Eagles

TrackAlbum
Take It To The LimitOne Of These Nights
Bitter CreekDesperado
EarlybirdEagles
Journey Of The SorcererOne Of These Nights
Wasted TimeHotel California
Peaceful Easy FeelingEagles
Already GoneOn The Border
Pretty Maids All In A RowHotel California
Train Leaves Here This MorningEagles
Try And Love AgainHotel California

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Contributor: Glenn Smith

What prompted this Toppermost was a recent chance viewing of The Big Lebowski for the first time in a few years. Eagles feature as a recurring motif in true Coen Brothers style with Hotel California playing when the sleazy Jesus is bowling and of course Peaceful Easy Feeling playing as an ironic soundtrack to The Dude’s condition in the back of the taxi. All of which then reminded me of Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous with Billy Crudup’s Russell Hammond forever destroying any chance of looking objectively at Glenn Frey again.

So do we, as The Dude exclaimed, “Hate the @#&*ing Eagles man”? I think what we have come to hate is the FM radio fodder created by Henley/Frey that became synonymous with what is known as the Eagles sound: Lyin’ Eyes/Take It Easy/The Best of My Love/One Of These Nights/New Kid in Town and of course the much maligned, overplayed and over analysed Hotel California (you can hear that opening guitar riff already can’t you…). Sadly though, if we follow The Dude’s advice and try to ignore Eagles we are missing out on some quite brilliant country rock and roll with a whole lot of other great popular music thrown in.

It can be argued that the whole thing is Roger McGuinn’s fault. When he brought Gram Parsons into the Byrds he thought he was getting a jazz pianist, instead he got Sweetheart Of The Rodeo and the whole west coast country rock scene. In some ways we could push back even further and suggest the seeds were sown with Buck and Don Rich’s 51 Telecaster creating the Bakersfield sound. But it is Gram and his Nudie suits, his Southern roots and his song writing talent that kick off the whole thing. The Byrds become the Flying Burrito Brothers and Gene Clark sets off with the often forgotten but quite brilliant Dillard and Clark. Through this scene all the key players emerge, with Bernie Leadon being in both the Burritos and Dillard and Clark, Randy Meisner in Poco and Henley and Frey starting with Shiloh on their way to being in the touring band of that other scion of the west coast country sound, Linda Ronstadt.

The first furry denim four are of course players, they are multi instrumentalists that have earned their dues playing live. And they can sing, all of them, and here is a key feature of all Eagles line-ups, they can all sing lead and they have many different perspectives on singing harmony lines. Finally they can write, again every member of Eagles can and does make a song writing contribution. And they are happy to use other writers; JD Souther, Jackson Browne and Jack Tempchin all feature as regular writers for and with Eagles. As a result the early records in particular have an eclectic and sometimes eccentric take on the country rock and roll sound. A look through the song writing and lead singing credits shows that they all make an important contribution to the sound, especially in the many varied ways they meld their voices.

Take It To The Limit is as good as it gets in terms of great song writing backed with a superb lead vocal and great harmonies. Written (mainly) and sung by Randy Meisner, it is a group performance featuring astonishing high notes from Meisner. The strength of the song was demonstrated by it often being their encore when they toured in the Meisner era.

Bitter Creek written by Bernie Leadon is a low key acoustic guitar piece of dusty Americana. Gritty guitar work features throughout this song which comes the closest to capturing the feel of the Western theme the Desperado album was exploring. Earlybird, a Meisner/Leadon composition from their first album, is a classic example of their ability to write and arrange fine folk oriented country music and it features some superb banjo picking from Bernie and another fine harmony vocal from Randy.

Even The Dude would have to acknowledge that there is something wondrous about the theme to The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy being an Eagles song; a Bernie Leadon track hidden as the last song on the otherwise very mainstream One Of These Nights. Surely it is the ultimate quiz night question, “True or False, the Eagles wrote the theme to…” Journey Of The Sorcerer is all banjo and strings and apparently Douglas Adams felt it had the right sort of traveller feel and the rest is history. Play this alongside New Kid In Town; just make sure you are lying down.

