I’ve been told, and I probably have to agree, that my strength as a lyric-writer or a writer in general, is my ability to capture and describe complicated feelings in very few words. This is obviously something I am grateful for, but when it comes to lyric writing there is another gift that is even more valuable and that is the ability to evoke all the different senses through the words in a song. I have to go back to an essay I wrote during my A-level years, to find some positive feedback concerning my ability to get the senses going through my writing. I remember being given a task to write a story with our five senses, and I also remember that my story was red out loud by our teacher, as a successful example of this task. Since then not so much….
This is why I gave myself the task to write a brand-new song-lyric where the senses will be my main object. I’m not sure I will get it done in reediness for next week’s blog posts, but I will try. Until then I will leave you with a text from http://www.songfacts.com again. This time the song in question is one of my all-time favourites. The Eagles’ “Hotel California”
This is what Don Felder says about The Eagles way to write song lyrics;
“The Eagles aimed for a full sensory experience in their song writing. Felder adds, “When we try to write lyrics, we try to write lyrics that touch multiple senses, things you can see, smell, taste, hear. ‘I heard the mission bell,’ you know, or ‘the warm smell of colitas,’ talking about being able to relate something through your sense of smell. Just those sorts of things. So that’s kind of where ‘colitas’ came from.”
I leave you with some very interesting facts about the song “Hotel California” shared with you from www.songfacts.com . Next week I will hopefully have a “full sensory lyric” of my own to share with you all!
Until then, take care and Happy Writing!
Written by Don Felder, Glenn Frey and Don Henley, “Hotel California” is about materialism and excess. California is used as the setting, but it could relate to anywhere in America. Don Henley in the London Daily Mail November 9, 2007 said: “Some of the wilder interpretations of that song have been amazing. It was really about the excesses of American culture and certain girls we knew. But it was also about the uneasy balance between art and commerce.”
On November 25, 2007 Henley appeared on the TV news show 60 Minutes, where he was told, “everyone wants to know what this song means.” Henley replied: “I know, it’s so boring. It’s a song about the dark underbelly of the American Dream, and about excess in America which was something we knew about.”
He offered yet another interpretation in the 2013 History of the Eagles documentary: “It’s a song about a journey from innocence to experience.”
California is seen from the perspective of an outsider here. Bernie Leadon was the only band member at the time who was from the state (Timothy B. Schmit, who joined in 1977, was also from California). Joe Walsh came from New Jersey; Randy Meisner from Nebraska; Don Henley was from Texas; Glenn Frey was from Detroit, and Don Felder was from Florida. In our interview with Don Felder, he explained: “As you’re driving in Los Angeles at night, you can see the glow of the energy and the lights of Hollywood and Los Angeles for 100 miles out in the desert. And on the horizon, as you’re driving in, all of these images start coming into your mind of the propaganda and advertisement you’ve experienced about California. In other words, the movie stars, the stars on Hollywood Boulevard, the beaches, bikinis, palm trees, all those images that you see and that people think of when they think of California start running through your mind. You’re anticipating that. That’s all you know of California.”
Don Henley put it this way: “We were all middle-class kids from the Midwest. Hotel California was our interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles.”
This won the 1977 Grammy for Record of the Year. The band did not show up to accept the award, as Don Henley did not believe in contests. Timothy B. Schmit had just joined the band, and he says they watched the ceremony on TV while they were rehearsing.
Don Felder came up with the musical idea for this song. According to his book Heaven and Hell: My Life in The Eagles, he came up with the idea while playing on the beach. He had the chord progressions and basic guitar tracks, which he played for Don Henley and Glenn Frey, who helped finish the song, with Henley adding the lyrics.
Felder says they recorded the song about a year after he did the original demo, and in the session, he started to improvise the guitar part at the end. Henley stopped him and demanded that he do it exactly like the demo, so he had to call his wife and have her play the cassette demo over the phone so Felder could remember what he played.
The lyric, “Warm smell of colitas,” is often interpreted as sexual slang or a reference to marijuana. When we asked Don Felder about the term, he said: “The colitas is a plant that grows in the desert that blooms at night, and it has this kind of pungent, almost funky smell. Don Henley came up with a lot of the lyrics for that song, and he came up with colitas.”
The Eagles aimed for a full sensory experience in their songwriting. Felder adds, “When we try to write lyrics, we try to write lyrics that touch multiple senses, things you can see, smell, taste, hear. ‘I heard the mission bell,’ you know, or ‘the warm smell of colitas,’ talking about being able to relate something through your sense of smell. Just those sorts of things. So that’s kind of where ‘colitas’ came from.”
This was recorded at three different sessions before the Eagles got the version they wanted. The biggest problem was finding the right key for Henley’s vocal.
Glenn Frey compared this song to an episode of The Twilight Zone, where it jumps from one scene to the next and doesn’t necessarily make sense. He said the success of the song comes from the audience creating stories in their minds based on the images.
The line, “They stab it with their steely knives, but they just can’t kill the beast” is a reference to Steely Dan. The bands shared the same manager (Irving Azoff) and had a friendly rivalry. The year before, Steely Dan included the line “Turn up the Eagles, the neighbours are listening” on their song “Everything You Did.”
