The Truth About The Eagles' Hotel California Album Art

On several occasions throughout the 70-plus-year history of rock 'n' roll, an album's cover art has been as talked-about — or even more so –- as the album itself. For example, Led Zeppelin's "Houses of the Holy" and The Scorpions' "Virgin Killer" both feature nude children, while the Beatles' "Yesterday and Today" features baby dolls in various poses, splashed in blood.

The cover art for the Eagles' 1976 album "Hotel California" features neither nude children nor images of violence, yet has itself been talked about for nearly five decades. The shot of a Spanish Colonial building in fading light has a sort of menace to it, which was the intention of art designer Kosh, as Louder Sound reports. Similarly, for decades, rumors have circulated that one of the people on the back cover of the album is Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey (per Britannica); while that is not true, according to Snopes, the rumored presence of Old Scratch has helped contribute to the album's mystique.

In fact, the album and its cover art were intended, from the beginning, to convey the decadence and emptiness of the Southern California lifestyle of the day. That it conveys an image of menace, however slight, was also intended from the beginning.

Creating a fantasy

As Louder Sound reports, when the Eagles were putting together the pieces that would become "Hotel California" (the album), Don Henley was thinking about the artwork. The musician wanted the visuals to convey "faded glory, loss of innocence and decadence." British art director Kosh, who had previously worked with the Beatles (he designed the famous cover art for "Abbey Road"), took the assignment and ran with it. "Don wanted me to find and portray the Hotel California -– and portray it with a slightly sinister edge," he said.

That brought him and another photographer to the Beverly Hills Hotel, and the two men then sat in a cherry picker, 60 feet above the city streets, waiting for the exact moment when the sun and the hotel lined up perfectly. So convincing was the shot that even people who had been to the hotel –- which in normal circumstances is bright and airy and inviting –- didn't recognize it. "We were in the business of creating fantasies. And that's what it is," he said.

As for the back cover: That was taken at a completely different LA-area location (a flophouse at the time known as The Lido, according to Feel Numb). The people are merely friends of the band and contrary to rumor, none of them include Anton LaVey. Indeed, as Snopes reports, the figure widely believed to be the famed Satanist was actually a woman.