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Hotel California

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"Hotel California"
Side A of the U.S. single
Single by Eagles
from the album Hotel California
B-side"Pretty Maids All in a Row"
ReleasedFebruary 22, 1977 [1]
Format7-inch single
GenreSoft rock[2]
Songwriter(s)Don Felder, Don Henley, Glenn Frey
Producer(s)Bill Szymczyk
Eagles singles chronology
"New Kid in Town"
"Hotel California"
"Life in the Fast Lane"
Audio sample
Eagles – "Hotel California"

"Hotel California" is the title track from the Eagles' album of the same name and was released as a single in February 1977.[3] Writing credits for the song are shared by Don Felder (music), Don Henley, and Glenn Frey (lyrics). The Eagles' original recording of the song features Henley singing the lead vocals and concludes with an extended section of electric guitar interplay between Felder and Joe Walsh.

The song is considered the most famous recording by the band, and its long guitar coda has been voted the best guitar solo of all time by readers of Guitarist in 1998.[4][5] The song was awarded the Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1978.[6] The lyrics of the song have been given various interpretations by fans and critics alike, the Eagles themselves describing the song as their "interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles".[7] In the 2013 documentary History of the Eagles, Henley said that the song was about "a journey from innocence to experience... that's all..."[8]

Since its release, "Hotel California" has been covered by a number of artists and has become a part of international popular culture. Julia Phillips proposed adapting the song into a film, but the members of the Eagles disliked the idea and it never came to fruition. Commercially, "Hotel California" reached the number one position on the Billboard Hot 100 and reached the top ten of several international charts.

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  • ✪ Understanding Hotel California


hey, welcome to 12tone! when I was younger, Hotel California was always one of my favorite songs in my dad's music collection. it was unlike anything else I'd ever heard, and the atmosphere it created was mesmerizing, so now that I'm a real music theorist, I thought it'd be fun to go back and take a look at what it was I was actually hearing. it starts like this: (bang) and I'm just gonna stop it there for a second. these are what's called arpeggios, where the notes of a chord are played one at a time instead of all at once, and they're all over this intro. that's not a problem, though: all we have to do is squish them all together to get back our full chord, and once we do that, we have B minor and F#7, which are the I chord and the V chord in B minor. this immediately brings to mind the concept of functional harmony, which as we've mentioned elsewhere is the idea that different chords in a key have different functions or jobs to do. the I chord has what's called tonic function, which means it provides a sense of rest, while the V chord has dominant function, which means it points back to the I chord. so far, we're off to a fairly simple start. but the F#7 doesn't resolve like we'd expect. instead, we get this (bang) which is where things start to get weird. whereas before the chord qualities were fairly straightforward, here we've got some more exotic sounds. this Asus2 chord, for instance, is what happens when you take a normal A chord and replace the 3rd degree with a note a major 2nd above the root. this creates some ambiguity because it's not clear whether it's supposed to be major or minor, and I think that's the point here: based on the key, we'd expect to see A major, and using the sus2 chord instead removes some of the brightness that would've created. likewise, this E9 chord has an added note, called a tension, which again adds more color to it. it's also worth noting that these alterations make the chords easier to play on a guitar, but as a theorist I'm sure that's just a coincidence. anyway, those changes aside, there's also something else going on here: a harmonic motif. this is when the same basic chord movement is repeated over and over, and we can see that by comparing the chords from the first part (bang) to the chords in the second. (bang) in both cases, you have a starting chord, followed by a dominant 7th whose root is a fourth lower. all we've done is shifted the pattern down a whole step. that creates a problem, though: the F#7 was pointing back to the I chord, which means it had dominant function, but the E9 is actually pointing to some sort of A chord instead. it's still directional, but instead of leading home it wants to take us to a secondary location, so we just call it a secondary dominant. that doesn't resolve either, though, instead feeding into this (bang) which is another statement of our harmonic motif, again lowered a whole step. the precise shapes of the chords are slightly different, but the overall effect is the same, and finally we end with this (bang) which is just the IV and V chords. the IV chord has subdominant function, which means its job is to create instability and set up that V chord, which then finally resolves back to the start of the phrase. but there's something bigger going on here that gets lost when we take things in little chunks like this. let's zoom out a bit and look at the whole progression (bang) now let's remove the unresolved dominants. (bang) you know what, let's drop this E minor 7 too, to get to a nice, even number of chords, and while we're at it we'll clean this up to A major, which leaves us with… (bang) one of my favorite chord progressions, often called the Andalusian Cadence, which is basically just a walk down the minor scale from the I chord to the V. it's a popular technique in flamenco and other guitar-heavy genres, and this whole intro seems to be just an intensely decorated version of it. that progression continues through the verse, which means our next stop is the chorus: (bang) first, I want to talk about the transition: the verse ends with F#7, which we said is supposed to go to B minor, but the chorus starts with G major instead. this is what's called a deceptive resolution, and it works because G major is almost identical to B minor. there's only one note different, so even though it's not where we expect it to go, it's still a pretty solid resolution. but moving on to the chorus itself, we have a bit of a problem. we could keep analyzing it in B minor, but if we do that it doesn't really make a lot of sense. instead, I'd probably analyze this section in the key of D major. this is called a relative modulation and it's incredibly subtle because we don't actually change any of the notes, we just change how we use them in order to create a different sense of tonality. it's a small difference, but it leads to a completely new harmonic landscape. anyway, we start here with the IV chord, followed by the I. the IV chord is unstable but not very directional, so moving from it back to the I gives us a weaker resolution than we'd get from, say, the V. (bang) this is often called a plagal cadence, and it helps us avoid creating too much of a sense of finality. then we go to F#7, followed by B minor. this looks a lot like the V-I movement we saw earlier, but remember, we're not in B anymore, so the F#7 has become a secondary dominant, pointing us to the VI chord. then the song does something that honestly confused me for quite a while: it resolves that VI minor back to the IV chord which… isn't really how that works. if you play the chords by themselves there's no real resolution, but if you listen to the section (bang) it's pretty clearly there, and that clip may have given you a clue as to why: it's all in the walk-up. the rising line, the accelerating rhythm, and the big, powerful electric guitar all combine to create a sense of tension and release that, from a harmonic perspective, really shouldn't exist, and I don't know about you but I find that fascinating. anyway, that feeds into this (bang) which has that same plagal cadence as before, then we set up a return to the verse key, with the same IV and V chords we saw at the end of that progression. you may be wondering about the F# augmented, but that's mainly just a bit of extra decoration. this song is full of things like that: the Eagles were all fairly accomplished session players before starting their own band, and they're really good at adding little flourishes throughout the song that help keep things fresh. they go back and forth between these two sections for a while, then finally we get to a solo over the verse progression. in fact, not just a solo, but a conversation: this section is a guitar battle between Don Felder and Joe Walsh, each one masterfully playing off the other. I'm not gonna go through the whole thing 'cause there's a lot, but I do want to talk a bit about the end, or rather the lack of an end. like we saw in the Comfortably Numb video, it doesn't actually finish. in fact, it's still building momentum when they fade the track out, giving the sense that it goes on forever, which is stunningly appropriate for this song. after all, the last line we hear is "you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave." anyway, that's basically it, but before we go, I wanted to let you know that next Friday, June 8th, Adam Neely's gonna be hosting the inaugural youtube music theory livestream featuring me, Sideways, and 8-Bit Music theory. we're gonna be hanging out, talking about music, and taking audience questions, and you may even see my face. it's at 4pm eastern time over on Adam's channel, so set an alarm or whatever, and I'll see you there! or, I won't, but you'll see me, and I'll read the things you're typing and… you know what, I don't have to explain livestreams to you. bye! ok, seriously, thanks for watching, and thanks to Patreon patron Matt Osborn for suggesting this song! if you'd like to see your favorite song analyzed, just head on over to P atreon and pledge at any level. you can also join our mailing list to find out about new episodes, like, share, comment, subscribe, and above all, keep on rockin'.




Don Felder composed the melody for "Hotel California."
Don Felder composed the melody for "Hotel California."
Glenn Frey provided the outline of "Hotel California."
Glenn Frey provided the outline of "Hotel California."
Don Henley wrote the lyrics to "Hotel California" with Frey.
Don Henley wrote the lyrics to "Hotel California" with Frey.

The melody of the song was composed by Don Felder in a rented house on Malibu Beach. He recorded the basic tracks with a Rhythm Ace drum machine and added a 12 string guitar on a four-track recording deck in his spare bedroom, then mixed in a bassline, and gave Don Henley and Glenn Frey each a copy of the recording.[9] Felder, who met the Eagles through his high school bandmate Bernie Leadon, said that Leadon advised him to make tapes of songs he wrote for the band so that other band members like Henley, whose forte is in writing lyrics, might work with him on finishing the songs they like.[10] The demos he made were always instrumental, and on every album project he would submit 15 or 16 ideas. The demo he made for "Hotel California" showed influences from Latin and reggae music, and it grabbed the attention of Henley who said he liked the song that "sounds like a Mexican reggae or Bolero",[10] which gave the song its first working title, "Mexican Reggae".[11]

Frey and Henley were both interested in the tune after hearing the demo, and discussed the concept for the lyrics. In 2008, Felder described the writing of the lyrics:

Don Henley and Glenn wrote most of the words. All of us kind of drove into L.A. at night. Nobody was from California, and if you drive into L.A. at night... you can just see this glow on the horizon of lights, and the images that start running through your head of Hollywood and all the dreams that you have, and so it was kind of about that... what we started writing the song about.[12]

Henley decided on the theme of "Hotel California", noting how The Beverly Hills Hotel had become a literal and symbolic focal point of their lives at that time.[13] Henley said of their personal and professional experience in LA: "We were getting an extensive education, in life, in love, in business. Beverly Hills was still a mythical place to us. In that sense it became something of a symbol, and the 'Hotel' the locus of all that LA had come to mean for us. In a sentence, I'd sum it up as the end of the innocence, round one."[14]

Frey came up with a cinematic scenario of a person who, tired from driving a long distance in a desert, saw a place for a rest and pulled in for the night, but entered "a weird world peopled by freaky characters", and became "quickly spooked by the claustrophobic feeling of being caught in a disturbing web from which he may never escape."[9] In an interview with Cameron Crowe, Frey said that he and Henley wanted the song "to open like an episode of the Twilight Zone", and added: "We take this guy and make him like a character in The Magus, where every time he walks through a door there’s a new version of reality. We wanted to write a song just like it was a movie."[13] Frey described the song in an interview with NBC's Bob Costas as a cinematic montage "just one shot to the next ... a picture of a guy on the highway, a picture of the hotel, the guy walks in, the door opens, strange people." Frey continued: "We decided to create something strange, just to see if we could do it."[4][15] Henley then wrote most of the lyrics based on Frey's idea, and sought inspiration for the writing by driving out into the desert as well as from films and theater.[13]

Part of the lyrics, such as "Her mind is Tiffany twisted, she got the Mercedes bends / She got a lot of pretty pretty boys she calls friends", are based on Henley's break-up with his girlfriend Loree Rodkin.[9][14] According to Glenn Frey's liner notes for The Very Best Of, the use of the word "steely" in the lyric, "They stab it with their steely knives, but they just can't kill the beast," was a playful nod to the band Steely Dan, who had included the lyric "Turn up the Eagles, the neighbors are listening" in their song "Everything You Did".[16] Frey had also said that the writing of the song was inspired by the boldness of Steely Dan's lyrics and its willingness to go "out there",[13] and thought that the song they wrote had "achieved perfect ambiguity."[15]


The Eagles recorded the track with Don Henley on lead vocal three different times, twice at the Record Plant in Los Angeles and finally at the Criteria Studios in Miami.[4][17] They first recorded a riff, but when it came to recording the vocal, it was found to be in too high a key for Henley's voice, so Felder progressively lowered the key from E minor, eventually settling on B minor. The second recording however was judged too fast.[4] In Miami, the band fine-tuned the instrumentation and the lyrics and recorded numerous takes. Five or six best ones were selected, and the best parts were then spliced together to create the released version. According to the producer Bill Szymczyk, there were 33 edits on the two‑inch master.[17] The final section features a guitar battle between Joe Walsh (who had replaced Bernie Leadon after Leadon's departure from the band in 1975) and Felder, which took the two of them sitting together working for around three days to achieve the necessary precision.[9] Walsh and Felder initially started improvising but Henley insisted that the recording should follow the music as first recorded in Felder's demo.[10]

