"Hotel California" is the title song from the Eagles' album of the same name and was released as a single in early 1977. It is one of the best-known songs of the album-oriented rock era. Writing credits for the song are shared by Don Felder, Don Henley and Glenn Frey. The Eagles' original recording of the song features Henley singing the lead vocals and concludes with an extended section of electric guitar interplay between Felder and Joe Walsh.
"Hotel California" topped the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for one week in May 1977. Three months after its release, the single was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America representing 1,000,000 records shipped. The Eagles also won the 1977 Grammy Award for Record of the Year for "Hotel California" at the 20th Annual Grammy Awards in 1978.
In 2009, the song "Hotel California" was certified Platinum (Digital Sales Award) by the RIAA for sales of 1,000,000 digital downloads.
The song is rated highly in many rock music lists and polls. Rolling Stone magazine, for example, placed it as the 49th greatest song of all time.It is also one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. The song's guitar solo is ranked 8th on Guitar Magazine's Top 100 Guitar Solos.
As one of the group's most popular and well-known songs, "Hotel California" has been a concert staple for the band since its release; performances of the song appear on the Eagles' 1980 live album and, in an acoustic version, on the 1994 Hell Freezes Over reunion concert CD and video release. The "Hell Freezes Over" version is performed using eight guitars in total, and has a decidedly Spanish feel to it - with Don Felder playing a flamenco-inspired intro. During the band's Farewell 1 Tour-Live from Melbourne the song was performed in a manner closer to the original album version, but with a trumpet interlude in the beginning.
The song is a playable track on the video game Guitar Hero World Tour.
The song's lyrics describe the title establishment as a luxury resort where "you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave." On the surface, the song tells the tale of a weary traveler who becomes trapped in a nightmarish luxury hotel that at first appeared inviting and tempting. The song is an allegory about hedonism and self-destruction in the Southern California music industry of the late 1970s; Don Henley called it "our interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles" and later reiterated " it's basically a song about the dark underbelly of the American dream and about excess in America, which is something we knew a lot about." In 2008, Don Felder described the origins of the lyrics:
"Don Henley and Glenn wrote most of the words. All of us kind of drove into LA at night. Nobody was from California, and 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, and so it was kind of about that... what we started writing the song about. Coming into LA... and from that Life In The Fast Lane came out of it, and Wasted Time and a bunch of other songs.":
The abstract nature of the lyrics has led listeners to their own fanciful and unrealistic interpretations over the years, including some claims, spread by word of mouth and internet, of Satanic aspects. Other bizarre rumors suggested that the "Hotel California" was referring to a hotel run by cannibals, the Camarillo State Mental Hospital, or a metaphor for cancer. These claims have been consistently refuted by the band.
The term "colitas" in the first stanza of the song is a desert flower, also known as Antelope sage or Colita de Rata. Both Don Henley and Don Felder have repeatedly and publicly stated that Colitas are "heady desert flowers". Others assert that "colitas" is a Spanish term for "little tails" or "little bottoms", and a reference to the buds of the Cannabis plant.
In a 2009 interview, Plain Dealer music critic John Soeder asked Don Henley this about the lyrics:
On "Hotel California," you sing: "So I called up the captain / 'Please bring me my wine' / He said, 'We haven't had that spirit here since 1969.'" I realize I'm probably not the first to bring this to your attention, but wine isn't a spirit. Wine is fermented; spirits are distilled. Do you regret that lyric?
"Thanks for the tutorial and, no, you're not the first to bring this to my attention—and you're not the first to completely misinterpret the lyric and miss the metaphor. Believe me, I've consumed enough alcoholic beverages in my time to know how they are made and what the proper nomenclature is. But that line in the song has little or nothing to do with alcoholic beverages. It's a sociopolitical statement. My only regret would be having to explain it in detail to you, which would defeat the purpose of using literary devices in songwriting and lower the discussion to some silly and irrelevant argument about chemical processes."
According to Glenn Frey's liner notes for The Very Best of Eagles, the use of the word "steely" in the lyric (referring to knives) was a playful nod to band Steely Dan, who had included the lyric "Turn up the Eagles, the neighbors are listening" in their song "Everything You Did."