The Summer Concert Series: Songs of the Eagles
What do singer-actors’ Kenny Rogers and Rickey Nelson, musicians Linda Ronstadt and Jackson Brown, and comedian-actor Steve Martin have in common? Each of them played some role in the evolution of one of the greatest American Rock bands in music history. With five number-one singles and six number-one albums, six Grammy Awards and five American Music Awards, the Eagles are one of the world's best-selling bands, having sold more than 200 million records, including 100 million sold in US alone. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 and were ranked number 75 on Rolling Stone's 2004 list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time".
I could write hundreds of pages on this group as their history is both incredible and filled with drama and heartache, and I likely will spend more time on the band at some later date. But today I want to talk about their music and the depth of the messages in their songs. Glenn Fry and Don Henley are together one of the greatest songs writing duos of all time. Not only with the afore mentioned Eagle’s record sales but also during their solo song writing careers.
To answer the opening tease, the Eagles began in early 1971, when Linda Ronstadt and her manager recruited local musicians Glenn Frey and Don Henley for her band. Henley had moved to Los Angeles from Texas with his band Shiloh to record an album produced by Kenny Rogers, and Frey had come from Michigan and had formed his own band; Longbranch Pennywhistle. Frey and Henley had met in 1970 at The Troubadour in Los Angeles and became acquainted through their mutual record label, Amos Records. Randy Meisner, who had been working with Ricky Nelson's backing band, the Stone Canyon Band, and Bernie Leadon, a veteran of the Flying Burrito Brothers, also later joined Ronstadt's group of performers for her summer tour. These four original members (Henley, Frey, Meisner, & Leadon) were signed in September 1971 to Asylum Records, the new label started by David Geffen, who was introduced to Frey by Jackson Browne. Finally, the idea of naming the band "Eagles" came during a group outing in the Mojave Desert. Accounts of the origin of the name however vary; J.D. Souther suggested that the idea came when Frey shouted out, "Eagles!" when they saw eagles flying above. Steve Martin, a friend of the band from their early days at The Troubadour, recounts in his autobiography that he suggested that they should be referred to as "the Eagles", but Frey insists that the group's name is simply "Eagles."
Their sound has been described as country rock, soft rock, and folk rock, and in later years the band became associated with the album rock and arena rock labels. On their early records, the group combined rock and roll, country, and folk music styles. As their success grew, so did the boldness of their songs and their messages. They started off with first album hits Take It Easy, and Peaceful Easy Feeling which epitomized their southern California free spirited vibe but also showed their first more cynical song as they captured minor references to the drug scene in So-Cal with Witchy Women. Recorded with an echo-chamber sound effect, Witchy Women is one of those songs which really stands out both instrumentally and lyrically when you crank up the volume, especially with a good set of ear phones.
Their second album, Desperado, had an old-west outlaw theme, drawing comparisons between their lifestyles and modern rock stars. This was the first album where Frey and Henley began collaborating as writers. They co-wrote eight of the album's eleven songs, including "Tequila Sunrise" and "Desperado", two of the group's most popular songs. The album was less successful than the first, reaching only number 41 on the US Billboard 200 and yielding two singles, "Tequila Sunrise", which reached number 61 on the Billboard Hot 100 and "Outlaw Man", which peaked at number 59. Ironically Desperado, the song, would not hit the charts but is undoubtedly one of their finest recordings. Even with the old-west feel, these songs very much exemplified that so-call feel with just a bit more edge than there more pop, first album, hits.
On The Boarder, their next album release, began to show a bit more of a rock persona to their music and also saw the emergence of guitar virtuoso Don Felder who was signed to perform his incredible guitar sound to songs “Good Day in Hell,” and hit song “Already Gone.” “Fingers” Felder so impressed the Band that he became a permanent member. This album was a huge success which also spawned the song “Ole 55” and a tribute to late actor James Dean, appropriately titled “James Dean.” But even with the harder guitar influence and more rock feel to these hits, ironically it was a ballad; “Best of My Love” that went on to become their first number one hit on the charts. Personally, I saw the Eagles in Indianapolis, about a month before I graduated high school, in 1975, with back-up band/performer Dan Fogelberg.
