“Hotel California” by the Eagles is one of the greatest rock songs of 1977. The original recording of the song features Don Henley on vocals with an extended section of guitar riffing and interplay between the great guitar masters, Don Felder and Joe Walsh. The Eagles have described the song as their interpretation of “the high life in Los Angeles”, which both is and is not a reference to drugs. It does seem in many ways to be a song about the journey from innocence into experience, in any case. The song was instantly successful, both on the charts, in sales, and at awards ceremonies.
Thy lyrics paint an almost surreal scene in which a weary traveler checks into a luxury hotel. The hotel seems inviting at first, but it turns out to be a trap of hedonism. The song is an allegory about greed and self-destruction. Henley has famously said: “It’s a song about the dark underbelly of the American dream and about excess in America, which is something we knew a lot about.” The popularity of the song has spawned a huge amount of conspiracy theories as well as musical covers. The opening chord pattern is inspired by traditional flamenco chord progressions, and is notoriously complex. Here are our top five favorite covers of “Hotel California”.
Number One: Gipsy Kings. The Gipsy Kings recorded a flamenco version of the song with Spanish lyrics, released in 1988 and later featured in the film The Big Lebowski. This is definitely worth listening to again and again.
Number Two: Marilyn Manson. Marilyn Manson performed a live version at a wrap party for the TV series Californication. The entire convergence of different forces, from the hedonistic L.A. setting to Manson’s twisted re-imagining of the classic song, made this a really special moment.
Number Three: Frank Ocean. Frank Ocean released a version of “Hotel California” on his mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra (2011). However, he changed the title to “American Wedding”. It’s pretty good.
Number Four: Nancy Sinatra. Nancy Sinatra covered it on the album Nancy Sinatra – California Girl. We love Nancy Sinatra.
Number Five: The Cat Empire. The Cat Empire recorded a French jazz rendition, “L’Hotel de Californie” with French lyrics. It was recorded for Triple J’s Like a Version segment and subsequent CD compilation.