Listen To The Band: The Eagles

Having dedicated the first post in this series to the band that, for me, represents the lift off of pop and rock music (The Beatles), and the second to the band who gave the series its title (The Monkees), it seems fitting that the next one should feature the group who provided my blog with its name. They also happen to be one of my favourite bands of all time, and have been ever since they released their first album way back in 1972. It still sounds fresh when I listen to it, and brings back so many memories of my uni days – and next year it turns 50!

Wikipedia describes their creation:

“The Eagles began in early 1971, when Linda Ronstadt and her then-manager John Boylan 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 formed Longbranch Pennywhistle; they 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 promoting the Silk Purse album. 

While on the tour, Frey and Henley decided to form a band together and informed Ronstadt of their intention. Frey later credited Ronstadt with suggesting Leadon for the band, and arranging for Leadon to play for her so Frey and Henley could approach him about forming a band together. They also pitched the idea to Meisner and brought him on board. These four played live together behind Ronstadt only once for a July concert at Disneyland, but all four appeared on her eponymous album. The four were signed in September 1971 to Asylum Records, the new label started by David Geffen, who was introduced to Frey by Jackson Browne. Geffen bought out Frey’s and Henley’s contracts with Amos Records, and sent the four to Aspen, Colorado, to develop as a band. Having not settled on a band name yet, they performed their first show in October 1971 under the name of Teen King and the Emergencies at a club called The Gallery in Aspen.” Don Felder joined in 1974 to complete the five man line up that we became familiar with through their peak period.

There could really only be one song for me to start off with. I’ve shared it several times before – it was the first in my #SaturdaySongs series, where you can see it three times! – but not this version. Given the involvement of Linda Ronstadt in the band’s formation, and Jackson Browne’s co-writer credit for the song, this seems a fitting performance to begin with:

Absolutely magical, and that takes me right back to those days, when that album really was the soundtrack to my uni days (I started there in 1972, just after it was released). And all that hair, too! I was similarly coiffeured back then – clearing out a cupboard some years later we came across my uni ID card, and showed it to my daughter, who was probably about five. We asked her who it was, and after careful consideration she replied ‘It‘s got Daddy’s eyes.’ That debut album, entitled simply Eagles, was released on 1 June 1972, beginning my long love of the band. It reached #22 in the US but didn’t chart here. This track was released a month earlier as a single, getting to #12 in the US. Again, it didn’t chart here – it took a while for the mainstream UK record-buying public to catch onto them. Strangely, their first big hit here was their first greatest hits album in 1976, at a time when they had enjoyed only a little UK chart success. It got to #2 on our albums chart, and has sold by the truckload all around the world. The irony in this is that the debut album was recorded here in the UK.

My next song choice is another from that first album:

We may not have been buying their records in large numbers by 1973, but the band had already built up its following here, as that appreciative audience shows. Nothing to do with the fact that, as this was a BBC recording, the show would probably have been free entry, of course. This song has always created a really mellow feeling for me, and that live performance is great. It was the third – and final – track from the album to be released as a single, and peaked at #22 in the US. Again, it didn’t dent our charts.

The band’s second album was also recorded here in the UK and, like the first, was produced by Glyn Johns. It is reported that they were so pleased with the result that after hearing the whole album for the first time they carried him shoulder-high out of the control room. He was a very well known and respected record producer and engineer back then, as this piece from his Wikipedia entry shows:

“Johns produced and/or engineered with such artists as Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, the Beatles (Get Back Sessions), The Who, Eagles, Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, Johnny Hallyday, the Band, Eric Clapton, the Clash, Ryan Adams, the Steve Miller Band, Small Faces, Spooky Tooth, the Easybeats, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Blue Öyster Cult, Emmylou Harris, Midnight Oil, New Model Army, Belly, Joe Satriani, Ronnie Lane, Rod Stewart with Faces, John Hiatt, Joan Armatrading, Buckacre, Gallagher and Lyle, Georgie Fame, Family, Helen Watson, Fairport Convention, Humble Pie, and many others.”

Impressive, or what? This is a track from that album, Desperado, although like some of these videos it is a much later performance – in this case, from 2005:

Desperado remains the lowest placed of all Eagles’ albums in the US charts, only reaching #41, though it was their first to hit our album charts, at #39. This was the first single released from the album, neither of which reached the US top fifty – this one peaked at #64, and neither were hits here. Nevertheless, as ‘failures’ go, this one didn’t do badly: the album has sold more than 2m copies in the US and enough here to merit the award of a silver disc – many bands would kill for sales like that!