The show started when the lights went totally out, no spotlights no nothing, and immediately the driving guitar sounds of the song “One of These Nights” began to be played. It seemed odd that the Eagles would start the show instead of the customer back-up band. But just as the first lyrics were about to be sung, the music stopped, the spotlights came on and hit the stage, only to reveal that Dan Fogelberg’s band was the one performing the opening chords of the song, and then Fogelberg proclaimed – “gotcha!”. It was a pretty good joke and lead to a great show. But as memorable as that beginning was, the Eagles encore was even better. Responding to the cheering crowd after finishing their performance, the Eagles returned to the stage for an encore. Accompanying them when they returned was Fogelberg as well. But, none of them when to their normal musical instruments; Henley didn’t go his drums, Meisner didn’t go to his bass guitar, Frey didn’t go to the piano, and Felder and Leadon didn’t grab their electric guitars. Each of them, along with Fogelberg, grabbed an acoustic guitar, and a chair, and lined up a crossed the very front of the stage, side by side. Just as they sat down, Fogelberg’s band members came out and stationed themselves at the other instruments normally played by the Eagles, and after thanking the crowd for the roaring applause and great support through this wonderful show, they all began to strum the chords to “Best of My Love,” all of them playing and singing this chart topping hit together with beautiful three-part harmony. It was magnificent, such an awesome and beautiful sound. They finished the show with “Tequila Sunrise” but I will never forget that wonderful performance of “Best of My love.”
The Eagles then released their fourth studio album, One of These Nights. It was a breakthrough album for the Eagles, making them international superstars. It also was the first in a string of four consecutive number 1 albums. The first single was the title track, which became their second consecutive number one hit. Frey had said it is his all-time favorite Eagles tune. The second single was "Lying' Eyes", which reached number 2 on the charts and won the band their first Grammy for "Best Pop Performance by a duo or group with vocal". The final single, "Take It to the Limit", was written by Meisner, Henley, and Frey, and it is the only Eagles single to feature Meisner on lead vocals. The song reached number 4 on the charts. All three of these songs were brilliant in their own right and now featured the essential Eagles trademark by blending that So-Cal sound, southern rock feel with their new rock guitar driven, yet vocal harmony, focus. This album, along with these great songs, changed the Eagles persona from hit music makers to professional music superstars, and in doing so, would lead to some of the best music ever written and performed.
In early 1976, the band released their first compilation album, Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975). The album became the highest-selling album of the 20th century in the United States, and has since sold 29 million copies in the U.S. (excluding streams and tracks) and 42 million copies worldwide. It stayed the biggest seller of all time until it was taken over by Michael Jackson's Thriller following the artist's death in 2009. The album cemented the group's status as the most successful American band of the decade.
Hotel California was the next album. Bernie Leadon had left the band and was replaced by legendary rocker, and popular stage performer, Joe Walsh. While Leadon played a great guitar, banjo, and mandolin, adding the guitar expertise of Walsh was like adding a turbo charger to the already powerful engine that the Eagles had become. They say timing is everything, well the Hotel California recording sessions seemed to be the perfect time for such a change. The album took a year and a half to complete. The album's first single was "New Kid in Town." Quite frankly it was a sweet little song but I felt it had lost something and wasn’t quite the Eagles anymore, so I had my doubts about what quality of music this upcoming album would deliver. Boy was I wrong as it became the Eagles' third number-one single, and the rest of the album, well it was gold.
The second single was the title track, which topped the charts in May 1977 and became the Eagles' signature song. It features Henley on lead vocals, with a guitar duet performed by Felder and Walsh. The song was co-written by Felder, Henley, and Frey. The mysterious lyrics have been interpreted in many ways, some of them controversial. Rumors even started in certain quarters that the song was about Satanism. The rumor was dismissed by the band and later by Henley in the documentary film History of the Eagles. Henley told 60 Minutes in 2007 that "it's basically a song about the dark underbelly of the American Dream and about excess in America, which was something we knew about." This song is without doubt one of the greatest of all time – the only negative is that it became so popular, it was being played on the radio constantly, which almost made you sick of hearing it. But instrumentally it is brilliantly performed and begins to build even more on that cynical dark side of life view that the Eagles began to often times feature.
With its hard rock sound, "Life in the Fast Lane" was also a major success that established Walsh's position in the band. The third and final single from Hotel California, it reached number 11 on the charts. The ballad "Wasted Time" closes the first side of the album, while an instrumental reprise of it opens the second side. The album concludes with "The Last Resort", a song that Frey once referred to as "Henley's opus", but which Henley described as "fairly pedestrian" and "never fully realized, musically speaking". Regardless of Henley downplaying this song, I believe it is brilliant. To me it is saying when our culture declares something is great, or perfect, or so popular everyone must do it or have it, then the end result is: whatever it was, is now, or will be, is destined to be ruined for eternity. It is a very cynical but very accurate view of the California lifestyle and influence, where everyone was flocking to this paradise, at that time, but over the years since, the people who truly want a rewarding and fulfilling life, and can afford to do so, are now leaving California in droves.
