10 Best Eagles Songs

The four original Eagles played their first gig together at Disneyland, supporting Linda Ronstadt. Starting as a country-rock outfit, they became one of the most commercially successful bands of the 1970s – their 1976 compilation Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975) is one of the highest-selling albums of all time.

The Eagles revolved around the songwriting and vocals of drummer Don Henley and guitarist Glenn Frey, but the band had a lot of talented supporting members too. Guitarists Bernie Leadon, Don Felder, and Joe Walsh all wrote material and provided memorable instrumental parts, while bassists Randy Meisner and Timothy B. Schmit also fronted some of the band’s most loved songs. The Eagles broke up in 1980, but reformed in 1994. They’ve remained a popular live act, even after Frey’s passing in 2016, but all of these songs are drawn from the band’s initial tenure.

It’s worth noting that a lot of my favourite Eagles’ songs venture outside the band’s usual country-rock and guitar rock territory – there’s disco, R&B, and “bluegrass psychedelia” on this list. The list features four of the band’s five US #1 singles, but also a couple of tracks that weren’t included on the 33-track retrospective The Very Best Of.

10 Best Eagles Songs

#10 Too Many Hands

from One of These Nights, 1975
I have a soft spot for many of original bassist Randy Meisner’s songs for the Eagles – his high-pitched, wavering voice is distinctive. ‘Is It True?’ from On The Border is probably a better song, – ‘Too Many Hands’ was co-written by Meisner and guitarist Don Felder – it’s basically a terrific Felder riff married to some dopey Meisner lyrics. Lots of 1960s and 1970s rock bands explored eastern sounds -‘Too Many Hands’ features Henley on tabla.


#9 Best Of My Love

from On The Border, 1974
The Eagles were only moderately successful on their first two albums – it was ‘Best Of My Love’, the final track on 1974’s On The Border, that launched them into megastars. It’s not entirely believable – co-writer Frey later stated that he never had time to devote to serious relationships in the band’s prime, instead feeling like he was married to the Eagles. Nevertheless, Don Henley’s raspy vocal is emotive and effective.


#8 Already Gone

from On The Border, 1974
Guitarist Don Felder only joined the Eagles toward the end of the sessions for their third album, but his guitar licks toughen up the lead single. It was written by outside writers, Robb Strandlund and Jack Tempchin – the latter cowrote a bunch of notable Eagles and Frey solo songs, including ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’ and ‘Smuggler’s Blues’.


#7 Seven Bridges Road

from Eagles Live, 1980
Another cover – ‘Seven Bridges Road’ was written by Steve Young, and the Eagles version is very similar to Ian Matthews’ cover on 1973’s impressive Valley Hi. The record’s producer Michael Nesmith later told Janice Malone; “Son of a gun if…Don [Henley] or somebody in the Eagles didn’t lift [our] arrangement absolutely note for note for vocal harmony…If they can’t think it up themselves [and] they’ve got to steal it from somebody else, better they should steal it…from me I guess.”. Matthews later said “Don Henley had a copy of ‘Valley Hi’ that he liked, so I’ve no doubt about that being where their version of the song came from.” Despite the borrowing, it’s gorgeous – the Eagles’ vocal blend was always impressive, and an important factor in their success.


#6 Desperado

from Desperado, 1973
The Henley and Frey partnership eventually dominated the Eagles – until Frey passed away in 2016, the pair were the band’s only constant members and the pair co-wrote most of the band’s hits. But they didn’t start writing together until the band’s second album – they wrote ‘Tequila Sunrise’ and ‘Desperado’ in their first week as a songwriting team. Henley started writing ‘Desperado’ in 1968 – it was originally a Stephen Foster-style song about a friend named Leo who was moving to London. Surprisingly, the western-flavoured ballad was never released as a single.


#5 Hotel California

from Hotel California, 1976
The Eagles’ most iconic song was written about the dark underside of fame – Henley delivers great lines like “You can check out any time you want/But you can never leave”. The music was largely written by guitarist Don Felder – his demo was appropriately titled ‘Mexican Reggae’. It’s also notable for the guitar duel at the song’s conclusion, as Felder and Walsh trade licks.


#4 Journey of the Sorcerer

from One of These Nights, 1975
Bernie Leadon quit the Eagles after 1975’s blockbuster One of These Nights, pouring a beer over Glenn Frey’s head. But the most notable of his three songs on One of These Nights is the 6-minute instrumental ‘Journey of the Sorcerer’. Leadon’s banjo, David Bromberg’s fiddles, and The Royal Martian Orchestra’s strings combine to create what Rolling Stone described as “bluegrass psychedelia”. ‘Journey of the Sorcerer’ later became the theme music for the radio adaptation of ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’.


