Somehow, the “West Coast Sound” was led by 3 Mid-Westerners and a Texan. Glenn Frey was from Michigan, Randy Meisner from Nebraksa, Bernie Leadon from Minnesota, and Don Henley from Texas. They were all drawn to Los Angeles, California. At the Troubadour club they became friends with other artists, including John David Souther, Jackson Browne, and Linda Ronstadt. All four of the future Eagles had experience playing in country rock bands that weren’t very successful.
Eventually, they were brought together when they were hired to back Linda Ronstadt on her 1971 “Silk Purse” tour. There are a couple excellent live cuts they performed with Linda…”Birds” (by Neil Young) and “I Fall To Pieces” (by Patsy Cline). Those two cuts were on her 1972 self-titled album, and should be available. By the way, Ronstadt didn’t really make it big until 1974. After the tour, the guys formed the band “Eagles”.
Bernie Leadon, Randy Meisner, Don Henley, and Glenn Frey
Their first album, Eagles, was released in June of 1972, and despite the quality of the album, it wasn’t a major hit. I loved the Eagles instantly, and didn’t realize their album only reached #22 on the Billboard chart, and that their singles were not rated especially high…”Take It Easy” #12, “Witchy Woman #9, and “Peaceful Easy Feeling” #22.
Their second album, Desperado, released in 1973, used the concept of musicians as outlaws. It contained the now classic songs “Tequila Sunrise” and “Desperado”, but neither of those singles hit the Top 40, and the album only reached #41. What did the Eagles have to do to really break through?
For their next album On The Border they added a lead guitarist, Don Felder (a Californian), and changed producers, from Glyn Johns to Bill Szymczyk (he couldn’t buy a vowel). The album had more of the rock feel that Frey & Henley wanted, and they released “Already Gone” as a single. It charted, but only to #32. Next they tried “James Dean”. It only went to #77. Then in late 1974, they finally released the song that would break things wide open for the Eagles. “Best Of My Love” hit #1 on both the Top 40 and Adult Contemporary charts. Ironically, it was one of two songs Glyn Johns had produced before the change, and it has a country rock sound. You might remember that the single had a bit of an unusual edit and was shorter than the album version.
The Eagles were finally soaring. On The Border went double Platinum (2-million albums sold), and eventually Eagles and Desperado went Platinum too. “Best Of My Love” was the start of five straight top 5 singles, 3 hitting #1.
In 1975, the Eagles released One Of These Nights. The main hits were the title track (which mixes rock & disco), “Take It To The Limit” (Randy Meisner’s only lead vocal on one of their hits) and Grammy winner “Lyin’ Eyes”, which features one of the Eagles’ best arrangements. If you’ve never listened really closely to it, give it a try, and notice how the accompaniment varies beautifully with the changing verses. The album was a huge success, topping the charts and going quadruple Platinum. The writing team of Frey and Henley was working at a high level, and while they were recording their next and best studio album, their label made a smart move.
The Eagles Greatest Hits (1971-1975) is one of the best Greatest Hits albums ever assembled, and the biggest seller. That’s not only because the songs and performances are exceptional, but since the previous studio albums had not sold as well as they should have, “come lately” fans could catch up in one great collection. It was the best selling American album of the 20th Century…over 29-times Platinum in the U.S., with a worldwide total of 42-million.
Bernie Leadon had left the Eagles after the last studio album, mostly because he didn’t like the band moving away from country rock. His replacement was guitarist and singer-songwriter Joe Walsh. Walsh had success with The James Gang, and his solo albums. He also had an off-beat sense of humor and drug problems, so it was a bit of a surprise when he joined the Eagles. Glenn Frey, Don Henley, and Randy Meisner had recorded with Walsh for his terrific solo album So What , released at the end of 1974. Henley and Walsh co-wrote the song “Falling Down”, and it has the line “Burning the candle at both ends, twice the light in half the time.” Too often that’s the rock star life, and the line would have fit in with the tone of their next album.
One of the most iconic albums ever…Hotel California.
The 1977 album opens with three killer cuts…”Hotel California”, “New Kid In Town”, and “Life In The Fast Lane”. On the singles chart the three reached #1, #1, and #11 respectively. Probably the only reason “Life In The Fast Lane” didn’t reach the top is because of the unprecedented use of swearing at one point in the lyrics. Don Felder had played that great guitar lick during an Eagles rehearsal, and Don Henley and Glenn Frey took the songwriting from there. Henley swears the phrase “life in the fast lane” had never been used before, and now it’s part of our language. Among the highlights of Hotel California are the rousing duo guitar leads by Felder & Walsh.
Of course Hotel California was a number-one album, and has sold 17-million copies in the U.S. with a total of 32-million worldwide. Don Henley says “Hotel California” is “about excess in America, which is something we knew a lot about.” The song won the Grammy for Record Of The Year.
Imagine the pressure to follow up that level of quality. That’s why The Long Run wasn’t released until two years later. It’s a highly successful album, 7-times Platinum, with the hits “Heartache Tonight” (another #1 and Grammy winner), “The Long Run” and “I Can’t Tell You Why”. The latter was sung by bassist Timothy B. Schmidt. He had replaced Randy Meisner, who said he left because of exhaustion and disagreements with the other band members.
He was not alone. The Eagles broke up in July of 1980. Their label, Elektra, released the Eagles Live album, recorded mostly during their last tour. It included the exquisite vocal performance of “Seven Bridges Road”. Unfortunately, that was the only harmony the band felt at that time. They split up saying they’d only get back together when “hell freezes over”…but that’s a story for another article.