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Eagles: Worst to Best

The Eagles arouse more mixed feelings in me than any other band I can think of. Emerging in the early 1970s, initially as Linda Ronstadt’s backing band for her album Silk Purse, the Californian-based band were massively successfully, with a string of chart topping singles and albums; in particular their first Greatest Hits record is one of the highest selling albums of all time.

Arguments for the Prosecution:
– they didn’t make great albums like their contemporaries. They had the huge sales and stadium tours, but they didn’t have the quality output to go with it.
– the band’s early sound was a watered-down, commercialised take on the sound of country-rock pioneers like Gram Parsons.
– the band’s late sound (on 1979’s The Long Run) was sterile and boring.
– the band’s two leaders both had significant weaknesses. Don Henley was an excellent vocalist, with his distinctive sand-papery voice, and a thoughtful lyricist, but a boring drummer. Glenn Frey was a good tune-smith and utility musician, but his vacuous Californian frat-boy persona is in the forefront on irritating tracks like ‘Chug All Night’ and ‘Heartache Tonight’.

Arguments for the Defense:
– excellent supporting parts – Don Felder and Joe Walsh are excellent guitarists, and Randy Meisner and Timothy B. Schmitt are strong bassists and vocalists. Early member Bernie Leadon could play country licks on anything with strings.
– excellent harmonies – Henley and Frey sang together beautifully.
– their records are professionally recorded and produced, and still sound great.
– despite overplay, some of their singles hold up very well – in particular I’m still not tired of ‘One of These Nights’, ‘New Kid in Town’, ‘Desperado’, or Felder and Walsh’s guitar duel at the conclusion of ‘Hotel California’.

Eagles Albums Ranked From Worst To Best

I’ve only covered the band’s six studio albums from the 1970s. I’ve never bothered with their reunion studio album, 2007’s Long Road Out Of Eden, while I’ve heard both of the band’s live albums, 1980’s Eagles Live and 1994’s Hell Freezes Over, and they’re both fun for fans, but not particularly essential.

#6 – The Long Run

eagles-the-long-run1979
The Eagles had run out of steam by their last 1970s album, and The Long Run has filler like ‘The Disco Strangler’ and ‘The Greeks Don’t Want No Freaks’. It also sounds bland, with the last vestiges of their country sound gone. The Long Run does contain one of the band’s very best songs – new bassist Timothy B. Schmitt sweetly croons his way through the R&B flavoured ‘I Can’t Tell You Why’, while Frey contributes some melodic guitar solos.


#5 – Eagles

eagles-eagles1972
The band’s debut album effectively melds the soft-rock and country-rock trends of the early 1970s, spawning the mellow hits ‘Take It Easy’ and ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’. The band’s at their most democratic here, as the dominant axis of Don Henley and Glenn Frey wasn’t yet established, and all four members share equal billing. It’s their least coherent album – the Bernie Leadon and Don Henley composition ‘Witchy Woman’ is spooky and excellent, but Frey’s ‘Chug All Night’ is perhaps the most horrendous song the band ever released.


#4 – Desperado

eagles-desperado1973
The band’s sophomore effort was a concept album, equating the Eagles with wild west outlaws. Henley stated later that “the metaphor was probably a little bullshit. We were in L.A. staying up all night, smoking dope, living the California life, and I suppose we thought it was as radical as cowboys in the old West.” It failed to meet the moderate success of its predecessor, although Henley and Frey’s first compositions, ‘Tequila Sunrise’ and the title track, are among the band’s best loved tracks. It’s still inconsistent, but Leadon’s mournful ‘Bitter Creek’ is one of the band’s best deep cuts.


#3 – One Of These Nights

eagles-one-of-these-nights1975
The Eagles were mega-stars by 1975, and some of Henley’s lyrics were beginning to wrestle with questions of fame. The band take on disco on the excellent title track, while Leadon’s instrumental ‘Journey of the Sorcerer’ was later used as the theme music for The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy. But while most of the individual songs are strong, the album gets bogged down in slow tempos and long running times after the first couple of tracks – the singles ‘Lyin’ Eyes’ and Meisner’s showpiece ‘Take It To The Limit’ are among the offenders.


#2 – Hotel California

eagles-hotel-california1976
The Eagles best known album is similar in shape to One Of These Nights, with long-winded songs wrestling with questions of fame and debauchery. Bernie Leadon had left the band, and was replaced by James Gang guitarist Joe Walsh, who supplied the muscular guitar riff for ‘Life In The Fast Lane’ and moved the band further away from their country roots. The three big hits are all at the start, and the rest of the album is more mellow – even the rocker ‘Victim Of Love’ is slow. Speaking of ‘Victim Of Love’, there’s a charming story where the song’s main writer, Don Felder, was scheduled to sing lead vocals, but was taken out to lunch by the group’s manager, while Henley completed the lead vocal behind his back.


