Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the Eagles. They are one of the most popular and best selling groups of the rock era- universally known but not universally loved. It has become cool to hate this band- whether it’s from radio over saturation of their many hits, their lite-rock sound (more on that later), their two main leaders (Don Henley and Glenn Frey) coming off as money hungry dicks, or fictional character ‘Dude’ hating on them in “The Big Lebowski”. Credit my friend Rich Kamerman, who writes an excellent music blog ( http://kamertunesblog.wordpress.com ) for posing the question recently on his Facebook page. Is there really any good reason to hate this band or their music or it is just a hipster affectation?
The Eagles are not even close to being one of my favorite bands. If you check my hundreds of chronological mixes only a handful of their songs have managed to make it on to any of them (most of them make my top five Eagles songs below). That said I love many of their songs and just about every song on both of their top selling greatest hits albums are as familiar to me as a cold drink of water. I suspect many of you feel the same. You have to try hard not to have heard these songs. But their discography is a bit difficult. Other than probably 1976’s “Hotel California”, the Eagles never made a classic album. The important part of their discography was between 1972 and 1979. Six albums. None of them bad, but only “Hotel California” is anywhere close to a masterpiece. The Eagles are a singles band during the album rock era. Each of their albums contains at least a few duds and mediocrities and there aren’t a ton of hidden gems to be found on any of them, tough there are a few. For the most part their best songs are the singles and there are roughly three to be found on each of their albums and nearly all of them are on either best of volume 1 (covering 1972-75) or best of volume 2 (covering “Hotel California” and “The Long Run” + 1 live track). The thing is that every track on both of those ‘best ofs’ is a winner. This isn’t a band with only 5 or 6 great songs. I may be sick to death of songs like “Take It Easy” or “The Best Of My Love” but that doesn’t mean they aren’t great songs. Their first best of album is the top selling album of all time- that happened for a reason.
Now on to that lite-rock sound. The Eagles didn’t really pioneer a sound, but they did capture the zeitgeist of the time by taking the country rock sound of late 60’s groups like the International Submarine Band, the Flying Burrito Brothers and the Byrds (all not coincidentally featuring Gram Parsons who really was instrumental in pioneering the sound) and making it for mass consumption by taking the southern twang and turning it to a radio-friendly and countrypolitan. It didn’t hurt that the Eagles had three different singers who could sing lead vocals, while the group could harmonize like the Beach Boys or the Everly Brothers. It’s notable how much the Eagles changed their sound in 8 short years. Their first three albums (The Eagles, Desperado & On The Border) don’t stray much from the L.A. country-rock sound though these three albums are hardly made up of just harmony-filled ballads. Tracks like the aforementioned “Take It Easy”, while hardly hard rock, has quite a pulse and “Already Gone” and “James Dean” from “On The Border” both do qualify as rave-ups. My favorite track from this era, though is the Glenn Frey-sung “Tequila Sunrise” from “Desperado”, which I think best captures their beautiful harmonies, mellow vibe and decadence of L.A. in the early seventies. Similar Frey tracks like “Lyin’ Eyes” (actually from the slightly later album “One Of These Nights”) and “Peaceful Easy Feeling” just missed the cut.
The Eagles fourth album in 1975, “One Of These Nights”, was their most successful album yet and aside from cuts like “Lyin’ Eyes”, it was more heavily produced than their previous albums moving away from country twang and even experimenting with the disco sound which was beginning to sweep the nation with the great title track. The ballad “Take It To The Limit” made the top ten on the top 40 charts (along with the title cut) and was sung by the high-pitched Randy Meisner. It was the first Eagles A side not sung by Henley or Frey. 1976’s “Hotel California” became their best and most popular album and arguably made them the biggest rock band in the country. The title track is almost certainly the Eagles signature and best known song. I know it has been played to death, but not including it among their top five would feel like a joke. Try remembering how much you loved it the first time you heard it. It’s up there in the untouchable epic classic rock canon along with “Free Bird” and “Stairway To Heaven”. The song features a reggae beat and then a long interplay between the bands two lead guitarists Don Felder and Joe Walsh, who had recently joined the Eagles from the hard rock group the James Gang and was instrumental in providing the group with their heaviest tunes, including other great cuts like “Victim Of Love” & “Life In The Fast Lane” & then later “In The City” which Walsh took lead vocals on. “Hotel California’s” mysterious lyrics, along with “Fast Lane”, captured the dark undercurrent of the hedonistic baby boomers. Southern California (Hotel California) stood in for American society at large and underneath all of the good times and parties, there were the dark specters of drug addiction, divorce and death.
The Eagles took nearly three years to follow up their biggest album, which back then was a huge amount of time. Their final album before their breakup was the unfairly maligned “The Long Run”. It may not measure up in quality to “Hotel California”, but like all of their other albums it contains three big hits, one or two hidden gems and some filler. By all accounts the recording of the album did not go well and helped lead to the bands split. Randy Meisner had left the band, and they brought in similar voiced Timothy B. Schmidt from the group Poco. He took lead vocals on #8 hit “I Can’t Tell You Why”, which has always been my favorite Eagles ballad. First single “Heartache Tonight” was the Eagles last #1 hit and the title cut (which definitely would make my top ten Eagles songs) made it to the top ten as well.
So there you have it. My top five Eagles songs. Five songs sung by four different lead vocalists within one band- and that doesn’t even count Joe Walsh- pretty impressive if you ask me. Do you agree or disagree with my choices? Do you love, like, respect or hate this group? If you hate them do you deny that they have some great songs?
TEQUILA SUNRISE (1973) “FROM DESPERADO”
Buy Tequila Sunrise Amazon
ONE OF THESE NIGHTS (1975) “FROM ONE OF THESE NIGHTS”
Buy One Of These Nights Amazon
TAKE IT TO THE LIMIT (1975) FROM “ONE OF THESE NIGHTS”
Buy Take It To The Limit Amazon
HOTEL CALIFORNIA (1976) FROM “HOTEL CALIFORNIA”
Buy Hotel California Amazon
I CAN’T TELL YOU WHY (1979) FROM “THE LONG RUN”
Buy I Can’t Tell You Why Amazon