1977 Hotel California Was Number One
The Eagles — ‘Hotel California’ was the first album to feature guitarist Joe Walsh, whose playing and songwriting influence brought the band from its more country-leaning efforts towards a more mainstream rock audience.
Designer of some of the most well-known album cover images in history, John Kosh has always appreciated a challenge. When the Eagles’ manager and record label called him looking for an image to convey the new Eagles work he jumped at it.
“I had been designing album covers and promotional material in London for The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Beatles – Abbey Road as well as John Lennon and his – War Is Over campaign.”
The Eagles during ‘Hotel California’ introduced guitarist Joe Walsh to the fold. Walsh brought a heavier rock sound to an album, which won a Grammy in 1977 for Record of the Year. The Eagles were huge, enjoying hit after hit, and the California rock scene was burgeoning. I got to hear an early rendition of their song Hotel California destined to be the first cut on, and the title of, their next album. It was an obvious hit.
“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 favorite.To get the perfect picture, David and I had perched nervously atop a 60-foot 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.”
“Beautiful dye-transfer prints of the chosen frame were made by the great Ted Staidel. I designed and drew out the master Hotel California logo, which was to become the theme of the package and the promotional materials. The script was almost impossible to bend in real neon, and, so, after many experiments, Bob Hickson was commissioned to airbrush the neon effect on the logo — which he did wonderfully — and it was pasted over the Beverly Hills Hotel sign on Ted’s print. The whole piece was then re-photographed, re-printed on the same stock as the original image and retouched to match the grain and hide the surgery.”
“Next we organized the gatefold spread — a photo of the band surrounded by friends in the hotel lobby. This was shot inside a cleverly re-decorated flophouse, called The Lido, in Hollywood by David Alexander. Nobody knows what the sinister figure lurking in the balcony window is doing, or who he is. I assume he must have been a benign spirit as ‘Hotel California’ went platinum immediately.”
“It is interesting to note that I got tangled in the same heated debate with Asylum Records over the using of the band’s name on the cover that I had years earlier with EMI in London. I thought it unnecessary to use the words, The Beatles on ‘Abbey Road,’ considering the album was so eagerly anticipated and they were the biggest band in the world at the time. Such was the case with ‘Hotel California.’ By 1976 the Eagles were the biggest band in the world and eventually only the title, ‘Hotel California’ appeared on the original cover of the album. Subsequently, as the sales of ‘Hotel California’ went through the roof, lawyers for The Beverly Hills Hotel threatened me with a ‘cease and desist’ action — until it was gently pointed out by my attorney that the hotel’s requests for bookings had tripled since the release of the album.”
What an amazing album with a gorgeous cover. There is music history in the making.