This is going to make some people feel old: it is 40 years since this album came out, celebrated with this two-CD package (the bonus CD is a live album).
It’s clearly a classic, particularly for the title track, but it’s not quite as close to perfection as Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, which is well-nigh flawless.
The Eagles’ fifth studio album has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide; Rumours has sold 40m and counting, and Hotel California lost out on a Grammy for album of the year to Rumours.
You probably know all the songs, so we’re down to the meaning. We once worked for a bar manager who refused to play it, saying that when played backwards it praised the devil (The lyrics speak of trying to kill the Beast) but he was plain weird to start with and wrong anyway. The album was a metaphor for the perceived decline of America.
Don Henley said of the album: “They’re the same themes that run through all of our work: loss of innocence, the cost of naiveté, the perils of fame, of excess; exploration of the dark underbelly of the American dream, idealism realised, and idealism thwarted…”
The title track is a stone-cold classic with classic lyrics: “Warm smell of colitas” (Wikipedia reports that colitas is Mexican slang for the buds of the cannabis plant); “Her mind is Tiffany-twisted, she got the Mercedes bends” (ho ho) and — perhaps foreseeing the arrival of Facebook — “We are programmed to receive”.
Hotel California opens, The Last Resort closes, perhaps one of the few hotel-related puns in modern culture. That song contains the lines: “She came from Providence, the one in Rhode Island / Where the old world shadows hang heavy in the air”. This could refer to old style colonialism (the area was named in honour of “God’s merciful Providence”, presumably a feeling of reverence that did not extend to the people already living there) but perhaps to another element of modern American life: the podcast Crimetown looks at Providence, “where organised crime and corruption infected every aspect of public life”.
Never mind Christian conspiracy theories: Vincent “Fat Vinnie” Teresa, an American mobster in the Patriarca crime family, and a lieutenant of Providence crime boss Raymond Patriarca, testified that Patriarca had participated in a 1960 attempt by the CIA to kill Fidel Castro, standing up all those rumours about the US government and the Mafia working together to free Cuba from the liberating hand of Fidel.
The live CD is from a concert recorded in October 1976, the same year the album came out.
Talking of excess and soulless commercialism, here’s a link to Amazon: