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:
– the Eagles didn’t make great albums like contemporary classic rock acts – it makes sense that their best selling album is a compilation. 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 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.
– 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 Eagles’ 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.
The Long Run
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 also shines with his melodic guitar solos.
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 perhaps the least impressive song the band 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.
One Of These Nights
The Eagles were mega-stars by 1975, and 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 – ‘Lyin’ Eyes’ and Meisner’s showpiece ‘Take It To The Limit’ are among the offenders.
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.
On The Border
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 Henley’s gritty vocal on the acoustic ‘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?