#3 One Of These Nights

from One of These Nights, 1975
The band embraced disco on the title track of their 1975 album. Written after listening to Spinners and Al Green, it blends pretty harmonies with rock guitars, and it’s effective – Frey listed it as his favourite Eagles song. There’s a terrific, dramatic introduction, with the ringing guitar chords. There’s a great guitar solo from Felder, while Meisner’s falsetto is prominent in the chorus harmonies and the fadeout.


#2 New Kid In Town

from Hotel California, 1976
Eagles collaborator J.D. Souther wrote the chorus of ‘New Kid in Town’, about the idea that musical artists fall out of favour, supplanted by younger replacements. The band gives the song a lovely Mexican feel, courtesy of Joe Walsh’s loping Fender Rhodes and Randy Meisner’s guitarrón. The closing tag arguably outstays its welcome, but there are some great harmonies at the song’s end.


#1 I Can’t Tell You Why

from The Long Run. 1979
1979’s The Long Run is the sound of a band burnt out, full of cynical songs like ‘The Disco Strangler’ and ‘The King of Hollywood’. But band’s new recruit, bassist Timothy B. Schmit, fronts the smooth R&B of ‘I Can’t Tell You Why’. It’s largely written by Frey, who also plays the lovely guitar solos. Frey was from Detroit, Michigan, and was an R&B aficionado.

Did I miss out your favourite Eagles song?

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40 Comments

  1. Great list!

    I love that you have “desperado” and “already gone” and not “the long run” or “heartache tonight” on it.

    I like “Lyin Eyes” and “take it to the limit” and also “take it easy”, but whatever.

    I mainly like that you don’t have “hotel California “ at no 1 which many people might have done.

    • I hate Heartache Tonight – feels really forced. I burned out a little on ‘Lyin’ Eyes’ and ‘Take It To The Limit’ – I find them both a bit long and slow. ‘Take It Easy’ was in the mix though.

  2. 10. Best of My Love – always liked this tune. Made the mistake of singing a karaoke version on a cruise once.
    9. James Dean – A good rocker
    8. Take it to the Limit – Great vocals
    7. Lyin’ Eyes – ditto
    6. Already Gone – You’ll have to eat your lunch all by yourself
    5. Life in the Fast Lane – When driving with a drug dealer, Frey asked him to slow down. “Life in the fast lane,” he responded
    4. Victim of Love – Crunchy, bluesy
    3. Ol’ 55 – A Tom Waits song. I love the way they do it.
    2. On the Border – So funky.
    1, Hotel California – No other choice. The perfect song. A masterpiece.

    • Thanks for sending in your list. I like that you have those On The Border deep cuts in there – it’s my favourite Eagles album and Ol’ 55 and the title track are both pretty close to top 10 for me. We both have lists that are dominated by the three albums between 1974 and 1976 – I think they’re interesting when they’re not quite a country band but still have a bunch of country in their DNA.

      Have you heard the story about the manager taking Don Felder out to lunch so Henley could sing lead on Victim of Love?

      • Yeah. I actually read Felder’s autobiography. He wasn’t treated well by those guys. In the documentary about them on Showtime, Henley repeatedly refers to him as Mr. Felder, very dismissively.

  3. Don’t think anyone could argue with anyone else’s choice of Top 10 – so much to choose from. For me, Desperado would be towards the top, and I have to say, ‘The Last Resort’ would right up there too. (Just prompted me listen to the whole 7 minutes of that one again, right there.) 🙂

    • Yeah, I like The Last Resort a lot – Henley’s a really good lyricist, and that’s an interesting subject for a rock song.

  4. I have a difficult relationship with them. I was burnt out on them and then I made a mistake reading the Felder book and watching their documentary…but…I do recognize they were great songwriters and vocalists.
    My #1 would be Take It To The Limit because of Meisner’s voice. James Dean would make it also.
    I do like Journey of the Sorcerer…that is really cool.

    I just went back through my reader. I still don’t see this post. I got here by manually searching for you. I’m going to unfollow you and re-follow and see if it helps.

    • Yeah, I have that complex relationship too. I don’t actually own many of their albums because they’re burned into my brain from when I was a teen.

      Have you heard Meisner’s Eagles song ‘Is It True?’ It’s not miles away from #1 Record-era Big Star.

        • I don’t think they’re a great album band to the degree of someone like The Beatles or Led Zep – but they have lots of interesting people in the band like Leadon and Meisner who didn’t feature on the singles (apart from Meisner on Take it to the Limit).

