Rock and Roll Saturdays has been about celebrating the music, digging below the surface of fame and fortune and learning about the artists who gave us the sounds of our generation. I look back on the shift of music when The Eagles released their debut album, Eagles, in June of 1972, as the time when the counter-culture of the sixties, with its undercurrent of love and angst, faded out and a Peaceful Easy Feeling moved in. The Eagles were here to stay.
First order of business is to wish founding member and drummer Don Henley a happy birthday (July 22). At age 64, Henley shows no signs of letting up. The band just played July 1st, at the Hop Farm Festival, UK. Henley has a few solo dates this September playing intimate venues around California. Happy Birthday, Don!
The coming together of the Eagles is akin to an alignment of the stars. Certain things had to happen, certain people had to connect, commitments had to be made and within a simple background collaboration a country rock juggernaut was born.
In the spring of 1971, over forty years ago, Linda Ronstadt was putting together a band following her departure from the Stone Poneys. Session musicians Don Henley and Glenn Frey were recruited first with Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon to join shortly after. As a group backing Ronstadt they would only perform live one time at a Disneyland concert in July of ’71. As a group they did all play on Ronstadt’s 1971 self-titled studio album.
With her blessings and encouragement, Frey, Henley, Meisner and Leadon, left to sign with David Geffen‘s new label, Asylum Records. Their highly successful debut album, Eagles, saw three of it’s homogeneous tracks in the top 40. The first song, Take it Easy, was written by Glenn Frey and Jackson Browne, and effectively put Winslow, AZ, on the map.
As the story goes, Browne wrote the first stanza and got stuck at, “I’m standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, such a fine sight to see.” His friend and then neighbor, Glenn Frey, penned the next verse, “There’s a girl, my Lord, in a flat bed Ford…” and Browne took it from there. The song peaked at number 12 on the Billboard charts and is one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.
The Eagles next studio album, Desperado, carried an old west outlaw theme and was much less successful than their debut, reaching only #41 on the US album charts, and yielding only 2 singles, “Tequila Sunrise“, at #61 and “Outlaw Man“, which peaked at #59, on the Billboard chart.
The release marked a significant change, with Henley and Frey co-writing the bulk of the album. Subsequently, the pair began to dominate the band in terms of leadership and songwriting, turning the focus away from Leadon and Meisner who most industry experts believed would ultimately steer the musical direction.
The spring of ’74 brought the next Eagles album to record stores worldwide. On the Border, saw a distinct shift in the musical direction of the Eagles. After only two songs the band released long time producer, Glyn Johns, and hired Bill Szymczyk to complete the production. Frey wanted to see the sound shift away from the country side more into the rock side. He brought in guitarist Don Felder to strengthen the rock guitar harmony. The band was so impressed that they invited Felder to become the fifth Eagle. They credited him as a late arrival on the album’s liner notes. On The Border reached #17 on the charts and sold 2 million copies.
The album also released three singles, “Already Gone“, “James Dean“, and “Best Of My Love“. The singles reached #32, #77, and #1 respectively. “Best Of My Love” became the band’s first of five chart toppers.
One of These Nights is their fourth studio album and released in the summer of ’75. The title song reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, in July of that year. The album released three Top 10 singles, “One Of These Nights“, “Lyin’ Eyes“, and “Take It To The Limit“, #1, #2, and #4 respectively. The recording became the band’s first chart-topping album. It sold 4 million copies and garnered the Eagles their first Grammy for “Lyin’ Eyes”. “Take It To The Limit” became the band’s first gold single. The album was nominated for album of the year. Fleetwood Mac opened for the Eagles on their, One of These Nights, tour.
Despite the success of the album, Bernie Leadon exited the band after growing increasingly frustrated by musical direction shifting away from his beloved country and bluegrass. In an infamous act of “Screw You,” Leadon poured a beer over Glenn Frey’s head and walked away. He stayed true to his roots and over the next several years recorded as a respected sessions musician playing bluegrass and gospel in Nashville studios. Leadon famously reunited with his band-mates in 1998 when the Eagles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. All seven current and former Eagles members performed together on “Take It Easy,” and “Hotel California”.
With Leadon’s departure the country sound all but disappeared from the Eagles. With the addition of Felder and Leadon’s replacement, rocker Joe Walsh, the stage was set for the band to produce arguably one of the great rock and roll albums of all time, Hotel California.
Hotel California released in December of 1976. It was their first effort without Leadon and featured guitarist Joe Walsh. Unknown at the time it would also be their last studio album featuring original bass player and singer Randy Meisner.
Hotel California became the Eagle’s highest selling studio album with over 16 million copies sold in the U.S. It topped the album charts for several weeks and won the band two more Grammy awards for “Hotel California” and “New Kid in Town“. The album was nominated for album of the year but lost to Fleetwood Mac‘s Rumours.
