Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Appreciating the Eagles: Goodbye Glenn Frey, Don Henley Speaks, the Eagles Album by Album, My Top Ten



Photos courtesy of the Eagles

The world of popular music changed forever and for the better on May 1, 1972 when the Eagles' first single, "Take It Easy" was released. There's been a ton written and said about the Eagles and founding members Glenn Frey and Don Henley since the recent passing of Frey at age 67. This is partially because Frey left us too soon, but mostly because the music of the Eagles has touched so many lives. Henley and Frey have had their detractors over the years, but in the end it all comes down to the music, and the Eagles' music is beloved for good reason; The Eagles Greatest Hits has been one of the largest selling albums of all time since its release in 1976.

Of all the things I've heard and read, two stand out. Henley gave a touching tribute to his musical partner in the Hollywood Reporter, the complete text is shown below. The other tribute that I would like to bring to your attention was written by Charlie Ricci in his blog, Bloggerhythms (be sure to click on the red link "The Dude" in the first sentence).


Glenn Frey (L), Don Henley (R)

This is the text of Don Henley's statement to the Hollywood Reporter (1/18/2016):

"He was like a brother to me; we were family, and like most families, there was some dysfunction. But, the bond we forged 45 years ago was never broken, even during the 14 years that the Eagles were dissolved. We were two young men who made the pilgrimage to Los Angeles with the same dream: to make our mark in the music industry — and with perseverance, a deep love of music, our alliance with other great musicians and our manager, Irving Azoff, we built something that has lasted longer than anyone could have dreamed. But, Glenn was the one who started it all. He was the spark plug, the man with the plan. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music and a work ethic that wouldn't quit. He was funny, bullheaded, mercurial, generous, deeply talented and driven. He loved his wife and kids more than anything. We are all in a state of shock, disbelief and profound sorrow. We brought our two-year 'History of the Eagles Tour' to a triumphant close at the end of July and now he is gone. I'm not sure I believe in fate, but I know that crossing paths with Glenn Lewis Frey in 1970 changed my life forever, and it eventually had an impact on the lives of millions of other people all over the planet. It will be very strange going forward in a world without him in it. But, I will be grateful, every day, that he was in my life. Rest in peace, my brother. You did what you set out to do, and then some."


Don Henley (L), Glenn Frey (R)

Not wishing to repeat what I've seen on so many sites, I think that this would be an excellent time to remember the music of the Eagles. When the Eagles started in 1972, the success of their music, both artistically and commercially, helped them to define the term country-rock. When I think of their early career, I remember one amazing ninety-minute episode of Don Kirshner's Rock Concert television show with half-hour sets by Jackson Browne, The Eagles, and Linda Ronstadt. They had formed as Ronstadt's backing band until they decided to strike out on their own as The Eagles (with Linda's blessing). All the stories, personnel changes, ego issues, etc. are nicely presented in the Showtime documentary, History of the Eagles(now available on DVD and Blu-ray). Beyond the triumphs of songwriting, performance, and production one of the Eagles' greatest strengths was that they could always rock hard with solid guitar work while at the same time creating the best sounding mellow songs with beautiful vocal harmonies. In addition to loving this music, I think I have a special place in my heart for this band because their first half-dozen albums coincided with the time frame of my career as an FM disc jockey.

"Take it Easy" (May 1, 1972) It seems like only yesterday that "Take It Easy" arrived at WECI-FM, my college radio station. It was a promotional 45 (vinyl) on Asylum distributed by Atlantic Records. I can still see the single on the station's turntable as we set the needle down and heard this band for the first time. We were transfixed and had to play it a couple of times. That's all it took. We knew the name Jackson Browne on the writing credit, but Browne did not release his own version until his second album in 1973; Browne's version was the similar, but different.

The Eagles (1972) The first album came out about six weeks after the single which was already climbing the Billboard Hot 100 chart. "Peaceful Easy Feeling" was the song of that summer and the album never strayed far from my turntable. In those days the albums were vinyl and the covers were gloriously big 12" x 12" things of beauty. In this case, there's a gorgeous photograph by Henry Diltz. "Witchy Woman" was the second single and "Peaceful Easy Feeling" followed as the third. The Eagles was recorded in London with producer Glyn Johns. The lineup was Glenn Frey on guitars and vocals, Don Henley on drums and vocals, Randy Meisner on bass and vocals, and Bernie Leadon on guitars, banjo and vocals.

