Hotel California, the best-selling fifth album from Los Angeles rock icons Eagles, turned 40 last December. A year later, the landmark LP finally got the 40th-anniversary treatment with a deluxe reissue on Nov. 24, which features a newly remastered version of the original album on CD, a 5.1 surround-sound mix on Blu-ray Audio, and a never-before-released live set culled from the group’s three-night stand at the Forum in October 1976.
While casual fans have long relished the ’70s FM vibes of “Life in the Fast Lane,” “New Kid in Town” and the smash title cut, there’s a lot more to Hotel California than its radio staples. Hiding behind the hype and the hits is also some of the Eagles’ best studio work, particularly deep within the LP’s underrated second side. It's also one of the most heavily mythologized album of the ’70s, second perhaps only to Led Zeppelin IV.
Here are five aspects of Hotel California that might give you a different perspective on this American classic.
The Church of Satan connection
Perhaps the wildest yarn spun about Hotel California is the myth that the LP was some sort of love letter to Satan — especially the title song, with one theory citing mentions of “the master’s chambers” and “the beast” as references to infamous Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey. Perhaps the creepiest coincidence giving weight to the theory is in the photo on the inside gatefold of the original vinyl. There, if you look above the crowd surrounding the Eagles to the balcony, you’ll see a shadowy figure who appears to be dressed in a black robe, with arms outstretched. Many believe it's LaVey photobombing the shot, but according to the fact-checking website Snopes, it was a woman hired for the photo shoot. Interestingly, however, perhaps to avoid further controversy, the balcony has been cropped out of the photo on the packaging for the 40th-anniversary reissue.
“V.O.L. Is Five-Piece Live”
When you are a band as meticulous in the studio as the Eagles were under the auspices of their producer and engineer Bill Szymczyk, there are going to be some doubters as to whether or not you could play live. If you listen to the Forum performances on this expanded edition of Hotel California, or ever saw the group in concert back in the day, you already know the Eagles were one of the best live acts of the 1970s. But the band wanted to drive home the point that for all their fussy string arrangements and elaborate grooves, they were perfectly capable of playing live to tape — and when they cut the guitar-heavy side-two highlight “Victim of Love” that way, Szymczyk decided to commemorate the occasion.
“When we made the vinyl copy — what's called a 'mother' that they stamp out all the vinyl records with — Bill Szymczyk, our engineer, used to engrave in between the label and the last band,” Don Felder told music journalist Dan MacIntosh in 2013 for the website Songfacts. “He would etch a little saying into the vinyl that's on every Eagles record that he worked on. And on the Hotel California record, he wrote ‘V.O.L. Is Five-Piece Live.’ Which means '”Victim of Love” is five-piece live.' It was one of the more edgier, rockier songs that the Eagles recorded.”
Snowblinding Black Sabbath
The “warm smell of colitas” Don Henley references in the opening lines of “Hotel California” is most likely a reference to the sweet leaf. But if you listen to Black Sabbath’s account of working on their 1976 LP, Technical Ecstasy, at Miami’s Criteria Studios at the same time the Eagles were also there working on Hotel, it seems the rumors that the song is a metaphor for cocaine addiction might be just as accurate. “Before we could start recording, we had to scrape all the cocaine out of the mixing board,” bassist Geezer Butler told Uncut in 2014. “I think they'd left about a pound of cocaine in the board.”
The Steely Dan diss
Much has been made about the back-and-forth between the Eagles and their smooth-rock counterparts Steely Dan in the ’70s. It originated with a lyric from “Everything You Did,” a deep cut off Steely Dan's 1976 album, The Royal Scam, in which an enraged husband, arguing with his cheating spouse, says, “Turn up the Eagles, the neighbors are listening.”
“Apparently [Steely Dan co-founder] Walter Becker’s girlfriend loved the Eagles and she played them all the time,” Glenn Frey explained to Gavin Edwards in the veteran music journalist’s 2006 book, Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton’s Little John? “I think it drove him nuts. So the story goes they were having a fight one day and that was the genesis of the line.”
Henley took the bait and shot back on Hotel California’s title cut with the line about “stabbing it with their steely knives.” But years later, Henley insisted it was all in good fun. “I know them pretty well, and it was like he was sort of saying, 'Everybody's in L.A.'s playing this fuckin' record, and I'm sick of it,’” he explained to Uncut’s Andy Gill in 2015. “It was a little bit of an acknowledgment and a little bit taking the piss.”
The Trump premonitions of “The Last Resort”
The gorgeous ballad that closes out Hotel California was written by Henley back when concerns over the environment were just beginning to become part of mainstream conversation. Forty years later, it’s difficult not to associate the song's lyrics with the likes of Donald Trump and his EPA deconstructor-in-chief, Scott Pruitt: “Somebody laid the mountains low while the town got high … Some rich men came and raped the land, nobody caught ’em.” “We'd been doing 'The Last Resort' in the set,” Henley recently told Rolling Stone’s David Fricke. “It goes over like gangbusters in some parts of the country, because it really is a song about manifest destiny.”