#1 – On The Border

eagles-on-the-border1974
On The Border is my favourite Eagles record because it captures the band in a state of flux between their early country sound and the more mainstream rock of their later work. It’s their most energetic work, and if there are throwaways like the Jackson Browne written ‘James Dean’, there are charming album cuts like the almost power-pop of Meisner’s ‘Is It True?’, Leadon’s Gram Parson’s tribute ‘My Man’, and the country/rock hybrid ‘Midnight Flyer’. New guitarist Don Felder adds punch to ‘Already Gone’ and ‘Good Day In Hell’, while the Henley sung ‘The Best Of My Love’ took the group to mega-stardom.

How do you feel about the Eagles? Do you like them enough to have a favourite Eagles album?

16 thoughts on “Eagles: Worst to Best Leave a comment

  1. I really dig the Eagles for combining great melodies with harmony singing that I feel can compete with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, which is perhaps the best band when it comes to harmony vocals. In general, I’m more drawn to their rock-oriented phase with Joe Walsh, who may be a bit nuts but undoubtedly is a kick-ass guitarist.

    I feel with every band you have songs that vary in quality, even when to comes to my favorite band of all time, The Beatles. Revolution 9? 🙂

    Except for “Hotel California,” which I have on vinyl and which because of the title song and “Life In The Fast Lane” already makes it one of the best 70s records in my book, I haven’t fully explored the other Eagles albums from first song to last.

    I like pretty much all of the tunes from their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) and Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 compilations. I feel that’s plenty of material and plenty of reason to dig this band. I was also fortunate to see them live once in 2015 – one of the last shows with Glenn Frey. It was definitely one of the most memorable concerts I’ve been to.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Beatles do have a couple of albums where every song is strong though – I think Sgt Peppers and Revolver are both solid all the way through. The Eagles feel like a second tier album band to me – kind of like The Doobie Brothers or something – but who got top tier fame and popularity. They’re more of a singles band, and it’s fair enough that their highest selling album is a compilation.

      I’d pick The Beach Boys as the best harmony band. So many beautiful individual voices, especially Carl.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Can’t say I’ve really bothered much with The Eagles. Used to spin a couple of those albums in the record shop in the 70s, but wasn’t really tempted to take them home.

    Having said that, I like a couple of the hits (though not with you on ‘New Kid’, eetch! Sorry!), some of Joe Walsh’s contributions, and love ‘Journey of the Sorcerer’, Bernie Leadon’s instrumental that I first heard as the theme music for ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ radio series (as you pointed out above).

    And just to demonstrate the inconsistency that often permeates such off the cuff responses, I have a great big soft spot for ‘Peaceful easy feeling’. So there.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I like New Kid a lot, even if that final tag goes on for way too long. Feels like their later, sharper lyrics married to their early sound. I love Felder’s guitar near the end, and Walsh’s Fender Rhodes, and the lyrics are about Springsteen.

      Doesn’t surprise me that Journey would be your favourite Eagles track, and that you’re not a huge fan over all. I went through a really mainstream phase in my early teens where the only music I knew was on mainstream retro radio, and that’s where I got to know stuff like Billy Joel and the Eagles. My tastes got more adventurous once I got the internet in my late teens.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Makes sense. They were all over FM radio — for the first time!! — in the 70s, hence my reasonable level of exposure and perhaps why (this revealed with a slight wince) The Eagles DO appear on the VC shelves. Hotel, Nights, a Best of and a 2 CD boot from their 90s superannuation tour. Amazing what you find when you look. I’m going to spin HC now as penance and sing along (I expect) to most of it.
        Cheers Graham!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. The only record I ever purchased by the Eagles was the “Already Gone” 45. So I will defer to your worst-to-best judgement, which seems pretty sound. They are the ultimate pros and cons band, I agree with Vinyl Connection about having a soft spot for “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” I thought it kind of ironic when the Eagles-hating Dudein “The Big Lebowski” got kicked out of a taxi for asking the cabbie to change the station when he heard that. That’s their tune that I always turn up!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve looked at a bunch of lists by other people and they’re all over the place – there’s not a whole lot of consensus. To my ears it seems obvious that they improved as Henley and Frey took charge and once they got Felder on board, but there’s little agreement on what albums are best, although Hotel California is generally liked and The Long Run often regarded as one of their weaker efforts.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Look man, I had a rough night and I hate the f):$:n Eagles

    That said I dislike the mellow lost hippie in 1973 LA vibe of the early big hit singles and like the rock phase with Walsh and Felder dueling guitars.

    Im not sure if I like or admire Henly as a person but he’s written a few of the best songs of the 80’s as a solo artist.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I’m with The Dude. Just never liked them. You hit the nail on the head… commercialised and watered down. But, that said, I do enjoy some of Joe Walsh’s contributions.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I like that +/- look at the different sides of The Eagles debate.
    I find I’m typically neither pro or con, with the odd exception, beyond admiring their technical proficiency as musicians, I tend to be indifferent to the actual music!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I must say I agreed wholeheartedly with your appraisal, I feel I almost have to be positive about the band and that takes a bit of a dive if I actually have to listen to them. Their music to me conjures up parched lawns and interminable school holidays listening to Radio 1. There’s a fantastic beginning to that very long documentary about them where they just launch into a seemingly spontaneous accapela number and my jaw hit the floor, compensates for the dull drumming.

    Liked by 1 person

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