Monday, 27 July 2020

The Eagles




"We set out to become a band for our time. But sometimes if you do a good-enough job, you become a band for all time" - Glenn Frey

Eagles (1972)


Take It Easy/Witchy Woman/Chug all Night/Most Of Us Are Sad/Nightingale/Train Leaves Here This Morning/Take The Devil/Earlybird/Tryin'/Peaceful Easy Feeling     

This was The Eagles' debut album, from 1972. It was a pleasant, perfectly easy on the air mix of country and rock with some folky airs floating around. High quality vocals from different members was also a notable thing about the band, who went on to be huge, million selling artists. Ironically for such a slice of Americana, it was apart from Nightingale, recorded in London.
                      
Jackson Browne's piece of upbeat, country rock perfection that is Take It Easy opens the album, with its "well I'm runnin' down the road, tryin' to loosen my load, I got seven women on my mind..." first verse, while Witchy Woman has a killer heavy rock riff and a general bluesy rock feel. It is a powerful cut. that showed the band were not all about Take It Easy style AOR. Folk/country rock was de rigeur in 1972, and this album fitted in well with the genre. Stuff like this was very much the sound of America in 1972, while the UK was in the grip of glam rock, The US music scene was nothing like that. One look at the charts all the time showed that to be the case.

Chug All Night is another pounding rocker, sounding a little like some of Elton's John's rocking material from the period (which possibly helps to explain why Elton did so well in the US). It has a mysterious, funky little bass and quiet vocal part that is sort of endearing. Most Of Us Are Sad is a tender rock ballad and Nightingale gets back to riffy, lively melodic rocking. Incidentally, the sound on this remastered version is excellent, taken from The Complete Studio Recordings box set.

  

Train Leaves Here This Morning is a beautiful country ballad with a gorgeous bass line. Take The Devil is a big, chunky, electric riff-dominated rock song with some excellent sleepy guitar in the middle. Earlybird is a guitar-picking country rocker with distinct airs in its harmonious vocals of Crosby, Stills, Nash & YoungTryin' has another fiery guitar riff and energetic guitar abounds throughout the track. On the whole, this album is more rock than country.

Peaceful Easy Feeling is pretty much what everyone recognises as classic Eagles - twangy, melodic guitar, steady country beat, perfectly pitched slightly mournful vocals and a general feeling of being in a sparsely populated Mid-Western roadhouse at the end of a hot afternoon, with just the barmaid and a few local guys for company.


Desperado (1973)


Doolin-Dalton/Twenty-One/Out Of Control/Tequila Sunrise/Desperado/Certain Kind Of Fool/Doolin-Dalton (Instrumental)/Outlaw Man/Saturday Night/Bitter Creek/Doolin-Dalton/Desperado (Reprise)     

This, The Eagles' second outing was a mix of vibrant country rockers and finger-picking country folk numbers, with the balance in favour of the former. It really is, in places, quite a heavy rocking album, far more so than many would imagine. Like their debut album, strangely, it was recorded in the cold English winter, in 1972-1973, as opposed to California or the baking desert heat of Arizona. To add to that expected US West image, though, the group appear on the cover on a grainy photo looking like Old West outlaws. The Band had led the way in this retro look a few years earlier.

The opener, Doolin'-Dalton (what did that mean?) was influenced by The Band, and had a real bluesy rock power, despite its country feel in the vocals and theme. Twenty-One was more of a melodic light country folk number. The rock power is back, however, on the gloriously riffy and powerful Out Of Control, a track that showed that The Eagles could really rock, despite their laid-back, easy country rock image. Tequila Sunrise is a track well-known to many, it is melodiously atmospheric, beautifully sung and played and just has that hot, dusty, travelling through South-West USA feeling about it.

Desperado is a beautiful, evocative piano and strings backed ballad that kicks in half way through with a huge rock backing and the vocal is just superb. The rocking Certain Kind Of Fool has a real hint of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers about it (three years before that band came into existence), with echoes of Little Feat and The Doobie Brothers too. A snatch of Doolin'-Dalton (Instrumental) leads from this track into the muscular, solid rock of Outlaw Man is almost Lynyrd Skynyrd-esque in its whiskey-swilling rocking bluesiness. The end of the track has the band really giving it some.

