Don Henley Album Reviews

Don Henley emerged as the primary lead singer of the Eagles. He was nicknamed “Golden Throat”, and fronted their breakthrough hit ‘Best of My Love’ and their signature song ‘Hotel California’. When the Eagles split acrimoniously in 1980, Henley went solo.

Introduction

Henley’s cynical lyrics were a natural fit for the 1980s, and he prospered with hits like ‘Dirty Laundry’ and ‘Boys of Summer’. His albums aren’t as strong as his singles, and you can boil down his solo career to ten key tracks without missing too much. He’s supported by musicians like Danny Kortchmar, Mike Campbell, and Stan Lynch.

Henley also enjoyed substantial hits as a duet partner. Stevie Nicks‘ ‘Leather and Lace’ reached #6 on the Billboard charts in 1981, while Patty Smyth’s ‘Sometimes Love Ain’t Enough’ hit #2 in 1992.

Don Henley Album Reviews

I Can’t Stand Still

1982, 6/10
I Can’t Stand Still is a weird debut album where a key cog of a successful band isn’t sure of their solo direction. Henley’s mainly notable as a vocalist and lyricist, so he needs a collaborator. His main collaborator here is guitarist Danny Kortchmar, previously a sideman for James Taylor.

His solo debut goes in some unexpected directions. There are generic bluesy rockers like ‘You Better Hang Up’ and ‘Them And Us’, not Henley’s strongest suit. There’s also an unexpectedly tender piano ballad, ‘Talking To The Moon’. It’s one of the best songs on the record, but it’s conspicuously out of place on a Henley solo album. There are also detours into folk and gospel, like the brief instrumental of ‘La Eile’ and the gospel of ‘The Unclouded Day’.

Henley’s most effective with new wave sounds and topical lyrics. ‘Dirty Laundry’ is the best track here, and the most accurate predictor of Henley’s future direction. It’s based on a Steve Porcaro keyboard groove, with Jeff Porcaro on drums and Joe Walsh and Steve Lukather supplying guitar solos. Henley fires off biting lines about tabloids like “it’s interesting when people die/Give us dirty laundry”. ‘Johnny Can’t Read’ is similar, bemoaning the state of the American education system.

I Can’t Stand Still is surprisingly undisciplined for Henley, and it’s a mixed bag.


Building the Perfect Beast

1984, 7.5/10
Henley refined his approach with his second solo album. It’s less scattershot but it’s weaker than stellar singles like ‘Boys of Summer’ and ‘Sunset Grill’ would suggest. It seems like a squandering of the talent that Henley assembled.

Henley has members of Toto and Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers supporting him, as well as Belinda Carlisle, Lindsey Buckingham, and Randy Newman.

The album is mainly appealing for its singles. The guitar part for ‘Boys of Summer’ was written by Mike Campbell, who gave it to Henley after Tom Petty rejected it. It’s magical, picking apart the baby boomer dream with elegance. “I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac/A little voice inside my head said “Don’t look back, you can never look back”.

‘Sunset Grill’ is another strong track, again tapping into regretful nostalgia. ‘All She Wants to Do is Dance’ was written entirely by Kortchmar, but it fits Henley perfectly, with a great groove. The title track, with its electronic textures and lyrics about genetic engineering, is perhaps the weirdest moment in Henley’s catalogue.

Building the Perfect Beast isn’t as good as the singles suggest, but it’s solid enough.


The End of the Innocence

1989, 8/10
Henley’s third album took almost half a decade to appear. But it was an impressive effort, hitting the top ten and featuring guests as diverse as Axl Rose and Wayne Shorter. It’s overreliant on bluesy Kortchmar riffs on the lesser tracks, but it has more great tracks than any other Henley solo record.

In particular, the title track, with Bruce Hornsby on piano and Shorter on soprano saxophone, is one of Henley’s finest solo tracks. It’s another nostalgic look at a rosier past. But it’s thoughtful rather than condescending. He’s also effective on the acoustic ballads ‘The Heart of the Matter’ and ‘The Last Worthless Evening’, showcasing his rasp-tinged voice. ‘New York Minute’ has an effective chorus, while Axl Rose enlivens the bluesy ‘I Will Not Go Quietly’.

The End of the Innocence marked the end of Henley’s run as a creatively relevant artist. His next record would be a reunion with the Eagles.


Actual Miles: Henley’s Greatest Hits

1995, 8.5/10
Henley’s a good candidate for boiling down to a single-disc compilation. So this is probably all the Henley a casual fan needs. Appropriately it features one of the smarmiest album covers ever, with Henley posing as a used-car dealer.

The ten tracks hone in unerringly on Henley’s best work from his first three solo albums. It’s augmented by three worthy new tracks. ‘Everybody Knows’ is a suitably cynical Leonard Cohen cover. ‘The Garden of Allah’ is solo Henley’s stab at a Grand Artistic Statement, a la ‘Hotel California’. It’s an allegory of the devil coming to corrupt America and feeling superfluous. “It’s so low-down I can’t stand it/I guess my work around here has all been done.” It features Sheryl Crow, who provided backing vocals on End of the Innocence before she became famous.

Actual Miles is probably the only solo Henley you’ll ever need.


Inside Job

2001, 5/10
Henley took a long gap before his fourth album, reuniting with the Eagles for lucrative tours. Whereas many boomer artists enjoyed success and respect in the late 1980s, I never heard any of Henley’s 2001 songs on the airwaves.

While Henley’s 1980s work still has some edge, by 2001 he’d married and had a family. It’s jarring to hear the prickly Henley sing odes to domesticity like ‘Annabel’ and ‘For My Wedding’.

It’s bloated, with 13 songs stretching over 70 minutes. And like most aging pop/rock artists, Henley’s melodic ability has diminished. His attempts to tap into a modern pop/hip-hop sound in ‘The Genie’ are embarrassing.

Henley’s most effective when he taps into political and environmental bile, like ‘Goodbye to a River’ and the title track. The intense austerity of ‘Damn It, Rose’, about a friend’s suicide, is the most memorable track.

Inside Job has its moments, but its overly numerous tracks are too long and uninspired.

10 Best Don Henley Solo Songs

Boys of Summer
The End of the Innocence
Dirty Laundry
The Heart of the Matter
Sunset Grill
The Last Worthless Evening
All She Wants to Do is Dance
New York Minute
The Garden of Allah
Talking To The Moon

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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person. It features album reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.

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Graham Fyfe has been writing this website since his late teens. Now in his forties, he's been obsessively listening to albums for years. He works as a web editor and plays the piano.

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