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.
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.
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.
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 grâce, 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.
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.
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