Henley decided that the song should be a single, although Felder had doubts and the record company was reluctant to release it because, at over six minutes, its duration far exceeded that of the songs generally played by radio stations.[10][18] The band took a stand and refused the label's request to shorten the song.[19] The song was released as the second single from the album after "New Kid in Town". The front cover art for some overseas editions of the 45rpm single released was a reworked version of the Hotel California LP cover art, which used a photograph of the Beverly Hills Hotel by David Alexander, with design and art direction by Kosh.[20]

The Eagles performing "Hotel California" in Australia during their Long Road Out of Eden Tour
The Eagles performing "Hotel California" in Australia during their Long Road Out of Eden Tour

As "Hotel California" became one of the group's most popular songs and a concert staple for the band,[21] live recordings of the song have therefore also been released. The first live recording of the song appeared on the Eagles' 1980 live album, and an acoustic version with an extended intro is a track in the 1994 Hell Freezes Over reunion concert CD and video release.[22] The Hell Freezes Over version is performed using eight guitars and has a decidedly Spanish sound, with Don Felder's flamenco-inspired arrangement and intro.[23]

Chart performance

"Hotel California" first entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart dated February 26, 1977,[24] and topped the Hot 100 singles chart for one week in May 1977,[25] the band's fourth song to reach No. 1 on that chart.[6] It peaked at number 10 on the Easy Listening chart in April 1977.[26] Billboard ranked it number 19 on its 1977 Pop Singles year-end chart.[27] Three months after its first release, the single was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), representing one million copies shipped. In 2009, the song was further certified Platinum (Digital Sales Award) by the RIAA for sales of one million digital downloads,[28] and has since sold over 3 million downloads.[29]


The Eagles won the 1977 Grammy Award for Record of the Year for "Hotel California" at the 20th Grammy Awards in 1978.[30]

The song is rated highly in many rock music lists and polls; Rolling Stone magazine ranked it number 49 on its list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time".[31] It was named one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.[32] At the induction of the Eagles into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, all seven former and present members of the band reunited to perform "Hotel California".[33]

The song's guitar solo was voted the best solo of all time by readers of Guitarist magazine in 1998,[5] and was ranked 8th on Guitar Magazine's Top 100 Guitar Solos.[34] The song was also included in the music video game Guitar Hero World Tour. It was ranked the number 1 in the list of the best 12-string guitar songs of all times by Guitar World magazine in 2015.[35]

Themes and interpretations

Glenn Frey said that originally "We decided to create something strange, just to see if we could do it," and that the song was meant to mimic the imagery of the 1965 novel The Magus by John Fowles, about a man in an unfamiliar rural setting who is unsure about what he is experiencing.[36]

Don Henley has given a number of explanations about the song, ranging from "a journey from innocence to experience"[8] to "a sociopolitical statement".[37] In an interview with Rolling Stone, Henley said that the song was meant to be "more of a symbolic piece about America in general", and added: "Lyrically, the song deals with traditional or classical themes of conflict: darkness and light, good and evil, youth and age, the spiritual versus the secular. I guess you could say it's a song about loss of innocence."[9]

The song has been described as being "all about American decadence and burnout, too much money, corruption, drugs and arrogance; too little humility and heart."[9] It has also been interpreted as an allegory about hedonism, self-destruction, and greed in the music industry of the late 1970s.[38] Don Henley called it "our interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles",[39] and later said: "It's basically a song about the dark underbelly of the American dream and about excess in America, which is something we knew a lot about."[40] In the 2013 documentary, History of the Eagles, Henley reiterated:

On just about every album we made, there was some kind of commentary on the music business, and on American culture in general. The hotel itself could be taken as a metaphor not only for the myth-making of Southern California, but for the myth-making that is the American Dream, because it is a fine line between the American Dream, and the American nightmare.[41]