Don Felder and Joe Walsh played together on the guitar solos, creating the textured sound.
The lyrics for the song came with the album. Some listeners thought the line “She’s got the Mercedes Bends” was a misspelling of “Mercedes Benz,” not realizing the line was a play on words.
Glenn Frey: “That record explores the underbelly of success, the darker side of Paradise. Which was sort of what we were experiencing in Los Angeles at that time. So that just sort of became a metaphor for the whole world and for everything you know. And we just decided to make it Hotel California. So, with a microcosm of everything else going on around us.”
Moomin – London, England
When the Eagles got back together in 1994, they recorded a live, acoustic version of this song for an MTV special that was included on their album Hell Freezes Over. Don Felder came up with a new guitar intro for this version the day they recorded it, and while it was not released as a single, it got a lot of airplay, helped the album top the charts the first week it was released, and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, a category introduced in 1980 when the Eagles won with “Heartache Tonight.”
Felder had some beef with how the credits were listed on this new version – the original single had the composers as “Don Felder, Don Henley and Glenn Frey,” implying that Felder wrote most of the song and Frey the least. The new version was credited to “Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Don Felder.” Felder claims that Henley and Frey added nothing original to the new version, and that this was simply a power play. Felder was fired from the band in 2001 after disputing payments and royalties.
All seven past and present members of the Eagles performed this in 1998 when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The hotel on the album cover is the Beverly Hills Hotel, known as the Pink Palace. It is often frequented by Hollywood stars. The photo was taken by photographers David Alexander and John Kosh, who sat in a cherry-picker about 60 feet above Sunset Boulevard to get the shot of the hotel at sunset from above the trees. The rush-hour traffic made it a harrowing experience.
Although it is well known that Hotel California is actually a metaphor, there are several strange Internet theories and urban legends about the “real” Hotel California. Some include suggestions that it was an old church taken over by devil worshippers, a psychiatric hospital, an inn run by cannibals or Aleister Crowley’s mansion in Scotland. It’s even been suggested that the “Hotel California” is the Playboy Mansion.
Adam – Dewsbury, England
The music may have been inspired by the 1969 Jethro Tull song “We Used to Know,” from their album Stand up. The chord progressions are nearly identical, and the bands toured together before the Eagles recorded “Hotel California.” In a BBC radio interview, Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson said laughingly that he was still waiting for the royalties. In Ian Anderson’s interview with Songfacts, he makes it clear that he doesn’t consider “Hotel California” to be borrowing anything from his song: “It’s difficult to find a chord sequence that hasn’t been used, and hasn’t been the focus of lots of pieces of music. Its harmonic progression is almost a mathematical certainty you’re gonna crop up with the same thing sooner or later if you sit strumming a few chords on a guitar. There’s certainly no bitterness or any sense of plagiarism attached to my view on it, although I do sometimes allude, in a joking way, to accepting it as a kind of tribute.”
After Don Henley came up with the title, a theme developed for the album. Don Felder told us how some of the other songs fit in: “Once you arrive in LA and you have your first couple of hits, you become the ‘New Kid In Town,’ and then with greater success, you live ‘Life In The Fast Lane,’ and you start wondering if all that time you’ve spent in the bars was just ‘Wasted Time.’ So all of these other song ideas kind of came out of that concept once the foundation was laid for ‘Hotel California.’ It was a really insightful title.”
Don Felder: “I had just leased this house out on the beach at Malibu, I guess it was around ’74 or ’75. I remember sitting in the living room, with all the doors wide open on a spectacular July day. I had this acoustic 12-string and I started tinkling around with it, and those Hotel California chords just kind of oozed out. Every once in a while, it seems like the cosmos part and something great just plops in your lap.”
Stone – Libertyville, IL
An alternative interpretation of the meaning of the lyrics is that the song is a description of the journey from Need to Love and Marriage to Divorce and ultimately to the impossibility of regaining the life and happiness of the pre-divorce state.
Initially the traveler is feeling the need of a relationship (“My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim, I had to stop for the night”). The traveler meets his love and gets married (“There she stood in the doorway. I heard the mission bell”). A marriage commitment opens up the possibility of happiness but also the traveler is aware and vulnerable to the possibility of intense unhappiness (“And I was thinking to myself, this could be heaven, or this could be hell”)
Unfortunately the marriage dissolves and his love becomes obsessed with money (“Her mind is Tiffany-twisted”) where Tiffany” refers to the very expensive jewellery store, Tiffany & Co. With the divorce there is the division of property – she got the Mercedes Benz. After the breakup when he sees her with any guys she reassures him that the pretty, pretty boys” are just friends.” In this new world of being single the other singles he meets do their dance in the courtyard” of life. They generally fall into two groups: There are those who can’t stop talking about their Ex (“Some dance to remember”) and there are those who don’t what to say anything at all about their past marriage (“some dance to forget”).
