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Classic Album covers : Hotel California – The Eagles

Hotel California is the fifth studio album released by the Eagles in December 1976. It’s the first Eagles album without founding member Bernie Leadon and the first album with Joe Walsh. It’s also the last album featuring original bass player and singer Randy Meisner

For the cover of this album Don Henley wanted to convey “Faded loss of innocence and decadence. I was trying to use California as the microcosm for the rest of the nation.”  The building they used as the Hotel California is The Beverly Hills Hotel, which is located on Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills, California. A luxurious grand dame, since opening in 1912 it’s welcomed everyone from Fred Astaire to the Clintons to Courtney Love

Henley, Glenn Frey and manager Irving Azoff brought the concept to John Kosh, who had previously designed LPs for Linda Ronstadt, Rod Stewart and James Taylor.Kosh takes up the story:

“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. 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 favourite

To get the perfect picture, David and I had perched nervously atop a 60′ cherry picker dangling over Sunset Boulevard in the rush hour, shooting blindly into the sun. Both of us brought our Nikons up in the basket and we took turns shooting, ducking and reloading. We used high-speed Ektachrome film as the light began to fade. This film gave us the remarkable graininess of the final shot. I don’t remember ever being so scared in my life. The thing sort of swayed alarmingly every time we moved. We just weren’t quite sure precisely what time the sun and the lights coming on in the hotel would balance and make that magic we were after”

The inner gatefold — a quirky gathering of the Eagles’ friends, employees and other business associates in the run-down lobby of the old Lido Hotel, in Hollywood — vividly captures Henley’s image of California as the greatest melting pot in the country. “I wanted a collection of people from all walks of life,” he says. “It’s people on the edge, on the fringes of society”

Photographer Norman Seeff was commissioned to shoot portraits of the band, which were arranged as a gritty black and white fold-out poster montage that was to be inserted in the package. Throughout the package (and the related promotional items), the graphics were carefully coordinated to retain the unique colour and typographic schemes. It was, for its day, a very expensive effort at $60,000

A swirl of rumours greeted the album cover once it hit the stores — including stories that there were supernatural or satanic references buried in the lyrics and in the artwork. Kosh scoffs at those reports but eagerly confirms that there is a mysterious figure on the balcony, visible only on the LP version

“I assume he’s a friendly spirit, because we got the picture and it worked!” says Kosh, laughing. “If he is of the spirit world — which I doubt — he’s benign, so it’s fine by me”

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