In a 2009 interview, The Plain Dealer music critic John Soeder asked Don Henley if he regretted writing the lines "So I called up the captain / 'Please bring me my wine' / He said, 'We haven't had that spirit here since 1969'" because wines are fermented while spirits are distilled. Henley responded:

Thanks for the tutorial and, no, you're not the first to bring this to my attention — and you're not the first to completely misinterpret the lyric and miss the metaphor. Believe me, I've consumed enough alcoholic beverages in my time to know how they are made and what the proper nomenclature is. But that line in the song has little or nothing to do with alcoholic beverages. It's a sociopolitical statement. My only regret would be having to explain it in detail to you, which would defeat the purpose of using literary devices in songwriting and lower the discussion to some silly and irrelevant argument about chemical processes.[37]

In his Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings, Volume 1, Steve Sullivan theorizes that the "spirit" that the Hotel California hasn't had since 1969 refers to the spirit of social activism of the 1960s, and how disco and the related pop music of the mid-1970s had turned away from it.[9]


The metaphorical character of the story related in the lyrics has inspired a number of conjectural interpretations by listeners. In the 1980s the Rev. Paul Risley of Cornerstone Church in Burlington, Wisconsin alleged that "Hotel California" referred to a San Francisco hotel that was purchased by Anton LaVey and converted into his Church of Satan.[42][43] Other rumors suggested that the Hotel California was the Camarillo State Mental Hospital.[44]

The term "colitas" in the first stanza ("warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air") has been interpreted as a sexual slang or a reference to marijuana.[45] "Colitas" means "little tails" in Spanish; in Mexican slang it refers to buds of the cannabis (marijuana) plant.[46][47] According to Glenn Frey, the "warm smell" is "colitas... it means little tails, the very top of the plant."[48] The Eagles' manager Irving Azoff appears to lend support to the marijuana hypothesis,[49] however, Felder 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."[45]

Other interpretations of the songs include heroin addiction and cannibalism.[4] On the various interpretations, Henley 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."[45]

Harmonic structure

The intro and verses' chord pattern counts eight measures, each one assigned to a single chord. Seven different chords are used in the eight measures. As the song opens, it is not until the eighth measure that a chord is repeated. The song is initially in the key of B-minor.[50] The presence of E major gives a hint of B Dorian.

The chords are played as follows:


The eight-measure sequence is repeated in the intro, for each verse and in the outro, providing the harmonic framework for the entire extended dual guitar solo at the end of the song.[50] One explanation of the progression is that it is a common flamenco chord progression called the "Spanish progression" (i–VII–VI–V in a phrygian context) that is interspersed with consecutive fifths.[50] With its descending ostinato pattern, it could be considered a fandango, a forerunner of the Baroque chaconne form.[51]

This chord sequence is not commonly used, and Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull has pointed out its similarity to his song "We Used to Know" from their 1969 album Stand Up, suggesting the Eagles heard it when they toured together.[52] While the Eagles did open for Jethro Tull in June 1972, Don Felder, who wrote the music, did not join the band until 1974 and would not have been in the audience or backstage.[53] Felder has said that he had never heard "We Used to Know", and that he was unfamiliar with Jethro Tull apart from the fact the frontman plays a flute.[54]

The chorus, or refrain, uses five of the song's seven chords, structured with the melody in a way that shifts the key from B-minor to its relative major of D:[50]

or assuming a key of D:

Cover versions

Al B. Sure! recorded his rendition for his album, Private Times...and the Whole 9! (1990).[55] Gipsy Kings recorded a flamenco version sung in Spanish.[56] The Orb, under the name of Jam On The Mutha, produced a version that charted at No. 62 in the UK in 1990.[57][58] Mike Piranha recorded "Hotel Honolulu" in 1998, satirizing overdevelopment, crime, and other issues on Oahu; the song became a local hit in Hawaii.[59] The Romanian band Vama Veche recorded its version with different lyrics entitled "Hotel Cişmigiu", sung in its native language.[60] Alabama 3 covered the song for the album, La Peste (2000).[61] Nancy Sinatra recorded a cover version for her 2002 album California Girl, an album of songs about California.[62] The Cat Empire recorded a version sung in French entitled "L'hotel de Californie" for Triple J's Like a Version segment, and is included in its 2005 compilation album as well as the band's 2003 live album On the Attack.[63] Vocal Sampling have performed an a cappella version, which is included in their 2008 album Akapelleando.[64] The Killers and Rhythms del Mundo collaborated their version with Afro-Cuban music for the 2009 Artists' Project Earth charity, and it appeared on the album Rhythms del Mundo Classics.[65]