Desperado (1973) The second album was a concept album dealing with outlaws and cowboys of the old west. Neither the two singles nor the album cracked the top forty of their respective charts, but the record was an artistic success nonetheless. "Tequila Sunrise" was a direct descendant of "Peaceful Easy Feeling" and it went down just as easy. "Desperado" became one of the Eagles most iconic tracks with numerous covers by a wide array of artists including Linda Ronstadt, Johnny Cash, Diana Krall, The Carpenters, and even Andy Williams. The album cover was a beautiful dark brown with the photo against a textured matte surface. According to Wikipedia, Desperado is the only Eagles album to feature a photograph of the band on the cover. The lineup is the same as the first album, and likewise, it was recorded in London with producer Glyn Johns.

On The Border (1974) On their third album, the Eagles added lead guitarist Don Felder to the lineup and achieved not only a shift toward a more rock sound, but they also delivered their most consistent album yet. This time they chose Bill Szymczyk to produce; Szymczyk was best known for producing The James Gang and Joe Walsh. There are guitarists aplenty and a set of nearly all rockers, like "Already Gone", "James Dean", and the title track. There are only two mellow songs on the record and they are both giants. Although I had heard Tom Waits before, I think the Eagles' version of "Ol' 55" was the first Waits cover I can remember and I've always thought of it as the definitive version. The other softer song turned out to be their first #1 single, "Best Of My Love", which drove On The Border to double platinum sales. When I think about trying to choose their best album, I always go back and forth between this and Hotel California. The series of beautiful covers continued with watercolor artwork against a white matte background.

One Of These Nights (1975) The Eagles kept the same lineup and producer for their forth album, but One Of These Nights could not have been more different from On The Border. Rather then sounding like parts of a whole, each track on One Of These Nights was a self-contained major production. For me, this album is defined by its three singles (all top five), and "After the Thrill Is Gone". The rest of the album, while sounding good, never gained traction. The title track, "Lyin' Eyes", and "Take It To The Limit" were such successful singles ("One Of These Nights" was their second #1 single), that they brought the Eagles their first #1 album and their first Grammy award, which was for "Lyin' Eyes". One Of These Nights boasted another gorgeous cover, this time the artwork was embossed into a gray and blue watercolor background.

Hotel California (1976) If On The Border was a home run, Hotel California was a grand slam. It was the quintessential Eagles album. The Eagles replaced Bernie Leadon with Joe Walsh on guitars and vocals; and they stayed with producer Bill Szymczyk. The songs were as consistent in their quality as they were varied in their style. They refer to this as a concept album, about urban California. The cover was a beauty, a photograph of the Beverly Hills Hotel at dusk. The year after it came out, when I was visiting the Los Angeles area, as a photographer I had to make a pilgrimage to the shooting site. Hotel California contained two #1 singles, "New Kid in Town" and the title track; the equally iconic "Life in the Fast Lane" was the third single. Hotel California received four Grammy nominations, winning two awards. All this kept the album at #1 for eight weeks and it went on to sell nearly 30 million copies in the U.S.

Please Come Home For Christmas (1978) In 1978 the Eagles released a Christmas single, a cover of Charles Brown's "Please Come Home For Christmas" with the B side track "Funky New Year". This widely covered song is one of my favorites, and because of their popularity the Eagles version has become somewhat definitive. It came out in both 7" and 12" formats and it is notable that it became the first "holiday" single to break the top twenty on Billboard's Hot 100 chart in fifteen years.

The Long Run (1979) For the Eagles sixth studio album they replaced Randy Meisner with Timothy B. Schmit on bass and vocals. The personnel move actually took place earlier before the recording of "Please Come Home For Christmas". They also continued with producer Bill Szymczyk. There is an axiom in popular music that the sales of an album are largely governed by the popularity of the band's previous album, and that would certainly be the case on The Long Run. It debuted at #2 on the Billboard Album Chart, followed by two months at #1 with sales of over seven million copies. The Eagles have said that by the time they made this album their fame, fortune, and egos began to get in the way of the music as long term friendships and musical partnerships began to break down.

