Why Eagles Referenced Steely Dan in ‘Hotel California’
When Don Henley and Glenn Frey wrote the lyrics for the Eagles classic “Hotel California,” they were determined to push their own boundaries.
The 1976 hit single, taken from the album of the same name, was a series of references to their own experiences with fame and fortune. But there was also a reference to Steely Dan – the line “They stab it with their steely knives, but they just can't kill the beast” – and there’s a good reason for that, as the late Frey once told Uncle Joe Benson on the Ultimate Classic Rock Nights radio show.
“One of the things that impressed us about Steely Dan was that they would say anything in their songs, and it didn’t have to necessarily make sense,” he said. “They called it ‘joke sculpture.’ When we thought of this song ‘Hotel California,’ we started thinking that it would be very cinematic to do it like sort of The Twilight Zone – you just have one line that says there’s a guy on the highway, the next line says there’s a hotel in the distance, then there’s a women there, then he walks in. It’s just like all one-shots just strung together, and you sort of draw your own conclusions from it.”
Frey recalled that he and Henley "were sort of trying to expand our lyrical horizons and just take on something in the realm of the bizarre, as Steely Dan had done.”
That’s one of the reasons they mention the group in the lyrics; another was because the Steely Dan song “Everything You Did,” which was released earlier in 1976, included the line “Turn up the Eagles, the neighbors are listening.”
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