It was on this day (May 7) in 1977 that the Eagles’ topped the Billboard Hot 100 with the group’s fourth No.1 single “Hotel California” from the album of the same name.
Written by members Don Felder, Don Henley, and Glenn Frey, “Hotel California” is one of the group’s most influential songs of its career and is ranked at number 49 on Rolling Stone’s “The 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time.”
Filled with mysterious allusions and metaphors depicting a tale of a weary traveler checking into a luxurious hotel in California, the song has since spurred dozens of interpretations and speculation from fans as to the meaning behind the lyrics.
Although the songwriters themselves have cleared up any kind of misinterpretations and rumors about the song’s meaning, saying the song is their “interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles,” several wild theories about the song still live on today.
In honor of the anniversary of reaching the top of the charts, we decided to take a look back on four widely-believed misconceptions behind the meaning of the song.
1. Hotel California was about a mental hospital
One rumor about the song was that the lyrics depicted life in Los Angeles’s Camarillo State Mental Hospital, whose nickname was “Hotel California.” According to Snopes.com, the state-run institute “housed thousands of patients across its sixty-year history before closing in 1997” and many fans interpreted the lyrics as accounts of what a mentally ill person would depict upon arriving at the care facility.
2. The song is about a feud with Steely Dan
The lyric “they stab it with their steely knives” was long rumored to being a dig at fellow ’70s rockers Steely Dan, who according to the rumor, the Eagles were feuding with. It was the opposite in fact, with Glenn Fry explaining in the liner notes of ‘The Very Best Of’ that the lyric was actually a nod to the band, who shared the same manager. The year before, Steely Dan referenced the Eagles in their song “Everything You Did” with the line “Turn up the Eagles, the neighbors are listening.”
3. The song was about drug addiction
While the band does note the song is about self-destruction and the excess in America, including topics of fame, money, women and drugs, the song isn’t solely a depiction of the dark world of drug addition. This rumor was prompted by the line “Warm smell of colitas rising up through the air,” which is a reference of the burning scent of marijuana.
4. The song was about devil worship
Maybe the craziest and widely known theories about the meaning of the song, many believed the lyrics referred to devil worship. Lines like “They stab it with their steely knives, But they just can’t kill the beast” “This could be heaven or this could be hell” and “You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave” sparked theories that the song had links to Satanism.
According to Cracked.com, the rumor was further perpetuated by the album cover, which depicts the band and a large crowd standing in front of a Spanish-style building, when people noticed an eerie, dark figure up in the balcony. Many believed that the fuzzy figure was of Anton LaVey, founder of the Church Of Satan, lurking in the shadows while the crowd unknowingly stands just beneath him.
However, the rumor was debunked when the shadowy figure in the photo was accredited as a woman hired for the photoshoot, which was taken at the Beverly Hills Hotel.