After all that rocking out, it is time to retire to the roadhouse or cantina for a bit of country mournfulness. Saturday Night provides just that with a lovely piece of laid-back country balladry. Bitter Creek is a delightful, tuneful CSNY/America-influenced harmonious slice of country folk.

The album ends with a reprise of Doolin'-Dalton that sounds much more folky and laid-back than the first version of the song and merges into a reprise of Desperado in its solid rock passage. Instead of being the repetition of previous tracks that it would seem to be, it actually works well. The album as a whole, is a largely upbeat, if a bit short, piece of work. The current remastering is good quality as well.





On The Border (1974)


Already Gone/You Never Cry Like A Lover/Midnight Flyer/My Man/On The Border/James Dean/Ol' 55/Is It True/Good Day In Hell/The Best Of Your Love   
                            
After two excellent and varied country rock/harder rock albums, The Eagles were back with a similar mix of styles showing that were never always simply the "easy-listening" laid-back country rockers they have often been perceived to be. Although the producer Glyn Johns wanted to emphasise the country sound, band members Don Henley and Glenn Frey got their way in introducing more rock to the band's songs. In many ways this was a transitional album, as the band began to explore different styles.

The Jackson Browne-esque Already Gone is a superb piece of of solid West Coast US rock. It is powerful, riffy, melodic and atmospheric. One of the Eagles' best tracks. You Never Cry Like A Lover goes from being hugely powerful to quiet and tender between its verses and chorus. It is both melodious and muscular.

Midnight Flyer is a finger-pickin' bluegrass-ish piece of fun. It is lively, jaunty and just enjoyable. It has some excellent bass and drum interplay at the end. My Man is a country tribute to the recently-deceased Gram Parsons. It is a Parsons-esque, laid-back, slide guitar-driven song. It is quite lovely. "We who must remain, go on living just the same..." is a touching refrain.

 

On The Border has that characteristic Don Henley throaty vocal over another solidly grinding, mid-pace rock beat. It is almost funky r 'n' b in its feel. It has an intoxicating instrumental break two-thirds of the way through. James Dean is a corker of an Eagles rocker. Back in 1973 I remember hearing this played by Johnnie Walker on Radio 1 as a teenager. It was the very first time I had heard The Eagles. Funny how one remembers things like that.

Ol' 55 is a classic steel guitar, harmonious "freeways, cars and trucks" ballad that The Eagles did so well. It is actually a Tom Waits cover, but it suits the group perfectly. Is It True is a powerful rock song, again with some great harmonies, but also some copper-bottomed chunky guitar. Good Day In Hell is a wonderful rocker, full of riffs and searing guitars runs and a great rock vocal. The album is ended by the classic, unforgettable country ballad The Best Of Your Love. That track is pretty much perfection. These early Eagles albums are most enjoyable, only short, but varied, and the sound and playing is high quality. They were far more than just a "best of" group. Their albums were great too.




One Of These Nights (1975)


One Of These Nights/Too Many Hands/Hollywood Waltz/Journey Of The Sorcerer/Lyin’ Eyes/Take It To The Limit/Visions/After The Thrill Is Gone/I Wish You Peace

This Eagles album, their fourth, came fourteen months after On The Border and saw the start of the group’s rise to superstardom of the road’s middle. That said, the album is one that showcases several different styles, from country rock to harder rock to soul, disco, balladry and even prog. They were a far cleverer group than they were ever given credit for.

One Of These Nights needs no introduction, from its semi-funky slow, brooding intro to its melodious, catchy chorus. The song flirted with soul vibes and even a tiny bit of an insistent disco rhythm too, something that the group had not done previously. The mainstream was there to be taken and The Eagles were certainly not ignoring the opportunity.