Although I love the first three tracks and the last track, I could take or leave the rest making this my least favorite Eagles album. There was nothing wrong with the performances or production of those tracks, it's just that the songwriting left me cold; okay, I'll admit that I did like "Heartache Tonight" better than the other middle tracks. Track one, the title track was, the band has said, their tribute to the city of Memphis. Track two, "I Can't Tell You Why", is one of the Eagles all time best; you will see below that it makes my Eagles top ten. Timothy B. Schmit wrote it with Frey and Henley and delivers a soaring falsetto that not many rock singers could ever touch. Joe Walsh provided track three, "In The City", which is classic Joe Walsh. The album ends with the other track I love, "The Sad Cafe", which is an epic song with a message in the mold of "Wasted Time" and "The Last Resort". The Long Run had three top ten singles including "Heartache Tonight", which went to #1 and won a Grammy Award.

Eagles Live (1980) This is a good news/bad news proposition. The good news is that the Eagles were such good performers that they could play live and have it sound exactly like the record. That is also the bad news. Track one, "Hotel California", is so identical to the studio original that even the dueling guitar solos are note for note the same, which makes live recording kind of pointless. As you'll see below in the comment from Bill Szymczyk, the "fixes" are actually studio overdubs in which the flaws are fixed and the vocals are sweetened. Peter Gabriel took a lot of heat for doing this on his Plays Live album. In my mind, this is cheating; live albums should contain the same music as the audience heard that night, nothing more, nothing less. This practice contributed to the "perfection" of the Eagles' live tracks. Even still, there was much to like on Eagles Live. Some tracks featured guest musicians and backup singers including John David Souther. There were three tracks not contained on any previous Eagles album. The live version of Joe Walsh's "Life's Been Good" with its fiery lead guitars, cuts the Walsh original to shreds. They also do Walsh's "All Night Long." Finally, there was the new track "Seven Bridges Road" which was released as a single and was heavy on the Eagles' vocal harmonies.

According to Wikipedia, Eagles Live was a contractual obligation album, the bulk of which was recorded at a series of concerts at the end of July 1980, and at the conclusion of the last show (7/31/1980) the Eagles broke up. "Eagles Live was mixed by Glenn Frey and Don Henley on opposite coasts, as the two decided they could not stand to be in the same state, let alone the same studio, and as producer Bill Szymczyk put it, the record's three-part harmonies were fixed 'courtesy of Federal Express.'" For all the details of the breakup, watch the documentary, History of the Eagles. There is also a fascinating interview with Szymczyk in Goldmine Magazine.

Hell Freezes Over (1994) The title was based on a 1980 quote from Don Henley stating when the Eagles might get back together. When the Eagles did finally re-form, they went into the studio to record four new originals and they also performed a concert for an MTV special. On the album, the four studio tracks come first. Then Glenn Frey introduces the live concert by saying, "For the record, we never broke up; we just took a 14-year vacation." This album could not have been more different from Eagles Live; it seemed like every track had a fresh interpretation. The most changed was "Hotel California", performed all acoustic with an intro that sounds like an improvised guitar jam. The well-chosen set sounded great, and not just because the band had been away for so long. The one track that didn't originate on an Eagles record was "New York Minute" from Don Henley's The End Of the Innocence solo album; the Eagles did a beautiful rendition with backing from the Burbank Philharmonic Orchestra. Whatever their issues, it was good to have the Eagles back, and this album is a keeper.

Long Road Out of Eden (2007) This is a weird one. To start off, this album was released as a Wal-Mart exclusive, meaning that for the first year it could only be purchased at Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, or the Eagles own website. At face value, this marketing plan had to alienate some of the Eagles' core audience contradicting many of the shared values that were expressed in the music. The album was also self-categorized as "country" even though there was nothing country about it any more than say Hotel California or On The Border; this also seemed to contradict the Eagles long attempt to be considered rock rather than country rock. My personal reaction to the above was that it was caused by either 1) a misguided marketing move or 2) push-back against the Eagles' detractors, or 3) push-back against the now crumbling record industry that didn't know what to do with MP3s or the internet. Perhaps all three factors came into play but looking at the sales figures now at 3.75 million copies sold, I think we might cross off misguided marketing.