Hotel California appeared at number 37 on Rolling Stone's list of the best albums of all time, and is the band's best-selling studio album, with more than 17 million copies sold in the U.S. alone and more than 32 million copies worldwide. The album won Grammys for "Record of the Year" ("Hotel California") and "Best Arrangement for Voices" ("New Kid in Town"). Hotel California topped the charts and was nominated for Album of the Year at the 1978 Grammy Awards, but lost to Fleetwood Mac's Rumors. I’m sorry, and I know I’m going to anger some folks, but Fleetwood Mac…REALLY…there is no comparison as Hotel California is technically, instrumentally, vocally, and impactfully more deserving.
The Long Run was their next album and was largely considered disappointing by most, but I actually disagree. Songs “I Can’t Tell You Why,” “In the City,” “Heartache Tonight,” “Sad Café,” along with the title cut, were decent songs and certainly equal to most of the Eagles earlier work. But when you follow a classic, like “Hotel California,” there’s bound to be a letdown. However, after constantly cranking out hits, changing band members, and the demand to do even more and even better, the band would part ways after releasing this album. It took a year and a half to write “Hotel California” and two years to write “The Long Run,” mostly because the band was reaching burn out and having difficulty writing songs. They went their separate ways and really didn’t speak to each other for quite some time.
Each of the band members enjoyed limited solo success but it was primarily Frey and Henley who continued to put out hits. Henley achieved commercial solo success beginning in 1981, when he sang a duet with Stevie Nicks (Fleetwood Mac), "Leather and Lace;" as you likely noted, I’m not a Stevie Nicks fan but I do rank this as one of the rock eras best duets. In 1982, Henley released album I Can't Stand Still, featuring the hit "Dirty Laundry". The next album, Building the Perfect Beast (1984), featured "The Boys of Summer" (a Billboard number 5 hit), "All She Wants to Do Is Dance" (number 9), "Not Enough Love in the World" (number 34) and "Sunset Grill" (number 22). Henley's next album, The End of the Innocence (1989), was also a major success. It included the title cut, "The Last Worthless Evening" and "The Heart of the Matter". With “Dirty Laundry,” “Sunset Grill,” and “End of the Innocence,” Henleys’ trademark cynical nature came out and he clearly sent a message about the darker side of life and many challenging aspects of various jobs and professional pursuits. One song of Henley’s that really was not a hit, yet was a great tribute to the stresses and pressures of driving for success, was “New York Minute.” This song depicts the pressures of wall street and of business in general and was an extremely accurate depiction of what was actually occurring to many of this intensely driven people.
Two of these songs which truly stand out as great creations are “The Heart of the Matter” and “The End of the Innocence.” “The Heart of the Matter” is just one of those songs where everything works at an extremely excellent level. The music itself, the instrumentals, the lyrics, the message, the pace and delivery; it’s just a brilliantly written song that has found many a fan who both related to its message and who truly enjoy its total value as just really good music. “The End of the Innocence” has the very same characteristics and attributes. A brilliantly composed song, with the incredible sound and assistance of legendary musician Bruce Hornsby, make this song a classic amongst Henleys’ repertoire.
Frey also achieved solo success. In 1982, he released his first album, No Fun Aloud, which spawned the number 15 hit "The One You Love." The All-nighter (1984) featured the number 20 hit "Sexy Girl". He reached number 2 on the charts with "The Heat Is on" from the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack. He had another number 2 single in 1985 with "You Belong to the City," which quite frankly has one of the very best saxophone parts ever recorded. This song was from the Miami Vice soundtrack, which featured another Frey song, "Smuggler's Blues," and also saw Glenn dabble in some acting, which wasn’t bad for a non-actor musician.
An Eagles country tribute album, titled Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles, was released in 1993, 13 years after the breakup. For his part in this album, Travis Tritt insisted on having the Long Run-era Eagles in his video for "Take It Easy" and they agreed. Following years of public speculation, the band formally reunited the following year. The lineup comprised the five Long Run-era members—Frey, Henley, Walsh, Felder, and Schmitt.
"For the record, we never broke up, we just took a 14-year vacation," said Frey at their first live performance in April 1994. The ensuing tour spawned a live album titled Hell Freezes Over (named for Henley's recurring statement that the group would get back together "when hell freezes over"), which debuted at number 1 on the Billboard album chart. It included four new studio songs, with "Get Over It" and "Love Will Keep Us Alive" both becoming Top 40 hits. “Get Over It” was the perfect song for their return. This edgy driving tune was so “Eagles” and portrayed everything about their style and attitudes, and quite frankly accurately depicted the current culture and world around them, and around all of us, at the time. I’m sure many of you, like me, love the William Shakespeare reference to the value of Lawyers!!! If you don’t know what I mean, you can listen to the music on the Hell Freezes Over Album are you can see if you can catch the reference, in the lyrics at the end of this message. What a great song. Another typical Henley song “Learn to Be Still” was also featured on this album and again shows how the world and cultural challenges, and often stupidity, played into many of the themes from these cynical writings. Henley was/is a master at putting in everyone’s faces the reality of a sometimes cruel world due to people who choose power versus love.
