When you think of classic rock, a ton of names come to mind. Bruce Springsteen, Cheap Trick, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, just to name a few. But what about the major headliners of the classic era? What about the Eagles? Queen? Well, I’m glad you asked because I’m going to take a look at two of the oddest songs out on the radio in that era, Hotel California, and Bohemian Rhapsody. Two strange songs, with stranger lyrics.
Welcome To The Hotel California
Hotel California. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. Mirrors on the ceiling, pink champagne on ice. We are all prisoners here, of our own device. Strange lyrics, aren’t they?
They just get odder and odder as the song goes on. Now, most people would do a deep dive, cite sources, and give us the official meaning, but what’s the fun in that? I have never looked up the meaning of Hotel California. I just didn’t care. It was a great song! So what I’m going to do instead is take the lyrics, pick them apart, and put my own spin on what I think they mean. So without further ado, let’s go!
On a dark desert highway
Cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitas
Rising up through the air
Up ahead in the distance
I saw a shimmering light
My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim
I had to stop for the night
So, obviously, this hotel is out in the middle of nowhere. But something catches my eye here. “I saw a shimmering light, my head grew heavy…” I always thought, being in the desert, and this odd song, that this very well could be a mirage, and the entire song is a hallucination. It would make sense.
There she stood in the doorway
I heard the mission bell
And I was thinking to myself
This could be Heaven or this could be Hell
Then she lit up a candle
And she showed me the way
There were voices down the corridor
I thought I heard them say
So our lyricist found this hotel and walked in. The strange thing here is the “mission bell”. Why would a hotel have a bell like that? Mission bell tends to make one think of the military. But in a hotel? Maybe a converted military base that for some reason had a bell still.
The comment about heaven or hell, well, sounds like he’s in hell from the rest of the song. Maybe when his eyes grew dim, he wrecked his car, and this was his own personal hell? I wonder who the woman is that meets him at the door, though. It’s never really explained in Hotel California.
We then come to the lyrics, which are unremarkable in the overall narrative of the song, except for the last bit. “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” Starting to feel like he’s dead at this point.
Her mind is Tiffany-twisted
She got the Mercedes Benz
She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys
She calls friends
How they dance in the courtyard
Sweet summer sweat
Some dance to remember
Some dance to forget
Alright, now it’s getting interesting. Her mind, tiffany twisted. Alone, it’s a head-scratcher, but in the overall set of lyrics here, it makes a lot of sense. This is a woman of culture, of high class. Tiffany jewelry, a Mercedes-Benz, a lot of “pretty pretty boys, she calls friends”. I’m taking the pretty pretty boys to mean rich. It fits with the rest of the lyrics here and makes you think this is a very “upscale” hotel. That or she’s just a very ritzy “guest” here, with some higher-class friends.
Going on the earlier assumption that she’s the one that met him at the door and took him here, there’s some sort of dance going on in the courtyard. The duality of the next two lines, how they are literal exact opposites, is very interesting. “Some dance to remember. Some dance to forget.” Stark duality of lyrics like this are rare in a song from this era. Usually, a song flowed as one story, but this duality is odd and seems out of place. Why would you want to remember, yet forget a dance?
So I called up the Captain
Please bring me my wine
He said, ‘We haven’t had that spirit here”
And still those voices are calling from far away
Wake you up in the middle of the night
Just to hear them say
Alright. This song was released in 1976. We’ll get to that in a moment. He calls up the Captain. This is interesting because, in a hotel, you would not have referred to a waiter or concierge as a “captain”. So who was this Captain? This lends more credibility to it perhaps being a military base, maybe he stumbled on.
If he wasn’t dead, which, I still believe he died early on and this is hell. But he calls upon some captain to bring him some wine, and the captain says they haven’t had it since 1969. More importantly, that “spirit” here. Now I know Wine is considered a spirit, but maybe if we think deeper into it, there could be more meaning to the term “Spirit” here.
Maybe they mean, literal spirit? That and the fact he’s still hearing strange, yet faint voices that “wake you up in the middle of the night” saying welcome to the Hotel California. Almost like a whisper you hear, barely, but you can JUST make out what’s said. Or at least your mind tells you that you do.
We’re gonna skip the lyrics for the chorus of Hotel California again because now is where it gets really weird.
Mirrors on the ceiling
The pink champagne on ice
And she said, ‘We are all just prisoners here”
“Of our own device”
And in the master’s chambers
They gathered for the feast
They stab it with their steely knives
But they just can’t kill the beast
The mirrors on the ceiling could almost be related to the “You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave”. You see yourself, you see everything around you, and you’re stuck. You can’t leave, and you see that everywhere you look.
Once again we reference this woman who seems to be the one showing him around. “We are all just prisoners here of our own device”. Almost like they’re stuck in a literal hell and can’t leave. They’re prisoners of something they maybe did in life, causing them to be trapped in this strange hotel-like building.
We move to the master’s chambers, another strange set of wording, as this seems to be a dining room of sorts. They’re gathering for some sort of feast. “They stab it with their steely knives, but they just can’t kill the beast.” The beast in this case I actually know is a nod to the band Steely Dan, who had the same manager as the Eagles. But let’s assume that’s not a known fact.
Let’s assume the beast is like Lord of the Flies. The Beast was something they sacrificed to, even though it turned out it was a being conjured by their own fears and not real. Perhaps this is the beast in this hotel, and they just can’t kill it because it exists in them?
The last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
“Relax, ” said the night man
“We are programmed to receive”
“You can check-out any time you like”
“But you can never leave!”
So at this point, he tries to escape. But assuming he did die and was in hell, he’d be running in an infinite loop. The nightman makes that very clear. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. You’re stuck here for eternity. Doomed to rot in hell.
Now, I know this is nothing like what Hotel California is actually about, but it’s fun to think of it this way isn’t it? A man who died, went to hell, and witnessed all this crazy stuff? Much better than what it was really about!