Too Many Hands initially sees a return to the muscular rock sound of the previous album, chugging along robustly until it is enhanced by some almost psychedelic bongos and Eastern-sounding guitar interplay - you feel you have walked in on a late sixties/early seventies party. Hollywood Waltz is one of those Don Henley country rock slow ballads that he did so well. That voice and that down on one’s luck barroom sound is so evocative.

 

The Eagles were, despite being often unfairly pigeonholed as being formulaic, often keen to throw in an inventive curveball and they do so here with a beguiling six and a half minute instrumental in Journey Of The Sorcerer. Here they merge country rock with prog, would you believe. It is a couple of minutes too long, though. It was used as the heme music to the TV show The Hitch-Hilker's Guide To The Galaxy, not something I ever watched, so I didn't know that.

We are back on familiar ground on the iconic, sad narrative Lyin’ Eyes which is as good an example of driving along the freeway country rock as is possible to hear. It is what everyone things of when they think of The Eagles, and why not, it is simply a great song. People can mock the group all they like just as they do Dire Straits and post 1975 Fleetwood Mac but I hold no truck with them - this is a great record. I liked it even during my punk days. A good song is a good song as is the next one, Take It To The Limit, a song often quoted by my uncle in his later years - he lived to be 92. Both these songs are packed with killer lyrics, superb vocal delivery and irresistible melodies. The Eagles at their very best.

Visions is a riffy rocker and After The Thrill Is Gone is a strong, dignified slow rock ballad with a fine, deep bass line and moving Henley vocal.

As with many seventies albums, however, it was over very quickly and we get to the closer, the end of the evening ballad I Wish You Peace before we know it - forty-three minutes or so but it seems less to me. Furthermore, I guess the album’s three big hits are now so well known that I can’t assess the album without avoiding saying that they are clearly the stand outs. Incidentally, the final song as co-written (allegedly) by Ronald Reagan's daughter, Patti Davis, partner of Eagle Bernie Leadon. It was put on the album as a favour to Leadon, despite others in the band hating it, feeling it was not representative of their work. Listening to its syrupy string backing, you can see what they meant.




Hotel California (1976)


Hotel California/New Kid In Town/Life In The Fast Lane/Wasted Time/Wasted Time (Reprise)/Victim Of Love/Pretty Maids All In A Row/Try And Love Again/The Last Resort     

This was The Eagles’ huge, multi-million selling album, the moment that they became a massive stadium-filling band. It arrived eighteen months after their previous outing, “One Of These Nights”. The departure of Bernie Leadon had taken much of the band’s initial country flavour from them and rock guitarist Joe Walsh’s arrival saw them taking a big leap from being a country rock band that tried to rock out heavily on occasions to a fully-fledged mainstream rock band. Don Henley also became the band’s main vocalist, featuring on six tracks here. In many ways, The Eagles on this, and on their final album, The Long Run, sound like a different band. This material is a long way from Doolin-Dalton and Desperado, it is far more big stadium or arena tour than dusty roadhouse.
                         
Everyone knows the atmospheric Hotel CaliforniaNew Kid In Town is laid-back, melodic rock balladry and the solid Life In The Fast Lane is The Eagles having learnt to rock out, stadium-style.

 

Wasted Time is very much like some of the material on Don Henley’s solo albums. Victim Of Love is a muscular but catchy mid-paced rocker. Both Pretty Maids All In A Row and Try And Love Again are big, powerful rock ballads once more. The latter has Randy Meisner on lead vocals, the former features Joe Walsh. This is classic rock as opposed to country rock. The final track, The Last Resort is a sublime slow romantic ballad, well sung by Don Henley. It is my favourite on the album.

Look, this album is undoubtedly an album that will be remembered as a classic of its genre, but whether it is an actual, bona fide classic is debatable. It is a short album of very listenable, immaculately played rock songs, but does it amount to an album of copper-bottomed classics? Probably not, in my opinion, but there you go. Nothing makes you think “wow”. On the other hand, you can’t deny it has something, particularly the opening and closing tracks. However many times you hear the title track, it always has that atmosphere to it. Overall, though, I prefer the more raw, unpolished feel of their earlier albums.




