December 8th, 1976 The Eagles released their infamous album, Hotel California, where fans were introduced to the now iconic single of the same name. Before the song found its words, it was referred to by the band as “Mexican Reggae.”
The song immediately resonated with listeners when it was pushed as the second single from the album in February of 1977 where it reached #1 on on the Billboard Hot 100 as well as Top Ten positions across several international charts. The song was awarded the Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1978 and its only continued to collect accolades.
Watch: The Eagles – “Hotel California” (Live at the 1998 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame)
Its critical acclaim has extended to Rolling Stone magazine ranking it as #49 on its list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” In 1998, the guitar solo was voted the best solo of all time by readers of Guitarist Magazine & was ranked 8th on Guitar Magazine’s Top 100 Guitar Solos. In 2015, Guitar World magazine ranked it as the best 12-string guitar song of all time.
Before it was called “Hotel California,” the song started out as an instrumental demo by The Eagles lead-guitarist, Don Felder, while renting a beach house in Malibu, CA during the summer of 1976.
“I had a 12-string guitar and I was just, like, kicking around with it, looking for ideas and picking and kind of goofing around – and I came across that introduction to ‘Hotel,’ that chord progression,” Felder explains in an interview with Ultimate Classic Rock Nights.
Felder recorded the chord progression on a four-track tape recorder and about a week later, he built a song around that chord progression by adding bass, a drum-machine and almost all of the guitar parts you hear today before making tapes of the demo to give to his band-mates.
By Summer of 1976, “Reggae” music wasn’t technically 10-years-old but its influence was finding it’s way into many bands of the era. “It is cool that at such a young stage in reggae’s development it was already making an impression on US and UK artists, but I never really heard the reggae influences in ‘Hotel California’ too much – they’re there, but not in a way that makes me hear the song as ‘reggae’,” says renowned Reggae Producer, Michael Goldwasser of Easy Star. “Yes, it does have a rhythm guitar part that mimics the classic reggae ‘chuck’ and there’s a drum fill or two that recall reggae drum fills, but it’s a lot less reggae than other 70’s rock songs that were more obviously influenced by Jamaica.”
The same month Felder wrote this demo is when Toots & The Maytals dropped Reggae Got Soul and the month before that Peter Tosh’s legendary debut record, Legalize It, came out. That April, the world listened as Bob Marley’s Rastaman Vibration was
released & during that same month, The Rolling Stones released their fan-favorite record, Black and Blue, that showed them displaying some reggae inspired chops with their cover of Eric Donaldson’s “Cherry, Oh Baby.”
When Don Felder finished composing his demo, he first received feed-back from drummer & singer Don Henley. “So, Henley came back and said he really liked that song and I think he kind of nicknamed it ‘Mexican Reggae.’ And I went, ‘Oh, OK. ‘Mexican Reggae.’ That sounds good to me.”
Fast forward a few months when the group is in Miami, FL at the studio working on the album and Don Henley walks in on Felder & Glenn Frey reworking the intro of the song. In a previous interview, Felder explains: “Henley says, ‘No, no, no. You gotta do it like the demo,’ ‘cause Don had been listening to the demo over and over and over. So I had to call up my housekeeper back in Malibu, CA & have her go look through my cassettes and find this cassette that said ‘Mexican Reggae’ on the outside of it, put it in a blaster and play it. She held the phone up to the blaster and we recorded it. And I had to sit down and learn note for note what I just made up on the spot, which turned out to be the solo you pretty much hear on the record right now.”
Today, there are countless covers of the song that have made its way into multiple genres and cultures, almost becoming a universal language synonymous with smiling, much like the influence of Reggae.
Michael G. shares a prime example of this as he tells The Pier: “My wife and I were spending some time in Israel working on a kibbutz some years ago and I had not brought a guitar with me. So early on in our stay, a friend, who happens to be an Ethiopian-Israeli, took us to a music store in the nearest city and I bought an acoustic guitar. We went back to his apartment, he took out his guitar, and what’s the first song that he wanted to jam to? ‘Hotel California’ of course! So there I am, in a city in the middle of the Negev Desert, playing the Eagles with an Ethiopian Jew singing in Israeli-accented English. If that doesn’t show the universality of music, I don’t know what does!”