Reviewed on this page:
Silk Purse - Eagles - Desperado - On The Border - One Of These Nights - Hotel California - The Long Run
As DBW says, "The Eagles got their bad rep the old fashioned way: they earned it." For a long stretch through the 70s, one could hardly turn on a radio without hearing yet another soft-rock schmaltz-a-thon by the masters of citified country balladeering. As a result of having such massive success, the band still inspires bipolar reactions. Some of us consider them the ultimate in hedonistic, coke-crazed 70s AOR, summarizing everything that was wrong with that decade. Others think of them fondly as intelligent, tightly practised, and beautifully harmonized, not to mention clean-cut.
I actually do like the Eagles, but I'm covering them here mostly because of their connection to Poco, one of the first and (for a brief moment) best LA country-rock groups. Both Randy Meisner (the Eagles' charter bass player) and his replacement Tim Schmit were recruited from that band, with each of them contributing substantially to the Eagles' sound as singers and songwriters. Of course, lead vocalist Don Henley and his songwriting collaborator Glenn Frey did dominate the group throughout its existence, generating most of the hits in addition to serving as its only constant members. But on top of this, off-and-on guitarists Bernie Leadon, Don Felder, and ex-James Gang leader Joe Walsh were also all singers and songwriters. Whatever else you might think of them, then, you've got to grant that the band's sheer volume of talent was simply amazing.
I'll say another thing for the Eagles: much of their success was premised on their acidly self-conscious lyrics, which condemned the empty, self-indulgent California social scene that the band found itself mired in. They might have been sell-outs, but they were also way too smart to just sit back and enjoy it without complaining. And no one can argue with their their consistent commercial triumphs and the meticulous effort they put into recording their albums.
If you're planning to flame me over the harsh comments I've made about these guys, don't bother; there's a flame writer's FAQ you should consult instead. And I'm already well aware that the many serious Eagles fans react to this page as if it's complete heresy - even though, as I said, I do like the band.
The semi-offical Eagles web site includes all the standard trimmings, but unfortunately it's cluttered with too many pictures. A better option might be the rabid fan site L&M's Fast Lane, which has links to an endless gossip 'zine, piles of other info, and all the other major Eagles sites on the web (there are quite a few). Plus they accurately labelled me a "bitter, angry person" for my rantings on this page. Gotta love it. (JA)
Lineup: Glenn Frey (rhythm guitar, vocals), Don Henley (drums, lead vocals), Bernie Leadon (lead guitar, pedal steel guitar, banjo), Randy Meisner (bass, vocals). Don Felder (lead guitar) added, 1974. Leadon quit, replaced by Joe Walsh (slide guitar, lead guitar, vocals), 1975. Meisner quit, 1977, replaced by Poco's Tim Schmit (bass, vocals). Henley and Frey often collaborated with country songwriter J. D. Souther and budding pop star Jackson Browne.
Silk Purse (Linda Ronstadt: 1970)
This early Ronstadt record features all four of the original Eagles, then just her backing band; apparently, touring with her was the catalyst for forming the group in the first place. But it turns out to be of near-zero interest to Eagles fans, being just another country-western record filled out with cover tunes - you can barely tell there's a rock group in the mix, much less that it's the Eagles in particular. This is true despite the fact that Leadon gets a co-write and apparently sings backup on "He Dark The Sun," a straight-laced country ballad like so much of the rest (Leadon's co-author here was Gene Clark).
Ronstadt, of course, has a phenomenal voice, but she doesn't write anything, and her technique is so overwhelming that she never sounds sincere; it's a triumph of skill over talent.
So nothing here is truly memorable, be it archaic bluegrass ("Life Is Like A Mountain Railway"), dramatic balladry (an overblown "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?"), or contemporary country, alternately corny (Mel Tills' "Mental Revenge") and crafted ("I'm Leavin' It All Up To You").
An album that certainly wasn't worth the effort I put into tracking it down. Produced by Elliot Mazer and apparently also featuring some Nashville studio players who are not identified; Gary White wrote a couple of tunes and duets on another ("Louise"). (JA)
This is a remarkably strong effort for a debut record: it's got three memorable Top 40 hit singles - "Take It Easy," "Witchy Woman," and "Peaceful Easy Feeling," all with the group's signature tenor harmonies. Not only that, "Witchy Woman" is a surprisingly hard-rocking song with great guitar hooks. This and the rest prove that the Eagles already had their act down completely; there isn't an off-note anywhere.
At this point their obvious model was Poco's L.A. country-rock sound: country elements like banjo and pedal steel guitar come up repeatedly, mostly courtesy of Leadon, and there are lots of earnest ballads like "Most Of Us Are Sad" that sound a heck of a lot like Richie Furay love songs. But the production is at least relatively stripped down, giving the record some engaging live-in-the-studio grit that their later recordings completely lack ("Take The Devil"). Jackson Browne wrote the sleep-inducing "Nightingale," but he also collaborated with Frey on "Take It Easy"; and the quality country song "Train Leaves Here This Morning" was co-authored by Leadon and former Byrd Gene Clark. (JA)
"Tequila Sunrise" and the old-timey title track are the most popular cuts here, and they're both the kind of slick, AM-friendly soft rock one tends to associate with the band. Nowadays the title track sounds even more overproduced and sugary than my over-generous memory allowed it to be. This was supposed to be a concept album about a gang of Old West outlaws, so "Desperado" is of course reprised on the record's final medley; but the band outdoes itself by also reprising the miserably corny "Doolin-Dalton" - twice.
