The Story Behind the Eagles’ Famous ‘Hotel California’ Album Cover

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Welcome to the Hotel California/ Such a lovely place (such a lovely place), Don Henley sings, setting the scene for the Eagles’ 1976 album Hotel California.

The Eagles’ fifth studio album rang out with stories of the American experience—the one that emerged after the rose-colored glasses were tossed aside. Songs like “Life in the Fast Lane,” and “New Kid in Town” consequently marked Hotel California as something in a category all its own.

To put it simply, Hotel California is one of the greatest rock albums of all time, and to put it more elaborately, the album has now been certified Platinum 26 times by the RIAA. And that doesn’t even begin to get at the legacy of its title track. With all of this to unpack, though, the album’s packaging caught our eye. What is the story behind the chillingly utopic album cover?

Read below for the story behind the Eagles’ famous Hotel California album cover.

The story behind the album cover.

The album cover for Hotel California is a photo of The Beverly Hills Hotel just before sunset. Photographer David Alexander shot the scene, and renowned art director John Kosh designed the shoot. (Kosh had already designed both The Beatles’ Abbey Road and The Who’s Who’s Next album covers by this point in time.) Together, Alexander and Kosh captured the mythical California experience to pair with the Eagles’ new nine-track record.

“For the album cover, Don wanted me to find and portray THE Hotel California—a hotel which would best exemplify a classic ‘California hotel’, and to portray it with a slightly sinister edge,” Kosh said in a 2007 interview. “Photographer David Alexander and I set out to scout suitable locations. We photographed three hotels (including some with a rather ‘seedily genteel’ character) that fit the brief and large prints were made for approval. By now I was dealing mostly with Henley—the rest of the band would saunter in as we progressed and mutter their approvals—and he preferred more sumptuous images. The shot of the Beverly Hills Hotel against the golden sunset was deemed the favorite.”

Further, to physically get the shot, both Alexander and Kosh perched above Sunset Boulevard in a 60-foot cherry picker. Kosh recalled that they were “shooting blindly into the sun” using high-speed Ektachrome film to achieve the grainy look that appears on the album cover. The results were, as you know, stunning. Kosh then collaborated with airbrush artist Bob Hickson to create the Hotel California neon sign in the bottom right-hand corner.

“It is interesting to note that I got tangled in the same heated debate with Asylum Records over the using of the band’s name on the cover that I had years earlier with EMI in London,” Kosh continued. “I thought it unnecessary to use the words, ‘The Beatles’ on Abbey Road considering the album was so eagerly anticipated and The Beatles were the biggest band in the world at the time. Such was the case with Hotel California. By 1976 the Eagles were the biggest band in the world and eventually only the title, ‘Hotel California’ appeared on the original cover of the album.”

Legal troubles.

After the album’s official release in 1976, The Beverly Hills Hotel learned that it was their hotel on the cover of the Eagles’ album. Hotel representatives were not pleased about this unsolicited publicity. At least at first. “Subsequently, as the sales of ‘Hotel California’ went through the roof, lawyers for the Beverly Hills Hotel threatened me with a ‘cease and desist’ action—until it was gently pointed out by my attorney that the hotel’s requests for bookings had tripled since the release of the album,” Kosh concluded.

Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place (such a lovely place)

“You can check-out any time you like”
“But you can never leave!”

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