The album yielded three Top 20 singles, “New Kid in Town” (#1), “Hotel California” (#1), and “Life In The Fast Lane” (#11). The song “Hotel California” is considered by many to be one of the greatest rock songs of all time, it was ranked #49 on Rolling Stone’s list of the “500 Greatest Songs Of All Time“. The album was ranked #37 on Rolling Stone’s list of the “500 Greatest Albums Of All Time”.
The Eagles went into the studio in 1977 to record their next album, The Long Run. It was originally intended to be a double-album set, but after two years the group had still not produced enough material. Though considered a disappointment by some critics when released on September 24, 1979, it proved a huge commercial hit nonetheless. Maybe it was a disappointment when compared to Hotel California, but that’s like saying, Billy Idol is a disappointment when compared to Elvis Presley.
The album topped the charts and sold 7 million copies. In addition, it released three Top 10 singles. “Heartache Tonight” became their last single to top the charts on November 10, 1979. The title track and “I Can’t Tell You Why” (the latter introducing new member Timothy B. Schmit), both reached #8 respectively. The band also won their fourth Grammy for “Heartache Tonight”. “In The City” by Joe Walsh and “The Sad Cafe” became live staples at Eagles concerts.
The Eagles were a monster band with monster egos. For several years there had been an underlying tension between some of the band members. Glenn Frey was once quoted as saying, “No one can suck the fun out of a room faster than Don Henley.” The clash of the rock and roll titans came to a head at a show in Long Beach on July 31st of 1980. The show was dubbed “Long Night at Wrong Beach.” Glenn Frey and Don Felder were into verbal pugilism during the entire show. “Only three more songs until I kick your ass, pal,” Frey remembers Felder telling him near the end of the set.
In spite of the implosion, the Eagles still owed Elektra a live record from the tour. Eagles Live (released in November of 1980) was mixed by Frey and Henley. The two could not bear to be in the same state, let alone the same studio, and spent the production time on opposite coasts. Producer Bill Szymczyk recalled, “The record’s perfect three-part harmonies were fixed courtesy of Federal Express.” With credits that listed no fewer than five attorneys, the album’s liner notes simply said, “Thank you and goodnight”.
Each of the members went on to experience differing levels of solo success during their fourteen year vacation. On many occasions when asked if the Eagles would ever get back together, his response would be “when hell freezes over.” So it was no surprise when the boys reunited in 1994 their high-dollar reconciliation was dubbed the “Hell Freezes Over” tour. The reunion tour was the first to substantially pick-pocket fans for over $100 a ticket, pretty much ending the era of cheap concerts.
Since Hell Freezes Over, the band has continued to work together as a unit. That is until February 6, 2001, when Don Felder was fired from the Eagles. Felder immediately shot back by filing two lawsuits against “Eagles, Ltd., a California corporation; Don Henley, an individual; Glenn Frey, an individual; and “Does 1–50″, alleging wrongful termination, breach of implied-in-fact contract, and breach of fiduciary duty, reportedly seeking $50 million in damages.
In his complaint, Felder alleged that from the 1994 Hell Freezes Over tour onward, Henley and Frey had “… insisted that they each receive a higher percentage of the band’s profits …”, whereas the money had previously been split in five equal portions. Felder also accused them of coercing him into signing an agreement under which Henley and Frey would receive three times as much of the Selected Works: 1972-1999 proceeds than Felder.
Henley and Frey then countersued Felder for breach of contract alleging that Felder had written and attempted to sell the rights to a “tell-all” book. The book, Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974–2001), was published in the United Kingdom on November 1, 2007. The American edition of Heaven and Hell was published by Wiley on April 28, 2008, with Felder embarking on a full publicity campaign surrounding its release.
On January 23, 2002, the Los Angeles County Court consolidated the two complaints, and the single case was dismissed on May 8, 2007 after being settled out-of-court for an undisclosed amount.
The Eagles continue to rock and roll with band-mates aging well into their sixties. (Again, Happy Birthday, Don Henley age 64) The window of opportunity to see the band may soon close so you might consider a sojourn to Vegas this November as the Eagles play the MGM Grand. Is this going to be a kickoff to a string for Vegas dates or the swan song for one of America’s great rock and roll acts? Only time will tell.
- Eagles have won six Grammy awards:
- (1975) Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus: “Lyin’ Eyes“
- (1977) Record of the Year: “Hotel California” (single)
- (1977) Best Arrangement for Voices: “New Kid in Town“
- (1979) Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group: “Heartache Tonight“
- (2008) Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals: “How Long“
- (2009) Best Pop Instrumental Performance: “I Dreamed There Was No War”
- The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.
- On December 7, 1999 the Recording Industry of America honored the group with the Best Selling Album of the Century for Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975).
- Eagles were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2001.
- The group ranked number 34 on CMT‘s 40 Greatest Men of Country Music in 2003. They were one of four artists who were either a duo or a group on the list with the others being Alabama at number eleven, Flatt & Scruggs at number 24, and Brooks & Dunn at number 25.