          • I gained a new respect for Leadon from the Felder book…and Meisner has a great voice.
            I’m still surprised about the Meisner song…

          • I knew another power pop fan online about twenty years ago who used to enthuse about ‘Is It True’. Hits that mid-1960s Beatles sound.

  5. Great list! I know some of our fellow bloggers have mixed feelings about the Eagles. I dislike Don Henley’s over-the-top protective behavior about his/their music and they go after “violators.” One of my musician friends was kicked off YouTube for posting a clip during which he gave a guitar lesson for an Eagles song. I once received a real-time message while recording an Eagles tribute band on Facebook Live, cheerfully telling me this content was copyrighted. With that being said, I love many Eagles songs. I also think their harmony singing is outstanding.

    I knew all except two tunes on your list (“Too Many Hands” and “Journey of the Sorcerer”) and like all of your picks. My spontaneous list would look something like the following. Except for “Hotel California”, “Already Gone” and “Life in the Fast Lane”, which would be my no. 1, no. 2 and no. 3, respectively, the songs aren’t ranked:
    – Hotel California
    – Already Gone
    – Life in the Fast Lane
    – Take It Easy
    – Desperado
    – Best of My Love
    – One of These Nights
    – Lyin’ Eyes
    – I Can’t Tell You Why
    – Heartache Tonight

    • I have mixed feelings about them too – they have some amazing assets like great harmonies, Our lists are ballpark similar really. I like Life in the Fast Lane – it’s not far outside my top ten.

  6. I don’t dislike country rock as a sub-genre but can’t say The Eagles are interesting enough to listen to – proficient, commercial and very dull.
    Exceptions include One of these Nights with its great loping bass line, the bloated sludgy folk rock with melodramatic lyrics that is Hotel California and the precision turned waltz Desperado. Maybe Take It Easy as well.
    But New Kid in Town – really? I lived for a year above an Eagles fan who played NKIT too loud, too many times for me ever to endure it willingly in this life or any other. The dullest bass line ever and the song just dies on its feet minutes before it finally mercifully expires. Now I lived in a bedsit next to a guy who tried to play Clap from the Yes Album every night and I never got tired of that, even applauding when he got beyond 40 seconds or so! But NKIT never, ever again ever……

    • I think the tag on New Kid in Town goes on for too long, but I think that last chorus has my favourite Eagles harmonies. Walsh’s electric piano is my favourite part of the arrangement.

  7. Not my favorite group. But the quiet country songs are pretty nice. So my choice is Desperado. And Tequila Sunrise is lovely too. Clearly I prefer early Eagles.

    • Excellent song! If we are going there, it changes everything.

      Walsh – In the City and Life’s Been Good to me (so far)
      Henley- End of the innocence, Boys of Summer, etc
      Frye – pass (Beverly Hills cop?).

      These songs are more enjoyable than 90 percent of the band’s songs. Clearly Frye (RIP) needed the collaboration of his colleagues more than Henley and Walsh did. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

      • Yeah, I think Walsh and Henley both have some really good solo stuff. Walsh has Rocky Mountain Way, Funk #49, Turn to Stone as well. In the City clearly counts as an Eagles song though.

    • It would have been good to shoehorn a Walsh song in – he only really recorded three songs for the Eagles in studio albums and they’re all pretty good. The riff to Life in the Fast Lane is his best known contribution.

      • It’s all a matter of personal taste – good or bad- as you know.

        I think HC is amongst the most overrated albums of all time. I hate NKIT and LITFL , and not so sure about the title track, actually. What are the other songs on the album ??? Name one, Without looking it up.
        …..

        I love the early Eagles!

        I also love the Joe Walsh and Don Henley solo stuff.

        • I can name them all – Wasted Tine, Wasted Time Reprise, Pretty Maids all in a Row, Victim of Love, Last Resort, Try and Love Again. But mainly because it was among the earliest albums I owned.

          • I do agree it’s on the weak side for a classic album. Both it and One of these Nights generally have strong material but have too many long, slow songs. On The Border is my favourite Eagles album – a bit more energy.

  8. Two of my favourite covers from recent years are:

    The Ataris cover of Henley s “boys of summer” and Alien Ant Farms cover of MJs “smooth criminal”. Both faster and edgier than the originals. So, not for everyone.

    If you like mellower, cover try Ryan Adams cover Taylor Swifts “Bad Blood”. It’s excellent

  9. Oh wow, what a top 10! “I Can’t Tell You Why deserves its lofty position. Not sure its my number one. I’ll have to get back to you on this with maybe my top 10. Eagles are one of my fav bands of all time.

    • They’re an interesting band – lots of talented people passed through. Interested to see your top ten.

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