In hindsight, it's clear that these were probable indications of a band in trouble. This album felt to me that it never really reached its audience, sales figures not withstanding. I never heard any track from this album on the radio. I was surprised to learn, in researching this article that this album spawned five singles that charted on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart, two of which also scored on the country chart. Also surprising is the news that it had no singles charting on the Billboard Hot 100, the only Eagles album that failed in this regard. Let's review, two singles on the country chart even though the songs were not country at all. No singles on the Hot 100. And for the coup de grĂ¢ce, five singles on the Adult Contemporary Chart, this chart was formerly known as the Easy Listening Chart. There's something decidedly wrong with this picture; the Eagles on the Easy Listening Chart? Yikes.

Although the album took six years to record the pleasures are many on Long Road Out of Eden. It was a double album of all new material, plenty of good songs and good sounding performances. Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit sound more integrated into the band than ever before. In Walsh's case, instead of sounding like Walsh solo tracks with the Eagles singing backup, they sound more like Eagles songs with Walsh singing lead. There was one personnel change on this album; in 2001 the Eagles fired Don Felder. The Eagles are listed as the producer. Over the course of six years, there were numerous co-producers, one of whom was Bill Szymczyk. Long Road Out of Eden received six Grammy nominations and won two awards, one pop, one country.

Various Artists - Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles (1993) Coming out the year before Hell Freezes Over, Common Thread is a country tribute to the Eagles, foreshadowing (or maybe contributing to) the Eagles aligning themselves with country on Long Road Out Of Eden. Considering that popular country music has become no more country than the Eagles were, this is kind of ironic. In any case, Common Thread offers a star-studded lineup, circa 1983, of country artists performing the songs of the Eagles. As an album, it all sounded good; I'm just going to offer some highlights. Vince Gill's falsetto holds its own compared with Timothy B. Schmit's, on "I Can't Tell You Why", and with some sax Gill offers a nice country-jazz interpretation. The pedal steel sounds good on "New Kid In Town" and Trisha Yearwood's pleasing vocal reminds me of Linda Ronstadt. I love Tanya Tucker's "Already Gone"; this is a great kiss-off anthem and rock song and Tucker sings the hell out of it. Brooks and Dunn hew pretty close to the original on "Best Of My Love", but since the original is such a good song, there's nothing wrong with that. The album closes with "The Sad Cafe" by Lorrie Morgan. I love both the song and Morgan's vocal.

It's impossible to write about the last few Eagles albums without dealing with the inevitable back-story of the band, it's members, and its break-up. In David Browne's review of Common Thread in Entertainment Weekly (1993), he had some interesting things to say: "By the time the Eagles plodded on to their last studio album, 1979’s The Long Run (as sleazy, sated, and fascinating as any superstar album ever made), the band members had become humorless millionaires, their arrogance matched only by their self-loathing and contempt. They despised everything they had become and desired—and, hey, so did we. By the late ’70s, a string of inept presidents and frustratingly long gas lines had curdled the American dream; we had grown to hate ourselves and our country. In that sense, the Eagles were a metaphor for our low self-esteem during the tail end of that decade. No wonder we didn’t shed any tears when the band folded at the dawn of the ’80s—they so epitomized an era that their time had simply come and gone."

Coming twenty-seven years after the last studio album, Long Road Out of Eden was considered by the group to be their last album. If we have learned one thing from the Eagles, it's never say never. With the passing of Glenn Frey, the group is down to three members, Henley, Schmid and Walsh. I could see, perhaps, the Eagles re-assembling with longtime co-writer J. D. Souther, or maybe Jackson Browne, or maybe both.

My Eagles Top Ten:


1. Hotel California from Hotel California (1976), written by Don Felder, Don Henley, Glenn Frey

On a dark desert highway
Cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitas
Rising up through the air.

I don't know just what colita's are, but I hope that I'll know them if I ever encounter them.

Up ahead in the distance
I saw a shimmering light
My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim
I had to stop for the night...

The quintessential Eagles song on the quintessential Eagles album.

"Relax, " said the night man,
"We are programmed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave!"


