The Eagles Sue Real Life ‘Hotel California’ For Trademark Infringement: What Is The Classic 1976 Song About?

Hotel California is a song by The Eagles

The Eagles are not happy with a Mexican hotel that shares the name of the band’s most famous song. A report from Reuters reveals that the surviving Eagles members have filed a filed a lawsuit in a U.S. District Court against the Todos Santos hotel in Baja California Sur, Mexico. The Eagles claim the owners market the 11-room property as the “Hotel California” without their permission.

Way before the Eagles released the hit song “Hotel California,” the Todos Santos hotel opened as the Hotel California in 1950. But the hotel went through a number of name changes until the current owners, John and Debbie Stewart, restored the name in 2001, according to Ultimate Classic Rock. The Eagles No. 1 hit was released in 1976 and appeared on the album of the same name.

Since 2001, the Mexican hotel has been marketed as if to suggest The Eagles are connected to it. UCR reports that the hotel owners “actively encourage” guests to believe the hotel is associated with the Eagles. Eagles songs are played over the hotel’s sound system and t-shirts that describe the hotel as “legendary” are sold in the gift shop.

The complaint against Hotel California reads: “Defendants lead U.S. consumers to believe that the Todos Santos Hotel is associated with the Eagles and, among other things, served as the inspiration for the lyrics in ‘Hotel California,’ which is false…Hotel California is arguably the band’s most popular song and in many ways embodies the very essence of the band itself. The song continues to be hugely popular, and the song’s name has become synonymous with the band.”

The lawsuit filed in Los Angeles federal court seeks damages and a halt to any infringement.

“Hotel California” won the 1977 Grammy award for record of the year, but the Eagles no-showed the ceremony on Feb. 23. 1978, so host Andy Williams delivered an awkward acceptance speech on the band’s behalf.

The song “Hotel California” is known for its long guitar solo featuring Don Felder and Joe Walsh, but fans have long wondered what the lyrics, sung by Don Henley, are about. While the famous Beverly Hills Hotel graces the album’s cover, the bandmates have maintained that the song is not about an actual hotel.

In an interview with CBS News, Eagles founder Don Henley said the song isn’t even about California.

“I always say, it’s a journey from innocence to experience,” Henley told 60 Minutes. “It’s not really about California; it’s about America. It’s about the dark underbelly of the American dream. It’s about excess, it’s about narcissism. It’s about the music business. It’s about a lot of different…. It can have a million interpretations.”

Indeed, Eagles fans have been trying to figure out the song’s meaning for decades, with some thinking it’s about a mental institution or a drug trip. Henley told Rolling Stone the song, which had a working title of “Mexican Reggae,”was conceived after his bandmate Don Felder submitted a cassette tape containing about half a dozen different pieces of music.

“None of them moved me until I got to that one,” the Eagles singer said. “I think I was driving down Benedict Canyon Drive at night, or maybe even North Crescent Drive (adjacent to the Beverly Hills Hotel) the first time I heard the piece, and I remember thinking, ‘This has potential; I think we can make something interesting out of this.'”

But Felder told Music Radar he didn’t think “Hotel California” would even get radio airplay.

“In the ’70s, everything had to be three, three and a half minutes long,” the rocker said. “The intro had to be under 30 seconds, so the disc jockeys didn’t talk too long before the singing started. It either had to be a rock ‘n’ roll danceable song or a drippy ballad.”

The song went on to reach No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in May 1977 and is a permanent staple on Best Classic Rock Songs list.

“I’ve never been so delighted to have been wrong in my whole life,” Felder said.

[Featured Image by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for NARAS]