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Hotel California A ‘Flop’? Don Felder Thought It Would Be

Photo by Jana Birchum/Getty Images

Former Eagles guitarist Don Felder has recalled how he didn’t want his song Hotel California released as a single, because he was sure it would flop.

He remembers having to call his housekeeper to play a demo tape of the 1976 song down the phone to him because he’d forgotten how his guitar part went.

And the band had to record the iconic track twice after discovering Don Henley couldn’t sing it in its original key.

Felder tells Music Radar: “The album took us a long time to make, over a year, and the record company were just pounding on the door. They wanted the record, they wanted to put it out.

“When everything was done and edited and mastered, we had a playback party in Los Angeles. After Hotel California played, Don Henley turned around and said, ‘That’s going to be our single.’

“I went, ‘Don, that’s going to be a big mistake.’ Because in the seventies, everything had to be three, three and a half minutes long. The intro had to be under thirty seconds. It had to be a rock’n’roll danceable song or a drippy ballad.

“Hotel California is six minutes. The intro is a minute long. It stops in the middle with no drums and you’ve got a two-minute guitar solo at the end. It’s the absolute wrong format for a single.

“Don said, ‘Nope, that’s going to be our single.’ I’ve never been so delighted to have been wrong in my whole life.”

When Felder and Joe Walsh (who recently admitted he once couldn’t work without vodka) began jamming guitar solos, Henley insisted it had to be recorded the way it had been done on the demo – but Felder had forgotten it.

He explains: “We had to call my housekeeper in Malibu, who took the cassette, put it in a blaster and played it with the phone held up to the blaster. I had to sit in Miami and play exactly what was on the demo, and Joe had to listen to the way I emulated him. It was close enough to make Don happy.”

The single, released in February 1977 to global acclaim, wound up being re-recorded three full tones lower than the key in which Felder had written.

“I recorded it in E minor, which is a good key for the guitar,” he says. “Done went to start singing on it and he sounded like Barry Gibb in this high voice. I went, ‘Wait – that just doesn’t work.’

“We wound up having to play it in B minor, which is not a particularly guitar-friendly key. It was a screw-up that we never figured out what key would be best for Don, but we’d never heard him do it until we got in the studio.”

The Hotel California album won a Grammy in 1978 and has notched up 44 Platinum certificates plus two diamonds and two golds. It’s listed at the 37th greatest record of all time by Rolling Stone.

Felder says of the lead track: “When you get into the Hotel California and you have a hit, you’re the new kid in town then you start living life in the fast lane. Every once in a while you start to go, ‘Is this all a bunch of wasted time, all the years we’ve sat in bars and turned into parties?’ The concept came out of that framework. Once we had that foundation a lot of other songs came about.”

(Classic Rock Magazine)

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