The fans weren't impressed, and none of the record's singles broke the Top 40. Nonetheless, on the remaining cuts the Eagles are starting to lean towards loud, almost sincere sounding arena rock; witness Meisner's frantic bass playing on "Outlaw Man," and his strained, straight-from-the-gut vocal on "Certain Kind Of Fool." And at this point, the band was still hot to prove their country authenticity with tracks that feature banjos and walking bass lines, in addition to the usual sweet harmonies ("Twenty-One"). Despite the schmaltz and ridiculous over-production, there's enough intelligent songwriting here to merit a couple of listens - Leadon's methodical, melodramatic "Bitter Creek" is the high point, dispensing with gimmicks in favor of acoustic guitars and great harmonies. (JA)
On The Border (1974)
The band's country schtick had mostly gone out the window by now. The few tunes with country elements, like pedal steel guitar and unsyncopated 2/4 bass lines, are so professionalized and up-tempo that it all just seems like window-dressing ("Midnight Flyer," with Meisner on lead). Instead, new Eagle Don Felder slathers his slide guitar parts on one track after another, and the band responds with flawless craftmanship, resulting in a new, uniquely slick soft-rock sound.
There are hits and near-hits all over the place, leading off with the rocker "Already Gone"; continuing with the incredibly corny rock 'n' roll tribute "James Dean" and the irresistably sappy, pedal steel-laced Tom Waits ballad "Ol' 55" (a million high school couples must have called it "their" song); and ending with the sweetly harmonized #1 hit "The Best Of My Love." Even the title track is passable A-side material. It's a big step up from the last record, although the flawlessness and self-conscious good-timey humor robs it of any personality. (JA)
One Of These Nights (1975)
This time there are three Top 5 hits - the mildly countrified, characteristically Eagles-style ballad "Lyin' Eyes"; "Take It To The Limit"; and the title track, another #1 hit with a pernicious, swooping bass line and endless riffs. There's also some interesting stuff going on here instrumentation-wise, with tabla on the fade of "Too Many Hands"; prominent piano on the title track; synthesizer joining the usual country instruments on the ballad "Hollywood Waltz"; and a string section on Leadon's lengthy, interesting instrumental "Journey Of The Sorceror."
Despite all of this, the album as a whole lacks the last one's energy and marks the band's terminal slide into orchestrated soft rock irrelevance. The songwriting is divided up equally, with a lot of collaboration, and Henley steps aside for many of the lead vocals. By the time These Nights came out, the Eagles had ascended to Major Artist status, with every release (like this one) topping the Billboard charts. (JA)
Hotel California (1976)
With Leadon gone, the band entirely broke with its country roots and went for the most radio-friendly AOR sound possible. The result was one of the biggest LPs of the entire decade, but only a few tracks are solid enough to have merited the hype. The first two cuts were #1 hits (title track; "New Kid In Town"), and then there's the third hit single, Joe Walsh's sly, sarcastic rocker "Life In The Fast Lane," and the relatively head-banging "Victim Of Love." Walsh is the new element here, having already cut a couple of successful solo albums after quitting the James Gang.
His unpredictable nature comes across on a ballad that despite being crafty and clever, is just as hokey as anything else the Eagles ever did ("Pretty Maids All In A Row") - and Henley/Frey are just as guilty, with the aptly named "Wasted Time," marred by a superfluous, made-for-the-movies orchestral coda, and "The Last Resort," which doesn't deserve its 7-minute running time. You'll be bored with this record long before it's over. (JA)
The Long Run (1979)
After a lay-off of more than two years and a change of bass players, the Eagles put out this anally produced, thoroughly modern sendoff, and mercifully called it quits - until a recent reunion tour that had many of us wondering how we even survived the 70s in the first place. Like the previous record, this is so packed with hits that there's almost no point in listening to it, because you've already heard it a million times on the radio. That goes for the good-timey title track; new Eagle Tim Schmit's screechy, mushy "I Can't Tell You Why"; and Joe Walsh's slickly grooving rocker "In The City" - which are merely the first three songs.
After that, there's one number after another in the poor-little-me 70s hedonist whine-a-thon mode of "Hotel California" ("The Disco Strangler," etc.), and then another terrible chugging rock number that used to make me run from the room screaming whenever it came on, but somehow hit #1 anyway ("Heartache Tonight" - unbearable torture right now). The "talk box" infested radio hit "Those Shoes" does score some points for its freaky guitar solo, despite the typically whiny lyrics. But you know a record's cheese factor is too high when Jimmy Buffett drops by to sing backups on a silly 50s romp ("The Greeks Don't Want No Freaks"). (JA)
Eagles Live (1980)
I keep passing on this one because I don't want to shell out extra bucks for a double CD. (JA)
Hell Freezes Over (1994)
One of the most over-hyped reunion concert tours ever immediately got turned into a live album. Based on the perfectionistic readings of the band's hits that I heard the Eagles perform on TV, I can't imagine it's worth wasting money on. For those who care, the lineup was the late-period one, with Walsh and Schmit.
There's at least one new song here, but none of the band members wrote it: the sappy "Love Will Keep Us Alive," by Peter Vale, Jim Capaldi, and Paul Carrack. (JA)
That sure was some wasted time, wasn't it?