“Come on, man. I had a rough night and I hate the f**ckin’ Eagles, man!”
The Dude, The Big Lebowski
At least on paper, it seems I should love The Eagles. Growing up in the 1970’s, they were everywhere. They were ubiquitous. Alongside acts like The Steve Miller Band, Boston and The Who, they filled stadiums and had song after song appear at the top of the charts. Unlike many other bands though, The Eagles did not focus on a single lead person to write and sing, they instead took a collaborative approach. Evocative of The Band (one of my very favorite groups) The Eagles seemingly gave space for all to write, all to sing and all to participate.
At the outset, the Eagles featured Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon. Frey on guitar and Henley on drums soon became the controlling voices and defacto leaders of The Eagles, and though others would write some of their biggest hits, it became clear that Henley and Frey were in charge.
People would leave the band, people would join the band. Leadon left, and Don Felder and Joe Walsh joined. Randy Meisner left, and Timothy B. Schmitt joined. Felder would be kicked out in a flurry of lawsuits. If you did not get along with Henley or Frey, your time in the band would be limited.
The music of the Eagles seemed to alternate between gentle acoustic country rock songs, and hard edged guitar driven music. For the most part, I found the music to be dark, without joy or humor. They sang of a dystopian Southern California that was of no interest to me and it was no place I wanted to spend time. No matter how hard I tried, I could not connect with songs like “Hotel California,” “Witchy Woman or “Take it to the Limit.”
There were, however, two songs. Of their music on all their seven studio albums, there are two songs I connected with, two songs I really came to love.
“Peaceful Easy Feeling”
The third song released off their 1972 debut album, “Peaceful Easy Feeling” set the framework for what would become known as Southern California country rock music. The song begins with an acoustic guitar, playing an easy-going rhythm at the beginning of the song, which is sustained throughout.
“I like the way your sparkling earrings lay
against your skin so brown
And I want to sleep with you in the desert tonight
With a billion stars all around.”
Glenn Frey takes the lead vocal, never straining, never needing to try very hard. The song, written by 1970’s troubadour songwriter Jack Tempchin, is just easy. Easy and peaceful. The opening lyrics beautifully set a tone and mood of sensual equanimity. We immediately accept and embrace everything we can hear, and everything we can imagine. The harmonies are lush, and a country tinged electric guitar wails in the desert night.
If “Peaceful Easy Feeling” represents one side of the Eagles’ persona, then “Already Gone” is the other side. It’s the flip side of the coin. Whereas “Peaceful Easy Feeling” is a gentle and smooth warm embrace, “Already Gone” is an ear splitting knuckle cracker.
Glenn Frey takes lead vocals again on this track, also written by Jack Tempchin, with Don Henley keeping double time beat on the drums behind him. The standout performance of this song is Don Felder on lead guitar, firing off riffs and solos throughout the non-stop barn burner.
“Well, I heard some people talkin’ just the other day
And they said you were gonna put me on a shelf
But let me tell you I got some news for you
And you’ll soon find out it’s true
And then you’ll have to eat your lunch all by yourself
‘Cause I’m already gone
And I’m feelin’ strong
I will sing this victory son”
As is the case with “Peaceful Easy Feeling” there is nothing too remarkable here about the lyrics. Each person in the relationship wants to break up, and it becomes a race to see who can break up with the other person first. But this song shows a band in its prime, and the very short, extremely satisfying, ear-screeching electric guitar fill after “I know it wasn’t you who set me free” is one of my very favorite rock and roll moments ever…this from a band I otherwise don’t care for at all.
A Very Honorable Mention
Citing in-fighting and arguments between members, The Eagles broke up in 1980. Whenever they were asked if they would reunite, the response was usually along the lines of “when hell freezes over.” Well, as should come as no surprise, hell froze over and The Eagles reunited in 1994 and proceeded to make oodles of money touring large stadiums for years.
In 2007, they released The Long Road Out of Eden, their last studio album to date, featuring the lead single “How Long,” written by JD Souther in 1971, which had been performed by the Eagles live throughout the years.
Though I consider this album as an outlier from their studio output of the 1970s. “How Long” is probably by favorite song by the Eagles. It sits comfortably between songs like “Already Gone” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” Glenn Frey and Don Henley trade lead vocals back and forth between verses, and every other line features terrific harmonies with Timothy B. Schmitt on bass and Joe Walsh on lead guitar.
“How Long” is a deeply satisfying country rock anthem. Although the video for “How Long” is pretty awkward and painful to watch, the song stands as one of their finest moments.
I read a comment online the other day. “I love John Prine, but I turn off the radio every time I hear “Angel from Montgomery.”” I could not be more surprised. I have always thought that “Angel from Montgomery” is one of the finest songs ever written, an almost perfect creative expression.
We like what we like. We don’t like what we don’t like. Except for a few tracks, I don’t like the Eagles. I guess I’m not conflicted at all!