The band’s third album, On The Border, was released in March 1974, and was the first to feature Don Felder. It also marked the end of their being recorded in the UK by Glyn Johns, who was only involved on two tracks. Again, the video is a later performance, but this was the lead single from the album, released in April 1974:

As you can see from the song title being emblazoned across the video, that isn’t an official one – they are quite hard to come by, actually, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that none of these will suffer the dreaded ‘copyright’ message where you’re reading this. On The Border peaked at #17 in the US and #28 here, and Already Gone was a #32 US hit, though still not a chart hit here. I love the song, and to this day rate it as the best ‘f*** off’ song I know.

One of the two tracks from that album produced by Glyn Johns is this one:

Perhaps ironically, in view of the band taking their leave of him, this was their first #1 single in the US. It has always seemed to me to be the perfect way to end an album, and I can still recall driving (on my own) in our first car – a Mini – singing along with this at the top of my voice. I was in town, so I hope my audience enjoyed it, though the high notes were a bit of a stretch! You may have noticed that John David Souther was playing with them in that video: he co-wrote this song with Don Henley and Glenn Frey and had originally been suggested as a band member, but Randy Meisner objected to this, for some reason. The song didn’t chart here, but as I said it gave the band their first US #1 hit single.

Update: I shouldn’t have made that comment just now about copyright issues. Since posting, I’ve been advised by an American reader that three of these videos don’t work over there. All are from 1977 live performances, which seems a little coincidental. This was the first, so as a non-visual substitute here is the official live audio:

The fourth album duly followed, being released in June 1975 – just as I finished uni, so it bookended my study days rather neatly. This was One Of These Nights, and it was their really big breakthrough album, giving them their first US #1 album and their first in the UK top ten, peaking at #8. Here is the title track:

This was released as the lead single from the album, and became their second US #1. It was also their first UK hit single, reaching the dizzy heights of #23. It was a start! Two other singles were released from the album: Lyin’ Eyes (US #2, UK #23) and Take It To The Limit (US #4, UK #12).

Update #2: this was the second video that didn’t work in the US, so again here is the official audio version:

If asked to name an Eagles album, I imagine that many people would offer their next one, which was released in December 1976. This is the title track – you may have heard of it:

The Hotel California album was a massive success, reaching #1 in the US, as well as in Canada and Australia, amongst other countries, and got to #2 here in the UK. It has sold over 32m copies, including 26m in the US and nearly 2m here. Three singles were released from it, two of them, including this one, reaching #1 in the US. As a single, this song was #8 here.

Update #3: the final (so far) video which didn’t work was that one. You know the drill by now:

The other US #1 single was this one, which reached #20 here. I can’t find a usable early video for it, but it was still a great song in 2005, when this performance took place:

There are so many great songs in The Eagles catalogue that I could go on at length, but I’ll restrict myself to just one more: my all-time favourite of theirs. This version is from the reunion live/studio album released in 1994, Hell Freezes Over, named after a quote Don Henley once gave in an interview about the possibility of the band reforming. This is, quite simply, a majestic song:

On its original release, that was the closing track of the Hotel California album. I can still recall the first time I heard it. The album had just been released and was being played in a department store while we were out doing some Christmas shopping. The songs followed us round the various departments, and I was wishing that we could get to the record department so I could buy it. Then this came on, and it literally stopped me in my tracks. I was with my then-wife, and she could see that I was away with the music. It is a long song – nearly seven minutes – and it is to her credit that she allowed me the time to hear it all. I was transfixed, and I probably had a tear in my eye at the end – it brings out that response still, to this day, whenever I hear it. As Don Henley says in his brief introduction, this is about ‘how the west was lost’ rather than won, and it offers a history lesson that many would do well to remember today. Underneath all of the posturing of politicians, here is truth. That, to me, is part of the essence of music: it can entertain us, delight us, raise us up or bring us down, and it can enlighten us. In this seven minute piece, we can all learn what we have forgotten about life and humanity. But I’m not sure that lesson has really been learned yet…

Quite possibly the best band ever (discuss) and it makes me feel small and humble to be in the presence of the brilliance of this last song. I hope you’ve enjoyed this trawl through the Eagles’ music as much as I have, and will join me again for the next one in this series. And a final apology for the length of this post and for the duplication of some songs: blame it on the Eagles’ management!

See you soon.