again we see a reference to temptation, but not the travelers, other peoples. He also refers to the girl as Tiffany-twisted, referring to the famous jewelry outlet, and owning a Mercedes Benz, a luxury car. This makes it more apparent where the song is going. The traveler begins to observes more aspects of life in the hotel that represent materialism, status, temptation, and self-destruction within the life of southern California. The men in the lyrics are meant to add to that status again by showing the woman’s popularity among them as well as their sins for being willing to conform to the lifestyle and give in to their own temptation for a pretty woman.

Don’s character is shown to a room and asks for wine from the Captain (a character of which the significance is unknown), only to be denied. The lack of wine could refer to the loss of faith or devotion to Jesus and religion as a result of a more materialistic and destructive lifestyle and the mention of not holding the “spirit” could be a play on word referring to the Holy Spirit or even the spirit of free will be drained from a person through temptation and self-destruction. The second chorus follows the same pattern as the first but trades in the comforting terms for a reference to alibis, used in an attempt to make false excuses to make people feel like there is nothing wrong.

As this epic example of songwriting genius comes to a close we find our traveler seated around a dinner table with many other hotel guests with mirrors on the ceiling, pink champagne,  and the realization that “we are all prisoners of our own device”. This is a very significant line as it helps the song reach its climax. The mirrors force the guests to see each other for who the really are and see the reflexion of the people they have become. The pink champagne represents another symbol of luxury which once again points to the temptation and conformity that has haunted the traveler the entire time. The quote from the song comes form an anonymous speaker who reveals that every one in the hotel has become a victim of some type of temptation or of luxury and that what they have become will never leave them. They turned themselves into who they are not and they will be trapped like that from here on out for buying into the lifestyle of the city. This is all followed by the peoples’ attempt to eat the feast, but they can’t kill the “beast” that lies before them. The beast represents the freedom that comes with wild animals and the longing to be released from conferment society. These people can’t kill that urge, as much as they want to. They have become programmed to reject their own freedom.

The final chorus brings Don Henley’s character to the breaking point as he finally catches on and head for the door in an attempt to escape this world of temptation, conformity and certified hell. The traveler longs to find his path back to the man he was before he entered the hotel, but he can’t. The night man stops him and asks him to relax and accept it. He explains how people are “programmed to receive” in reference to society attempt to drill the concept of wealth and beauty, and the basic concept of temptation and conformity, into every persons’ head from birth. Finally the night man tells the traveler that he can check out anytime, but he will never be able to leave. In the final line of the song it is made clear that as a person the traveler, and people in general, can fight it and try to escape it all they want but in the end these things that have become the basics of this hell called Hotel California will catch up and they will take their course.

As you can plainly see this is songwriting genius. Only 5 country songs can be considered better that this tune from the biggest rock n’ roll band sense The Beatles. Don Henley and fellow Eagle Glenn Frey along with former Eagle Don Felder wrote a song about the city of Los Angeles and what it is like to live in such a high society. By taking jabs at the concepts of conformity, temptation, self-destruction, and the American influence the band formed one of the most controversial and widely interpreted songs of all time that has produced other guesses towards its meaning including some who believe the hotel to be a satanic place of worship that was a former Catholic church and even some who see it as a cannibalistic hangout. No matter which way you look at it this is by far a masterpiece.

 

Location within Los Angeles County in the state of California

 

 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. August 21, 2014 8:43 am

    Nice response in return of this matter with genuine
    arguments and explaining the whole thing concerning that.

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