2. Peaceful Easy Feeling from Eagles (1992), written by Jack Tempchin
As soon as I heard this song on my initial spin of the Eagles' first album, I knew I would love this band. "I want to sleep with you in the desert tonight, with a billion stars all around." It doesn't get better than that.


3. The Best Of My Love from On The Border (1974), written by Don Henley, Glenn Frey, J.D. Souther
Not for nothing was this the Eagles' first #1 single. A standout song on every level, it sounded good whether on FM or AM. It sounded especially good to me in a radio set following anything with a cold ending, and then the song segued quite nicely into "Black Water" by the Doobie Brothers. It was also both a sweet love song and a post-mortem on a failed relationship.


4. One Of These Nights from One Of These Nights (1975), written by Don Henley, Glenn Frey
From the rubber band bass intro to the falsetto backing vocal, the appeal of "One Of These Nights" was undeniable. It became the group's second #1 single. I think the secret of its appeal is that it is a great soul song masquerading as country rock. Look no further than the cover version by Keb Mo and you'll hear it plain as day. By the way, I love both versions.
Oo, someone to be kind to
In between the dark and the light.
Oo, coming right behind you,
Swear I'm gonna find you
One of these nights.


5. I Can't Tell You Why from The Long Run (1979), written by Timothy B. Schmit, Glenn Frey, Don Henley
Bassist Timothy B. Schmit brought "I Can't Tell You Why" with him when he joined the Eagles. Henley and Frey helped him finish it, and it was the last Eagles' song to chart on the Billboard Hot 100. Schmit's falsetto vocal is amazing and everything about "I Can't Tell You Why" sounds right.


6. Desperado from Desperado (1973), written by Glenn Frey, Don Henley
Although it was never released as a single, "Desperado" is one of the Eagles most iconic songs. The simple melody accompanied a soulful vocal with genius lyrics like,

Don't your feet get cold in the winter time?
The sky won't snow and the sun won't shine
It's hard to tell the night time from the day
You're losin' all your highs and lows;
Ain't it funny how the feeling goes away?


7. New Kid In Town from Hotel California (1976), written by Don Henley, Glenn Frey, J.D. Souther
I always loved this track from Hotel California, and working on the radio I got to play it often. At the time, I (erroneously) thought that this song had something to do with Jimmy Carter winning the 1976 presidential election. It did fit.


8. Is It True from On The Border (1974), written by Randy Meisner
I love the slide guitar on "Is It True" that comes from an album that is rich with guitar work. I first thought that maybe Joe Walsh was guesting on this track, and I had to look up the credits to learn that it was not Joe after all but Glenn Frey.


9. The Girl From Yesterday from Hell Freezes Over (1974), written by Glenn Frey, Jack Tempchin
Finally a real country song from the Eagles. There were two gems among the four new studio recordings on Hell Freezes Over, this and "Love Will Keep Us Alive". Either one could hold down this spot on my Top Ten, but "The Girl From Yesterday" has such a good lead vocal by Frey that this is the way I'd like to remember him.


10. The Last Resort from Hotel California (1976), written by Glenn Frey, Don Henley
This is an epic Don Henley composition with a great melody and a strong environmental message. Henley says, "The gist of the song was that when we find something good, we destroy it by our presence — by the very fact that man is the only animal on earth that is capable of destroying his environment. ...We have mortgaged our future for gain and greed."
Who will provide the grand design,
What is yours and what is mine?
Cause there is no more new frontier,
We have got to make it here.


Eagles Website

Don Henley's Website
Don Henley's Facebook

Timothy B. Schmit's Website
Timothy B. Schmit's Facebook
Timothy B. Schmit's Twitter

Joe Walsh's Website
Joe Walsh's Facebook
Joe Walsh's Twitter

3 comments:

Sara said...

"My man's got it made
he's gone far beyond the pain
and we who must remain
go on laughing just the same."

Really nice list and tribute, Bill!

Sara said...

"My man's got it made
he's gone far beyond the pain
and we who must remain
go on laughing just the same..."


Great tribute and list, Bill!

Charlie Ricci said...

Fantastic analysis of the Eagles' music. Guess you showed the haters! Also, thanks for the link to my blog.