Now in this world of being divorced he longs to return the pre-divorced state of happiness (“So I called up the captain, please bring me my wine”), but he finds that his happiness is now irrevocably in the past (“We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969”).
Deep into the post-divorce single’s scene with “mirrors on the ceiling, the pink champagne on ice” he is reminded that “we are all just prisoners here, of our own device.” He and others want this divorce nightmare to be over, yet – “they stab it with their steely knives, but they just can’t kill the beast.” Now frustrated, he panics and is “running for the door. I had to find the passage back to the place I was before” But he is brought up short when the night man informs him that “You can check out any time you like (commit suicide), but you can never leave” (become pre-divorced).
There are two choruses in the song and each mention the “Hotel California.” Around the time the song was written, California was experiencing the highest divorce rate in the nation. Each chorus has lines that remember his past marriage (“Such a lovely place”) and his past lover (“Such a lovely face”). The first chorus indicates that there can always be more divorces (“Plenty of room at the Hotel California, any time of year, you can find it here”). The second chorus points out that as a part of divorce you will always “bring your alibis.”
David – Redwood City, CA
The Hotel California album is #37 on the Rolling Stone list of the 500 Greatest Albums of all time. According to the magazine, Don Henley said that the band was in pursuit of a note perfect song. The Eagles spent eight months in the studio polishing take after take after take. Henley also said, “We just locked ourselves in. We had a refrigerator, a ping pong table, roller skates and a couple cots. We would go in and stay for two or three days at a time.”
Ray – Stockton, NJ
According to a reader-submitted poll for Guitar World magazine, the guitar solo for this song is ranked #8 out of 100.
Romeo – Belo Horizonte, Brazil
Don Felder told Gibson about his contribution to this track. “I thought it was really unique and different to anything ever written. The Eagles had been heading in a conventional country-rock direction. I was added to the band for my electric guitar, slide-electric ability and to help turn them into more of a rock and roll band. I was writing stronger guitar tracks that used electric guitar like ‘Victim of Love’ and ‘Hotel California.’ When I came up with the ‘Hotel California’ progression, I knew it was unique but didn’t know if it was appropriate for the Eagles. It was kind of reggae, almost an abstract guitar part for what was on the radio back then.
When I was writing for the Hotel California album, I was working on a TEAC 4-track in a beach house in Malibu and I was putting down ideas on tape. Then I made cassette copies and gave them to [Don] Henley, [Glenn] Frey, Walsh and [Randy] Meisner. Henley called me to say he really like the Mexican bolero, Mexican reggae song. I knew exactly which track he meant. Don came up with a great lyric concept for the song.”
This followed “New Kid in Town” as the second single released from the album. There was no doubt about the song’s merits as an album track but issuing it as a single defied convention. Don Felder told us: “when we finally finished that whole album, the record company had been pounding on the door trying to get in and get this record, because they wanted to release it. We were about four months overdue on delivering our record per our contract. So, we finally let the record company in. The execs come in and we had this playback party for them at the record plant here in Los Angeles. And after the song ‘Hotel California’ played, Henley turned around and said, ‘That’s going to be our single.’
In the ’70s, the AM format, which was what we were really aiming for, had a specific formula; your song had to be between three minutes and three minutes and thirty seconds long, and it had to be a dance track, a rock track, or a trippy ballad. The introduction could only be 30 seconds long before the singer started, so the disc jockey didn’t have to speak so long.
‘Hotel California’ is six and a half minutes long. The introduction to it is a minute long. You can’t really dance to it. It stops in the middle when the drums stop: ‘mirrors on the ceiling,’ that section, and it’s got a two-minute guitar solo on the end. It’s the complete wrong format.
So I said, ‘Don, I think you’re wrong. I think that’s a mistake. I don’t think we should put that out as the single. Maybe an FM cut, but not a single.’ And he said, ‘Nope, that’s going to be our single.’ And I’ve never been so delighted to have been so wrong in my life. You just don’t know.”
In Chicago at the time of this song’s popularity many people called the Cook County jail “Hotel California” because it is on California street. The name stuck and now people of all ages and races refer to the jail by this nickname.
Jesse – Chicago, IL
This was featured in the first episode of the TV series American Horror Story: Hotel, which is about a haunted and horrifying hotel run by Lady Gaga. The show in many ways is a visual representation of the song, and this episode (“Checking In”) ends with a man moving into the hotel under duress. The song plays as he starts the process, and when he gets to his room, the episode ends, punctuated by the line, “You can check out any time you’d like, but you can never leave.”
This was not the first time the song has been used in a TV series, but rights are granted judiciously. Other TV uses include:
The X-Files – “Beyond the Sea” (1994)
Absolutely Fabulous – “Poor” (1994)
The Sopranos – “Mr. Ruggerio’s Neighborhood” (2001)
Entourage – “Adios, Amigos” (2007)
The League – “The Bachelor Draft” (2013)
Testifying on Russian influence over American affairs before the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 27, 2017, businessman William Browder invoked this song, saying, “There’s no such thing as a former intelligence officer in Russia. It’s like the Hotel California. You can check out any time you like, but never leave.”