Frank Ocean released a song that samples the entire instrumental track of "Hotel California" on his mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra (2011), entitled "American Wedding".[66] Don Henley threatened a lawsuit for copyright infringement.[67]

Cultural influence

"Hotel California" and its lyrics have become absorbed into the wider culture around the world, and have been used by various writers and commentators to reflect on issues ranging from politics to social media and welfare,[68][69][70] or as an observation on a particular situation.[71][72] The lines "We are programmed to receive / You can check out any time you like / But you can never leave!" were used by an economist to refer to how the appeal of an attractive "Hotel California"-type host country to foreign investors may be countered by the cost of exit on leaving the country.[73] A term "The Hotel California Effect" was then used to refer to the negative effect of financial regulations on investment,[74] and the problems foreign investors faced when getting their money out of China.[75][76] It has also applied to other ideas such as leaving a service provider or social media network.[77][78] The same analogy has been used by various commentators considering scenarios for Brexit, with the term "Hotel California Brexit".[79][80][81]

A book titled Operation Hotel California: The Clandestine War Inside Iraq was written about the clandestine operation named after the song title by CIA–US Special Forces teams in Iraqi Kurdistan in the lead-up to the Iraq War.[82][83]

Although the Eagles were noted for their reluctance to license their songs for use in shows,[84] the song has been used in a number of films and television shows, such as The Big Lebowski (performed by the Gipsy Kings),[85] Absolutely Fabulous, and The Sopranos.[45] More recently it was used during the final scenes of the premiere episode of American Horror Story: Hotel in October 2015.[86]

Proposed film adaptation

According to Rolling Stone, Julia Phillips, the producer of films like Taxi Driver and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, was interested in shooting a movie based on the song's story. The band members and Phillips met to discuss the project. In her memoir You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again, Phillips wrote that the band members were difficult to deal with and arrogant. Henley said that Phillips offered the band members cocaine and was "nonplussed" when they turned it down. Tension between the two parties ended the pre-development deal for the film. Rolling Stone reported that the band was not upset at this development, as they were not particularly enamored with the idea of "Hotel California" being adapted into a film. This was because Henley feared that he would lack control over the project.[87]


Charts and certifications


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  2. ^ "Brand new classics". Mail & Guardian. October 31, 1997. Retrieved May 23, 2015.
  3. ^ Dodd, Philip; Du Noyer, Paul (1999). The Encyclopedia of Singles. Paragon. p. 89. ISBN 0752533371.
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  5. ^ a b The Top 100 Solos of All Time
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  15. ^ a b "1992 Glenn Frey Interview with Bob Costas". KIOA. January 19, 2016.
  16. ^ Liner Notes – The Very Best of the Eagles
  17. ^ a b Richard Buskin (September 2010). "The Eagles 'Hotel California' Classic Tracks". Sound on Sound.
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  19. ^ Eliot, Marc (2004). To the Limit: The Untold Story of the Eagles. Da Capo Press. p. 131. ISBN 978-0-3068-1398-6.
  20. ^ Ochs, Micheael. 1000 Record Covers. Taschen. ISBN 3-8228-4085-8.
  21. ^ Kevin Ferguson & Chris Keller (May 15, 2014). "20 things to know about Hotel California". 89.5 KPCC.
  22. ^ Corbin Reiff (November 8, 2014). "20 Years Ago: The Eagles Release 'Hell Freezes Over'". Ultimate Classic Rock.
  23. ^ Nick DeRiso. "Top 10 Don Felder Eagles Songs". Ultimate Classic Rock.
  24. ^ "Billboard Hot 100: February 26, 1977". Billboard.
  25. ^ "Billboard Hot 100: April 7, 1977". Billboard.
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External links

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