The “Hell Freezes Over” album proved as successful as the tour, selling six million copies in the U.S. The tour was interrupted in September 1994 because of Frey's serious recurrence of diverticulitis, but it resumed in 1995 and continued into 1996. In 1998, the Eagles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. For the induction ceremony, all seven Eagles members (Frey, Henley, Felder, Walsh, Schmitt, Leadon, and Meisner) played together for two songs, "Take It Easy" and "Hotel California".
On October 30, 2007, the Eagles released Long Road Out of Eden, their first album of all-new material since 1979. The album debuted at number 1 in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands, and Norway. It became their third studio album and seventh release overall to be certified at least seven times platinum. Henley told CNN that "This is probably the last Eagles album that we'll ever make."
On January 28, 2008, the second single of Long Road Out of Eden was released. "Busy Being Fabulous" peaked at number 28 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and at number 12 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks chart. The album also included a great song “What Do I Do with My Heart.” Its’ a brilliant song with shared lead vocals and it’s a shame it wasn’t more of a hit. Ironically it would be the last hit song written and performed by band leader and founder Glenn Frey. The Eagles won their fifth Grammy in 2008, in the category Grammy Award for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for "How Long".
In 2015, the Eagles (Frey, Henley, Walsh, and Schmitt) were slated to receive Kennedy Center Honors, but this was deferred to 2016 due to Frey's health problems. Unfortunately, two years later, on January 18, 2016, founding member Glenn Frey died at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York City at the age of 67. The causes of his death were rheumatoid arthritis, acute ulcerative colitis, and pneumonia while recovering from intestinal surgery. At the 58th Annual Grammy Awards in February, the Eagles, joined by original member Leadon, touring guitarist Stuart Smith, and co-writer Jackson Browne, performed "Take It Easy" in honor of Frey. In subsequent interviews, Henley stated that he didn't think the band would perform again.
Despite Henley's statements the previous year, the band continued touring and headlined the Classic West and Classic East concert in July 2017. Glenn Frey's son Deacon performed in his father's place, along with country musician Vince Gill. At the Classic West concert, the band was joined by Bob Seger who sang "Heartache Tonight", which he co-wrote. A North American tour, again with Gill and Deacon Frey, began in March 2018. Henley's son Will joined the touring band as a guitarist for this run of shows. The Eagles also toured Europe and Oceania in early 2019 and continue to schedule tour dates today with the band made up of Don Henley, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmitt, Deacon Frey, and Vince Gill.
Sadly, on June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed the Eagles among hundreds of artists whose master tapes were reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.
The songs of the Eagles, the brilliant song writing, the incredible harmonies, and the instrumental performances, have impacted so very many lives for these past 50 years. Their personalities and their love have shone through in their music and will forever be a part of my life, and I know so many others throughout the world who feel the same way. We are all so blessed that a young man from Texas and another young man from Michigan both decided to venture to California to make it in the music business. They got hired by Linda Ronstadt and her manager, and the first met at The Troubadour. We are so fortunate that the two became acquainted, became friends, and decided to become song writers and performers together. So fortunate that they made the Eagles fly into all of our hearts. And the rest, as they say, is history.
You gave us the best of your love, and music, and we thank you!!!
Get Over - Lyrics
I turn on the tube and what do I see
A whole lotta people cryin' "Don't blame me"
They point their crooked little fingers at everybody else
Spend all their time feelin' sorry for themselves
Victim of this, victim of that
Your momma's too thin; your daddy's too fat
Get over it
Get over it
All this whinin' and cryin' and pitchin' a fit
Get over it, get over it
You say you haven't been the same since you had your little crash
But you might feel better if they gave you some cash
The more I think about it, Old Billy was right
Let's kill all the lawyers, kill 'em tonight
You don't want to work; you want to live like a king
But the big, bad world doesn't owe you a thing
Get over it
Get over it
If you don't want to play, then you might as well split
Get over it, get over it
It's like going to confession every time I hear you speak
You're makin' the most of your losin' streak
Some call it sick, but I call it weak
You drag it around like a ball and chain
You wallow in the guilt; you wallow in the pain
You wave it like a flag, you wear it like a crown
Got your mind in the gutter, bringin' everybody down
Complain about the present and blame it on the past
I'd like to find your inner child and kick its little ass
Get over it
Get over it
All this bitchin' and moanin' and pitchin' a fit
Get over it, get over it