I’ve been ignoring him I know, but it is time to bring out the very fine singing and song writing skills of Don Henley and Wasted Time. This often overlooked track from the mega smash album is as perfect a Henley vocal as you will get. Some fine piano work and a sad distant organ line all make the mood perfect, with Henley on occasions almost sotto voce, and then the right use of strings and a return to the original figure, with again the sad distant organ drifting us off into the sadness of the time he and his woman have wasted. Superb.

As noted earlier, despite being fine songwriters in their own right they were always happy to cover the work of other equally good writers, and Jack Tempchin got his best two royalty cheques out of the Eagles covering his Peaceful Easy Feeling and Already Gone. And it is here that Glenn Frey comes to the fore, as these songs, especially Peaceful Easy, really encapsulate their take on country rock, and Frey’s voice is the one we hear when we think about the Eagles and how they shaped popular music in the mid-seventies. But yet again, Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner feature prominently in singing harmony and with Already Gone, Don Felder has arrived bringing yet another dimension to the playing with his lead guitar work.

Pretty Maids All In A Row introduces the considerable song writing and guitar playing talents of Joe Walsh. It is a pretty good band that can lose someone of Bernie Leadon’s stature and replace him with Joe Walsh. And Pretty Maids is not what we would expect of Rocky Mountain Joe; similar to Wasted Time this song was written on piano and is another moody piece from that moody album with Joe giving a great voice box vocal performance.

Train Leaves Here this Morning is a cover of a Leadon song that featured on the first Dillard/Clark album. This is what Bernie had in mind all along for Eagles and it is a superb summation of the whole west coast country rock sound. When your children look at you quizzically and ask “what’s country rock”, play them this.

And finally we finish with another Randy Meisner song, again another rarely played gem from Hotel California. Try And Love Again is a ride off into the sunset together song, “When you’re out there on our own”, we had the lonely feelings and now they are gone. This is the perfect Eagles song to finish with and hopefully stimulate some Toppermosters to push past The Dude and his white Russians, pour themselves some tequila and have another listen.

 

Glenn Frey (1948–2016)

 

Eagles official website

Eagles Online Central

Eagles fansite

Glenn Frey website

Don Henley website

Bernie Leadon fansite

Randy Meisner fansite

Joe Walsh website

Don Felder facebook

Timothy B Schmit website

Eagles biography (iTunes)

Glenn Smith lives in Sydney and teaches high school English, plays very bad guitar with his bass playing son and spends far too much time thinking about The Beatles…

You will also find toppermosts for the Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers, Gene Clark, Poco on this website.

TopperPost #392

4 Comments

  1. Peter Viney
    Dec 23, 2014

    Thanks for an excellent article on an especially hard band to do. Eagles get a lot of stick over everything from internal feuds to concert prices, but mainly because Greatest Hits is allegedly the best-selling album ever. I know you’re avoiding the elephant in the room, but can I suggest the live version of Hotel California on the DVD “Hell Freezes Over”? That got heavily circulated to sell 5.1 surround systems, and I got a DVD free with a system. Because the instruments come in one at a time, it made a good system demo … but it’s also a fine version of the song, and the song is actually essential. So it’s a way of avoiding the version we all know SO well.

  2. David Lewis.
    Dec 23, 2014

    A tough act to limit to 10: and yes, Hotel California would have vexed. I’m thinking though I would have found space for Desperado, if only for Linda Ronstadt’s version… After then, though … And I know you’re not a fan of the Joe Walsh era, but the incendiary guitar riff of Life in the Fast Lane begs notice…. Otherwise, superb effort.

  3. Ian Ashleigh
    Dec 23, 2014

    I’ll not argue with any of the 10. Glenn you’ve done a fine job, particularly with Journey of the Sorcerer. I also would have excluded Hotel California if only to include Certain Kind of Fool (from Desperado), and Desperado itself. And Take it Easy, and One of These Nights, and I agree with David, Life in the Fast Lane too … OK, enough already, I’m creating a 15. Eagles are still a cool band to listen to despite the perceived over-exposure.

  4. Damien Spanjer
    Jan 29, 2015

    Great list, but I couldn’t have lived without ‘I Can’t Tell You Why’, originally on ‘The Long Run’ but best performed on ‘Hell Freezes Over’. And of course let’s not forget the third version which appeared on ‘Long Road to Eden’ under the pseudonym ‘I don’t want to hear any more’. What does the B in Timothy B Schmit stand for? Bliss.

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