The Eagles emerged from California in the early 1970s, initially as Linda Ronstadt’s backing band for her album Silk Purse. They were massively successfully, with a string of chart-topping singles and albums. In particular, their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) is one of the highest-selling albums of all time.
It’s appropriate that the Eagles’ most successful release was a singles compilation. Their hit songs are classic rock staples; the twin guitar soloing of ‘Hotel California’, the disco-crossover of ‘One of These Nights’, and sweet country-rock like ‘Best Of My Love’. Meanwhile, their albums aren’t discussed as much as those by contemporaries by Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin. But their albums chart a fascinating journey from the country-rock of the early 1970s to the stadium rock of the late 1970s.
The Eagles had a deep talent pool – the leaders were the Don Henley, whose sandpaper voice graced most of their hits, and Glenn Frey, who wrote sturdy tunes and was a capable multi-instrumentalist. The pair sang together beautifully, and the group’s harmonies are often beautiful. The group had a strong cast of supporting players; 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.
Eagles Albums Ranked From Worst To Best
I’m only ranking the Eagles’ studio albums – their two live albums are inessential. 1980’s Eagles Live houses their magical a capella version of ‘Seven Bridges Road’, while the four new tracks on 1994’s Hell Freezes Over mostly sound like solo projects.
#7 The Long Run
The Eagles had run out of steam by their last 1970s album, and The Long Run contains wretched filler like ‘The Disco Strangler’ and ‘The Greeks Don’t Want No Freaks’. The Long Run starts solidly with the Henley-fronted title track before new bassist Timothy B. Schmitt sweetly croons his way through the R&B flavoured ‘I Can’t Tell You Why’, and Joe Walsh
#6 Long Road Out Of Eden
The lineup of Frey, Henley, Walsh, and Schmitt returned to the studio for the first Eagles album in almost three decades. It’s overly long, but it contains moments of surprisingly strong material. There’s lovely harmonising on ‘No More Walks in the Wood’ and the group sound energised on their cover of vintage J.D. Souther track ‘How Long’. Henley continues a strong tradition of social critique on the title track, and Walsh shines on ‘Last Good Time in Town’.
The Eagles’ 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, 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 the least impressive song the band ever released.
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
The Eagles were mega-stars by 1975, and Henley’s lyrics began to wrestle with questions of fame and decadence. 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 tracks after the first couple of songs – the singles ‘Lyin’ Eyes’ and Meisner’s showpiece ‘Take It To The Limit’ are among the offenders.
#2 Hotel California
The Eagles’ best-known album is similar to One Of These Nights; long-winded songs wrestling with fame and debauchery. Bernie Leadon had left the band and was replaced by James Gang guitarist Joe Walsh. Walsh 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 (the title track, ‘New Kid in Town’, and ‘Life in the Fast Lane’) are sequenced at the start of the record. The rest of the album drags a little with slow tempos and long running times – even the rocker ‘Victim Of Love’ is slow.
#1 On The Border
The Eagles third album is an underrated gem. After Desperado failed to make the top 40, it was the single ‘Best Of My Love’ from On The Border that reached number one and set the Eagles on the path to mega-stardom. It captures the band in a state of flux between their early country-rock and the harder edge of their later work. The single ‘James Dead’ is corny, but there are charming album cuts like the power-pop of Meisner’s ‘Is It True?’, Leadon’s heartfelt Gram Parson’s tribute ‘My Man’, and the inventive country-rock hybrid ‘Midnight Flyer’. Incoming guitarist Don Felder adds punch to ‘Already Gone’ and ‘Good Day In Hell’.
How do you feel about the Eagles? Do you like them enough to have a favourite Eagles album?
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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate both Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Based in Fleet Street (New Zealand), he's been writing this blog since around 2000. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.
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