The Long Run (1979)


The Long Run/I Can't Tell You Why/In The City/Disco Strangler/King Of Hollywood/Heartache Tonight/Those Shoes/Teenage Jail/The Greeks Don't Want No Freaks/The Sad Café

The Eagles, darlings of the mid-seventies, fell as the unfortunate victims of the dual attack of punk and disco, their brand of hard-edged country rock holding no truck in the febrile musical zeitgeist of 1977-80. They embodied everything punk railed against. Personally, I think it is a good album but it meant nothing to me in 1979 and that was the point. It sounds good in retrospect but at the time many were not too interested (in the UK, it went to number one in the US, of course). Certainly it was not a favourite with the critics, keen to write the band off as has-beens and yesterday's men. The backlash against the runaway success of Hotel California had well and truly begun. Not only did "disco suck" but The Eagles sucked too. As a punk/new wave fan at the time, it is a source of regret to me how much good music I rejected - as the years have progressed my blinkers have been put away.

It is a slightly "darker" album than their others, although maybe this conception is fuelled by the white on black, minimalist dull front and rear covers. Why it could almost be Joy Division.

The Long Run is possibly The Eagles' last great hard-rocking classic and it gets the album off to the perfect, rousing start. However, this upbeat mood is soon tempered by I Can't Tell You Why, whose laid-back ambience (after a promising intro) reminds me me of The Bee Gees' How Deep Is You Love. Get the picture? This was as easy-listening as the band had ever got. Timothy B. Schmidt's smooth, unthreatening vocal didn't help, either. In The City's mid-pace rock strains gets things back up again, it is a solid rock song with chunky riffs and a fine Joe Walsh vocal. It was featured in the cult 1979 film The Warriors.

 

Not a lover of disco, Don Henley tries to cynically take on the much-maligned genre on The Disco Strangler, a surprisingly good song which utilises a disco guitar riff but is pretty much rock all the way. It is a bit of an underrated gem, short as though it is. King Of Hollywood is an appealing, low-key brooding number, featuring some hard-hitting, wry lyrics about the Hollywood "casting couch". It is a superb song, one of the band's best, for me.

The other big hit from the album (even in the UK), along with The Long Run, was Glenn Frey's excellent rocker, Heartache Tonight. It seemed to be all over the radio in 1979, not everything was The Police, Elvis Costello or The Jam. A reassuringly chunky rocker is the slow groove of Those Shoes, featuring some great wah-wah guitar, throbbing bass and infectious cymbal work. Teenage Jail is a strangely intoxicating, menacing number that almost has a post punk miserableness about it in places. It suddenly breaks out at the end into the lively rock of The Greeks Don't Want No Freaks - a witty sideswipe (apparently)at the "Greek" "frathouse" thing. No? Me neither. It is a fun track though, with some decidedly glammy drums at the end.

The closer, Don Henley's evocative ballad The Sad Café has many hints as to the direction his solo material would take. Legendary saxophonist David Sanborn (Young Americans, Ian Hunter's All American Boy) adds some excellent alto on the track too.

I really like this album, in many ways  consider it the group' best album, certainly outdoing its illustrious predecessor. The critics have dealt it an unfair undeserved hand, in my opinion, there are numerous unflattering reviews out there, so I am changing things - it was a good album.




2 comments:

  1. I always find it fascinating to read Eagles takes. I like their transition period where they're not quite a country band and not quite a rock band. I'm a lot less excited by The Long Run than you are, but I love 'I Can't Tell You Why' - I think going R&B works for them, and those guitar solos (by Frey!) are excellent. I checked out their 2007 album recently and it was much better than I was expecting - Henley and Walsh were still reasonably sharp.

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  2. I agree about the half country/half rock sound.

    I really like The Long Run but as I said, I can't really get to grips with Timothy B. Schmidt's vocal on I Can't Tell You Why.

    I haven't heard the 2007 offering. I'm sure I will get round to it at some point.

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