Formed in 1971, the Eagles took just five years to become one of the world’s biggest selling artists. In 2022, the Eagles still tour occasionally with a changing line up of musicians.
Like Bob Dylan’s backing band ‘The Band’, The Eagles were formed from the group of musicians backing the hugely influential Linda Rondstatdt.
The original line up was Bernie Leadson, Glenn Fry, Don Henley and Randy Meisener. The talented group caught the attention of David Geffen who signed them to his new record label Asylum.
the Eagles – first album
The first, eponymous album ‘Eagles‘ was recorded in 1971 at London’s Olympic Studios, a popular studio for bands including Procul Harum The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, the Jimi Hendrix experience and Led Zeppelin. Produced by Glyn Johns (producer of Let it Be) the album, released in 1972 included two top 20 hits – ‘Take it Easy’, co written with their friend Jackson Browne and ‘Witchy Woman.’ With these two singles, the band presented both a style of laid back Americana, and some killer harmonies that would become a trademark for the bands evolution.
‘Desperado‘, their second album was more ambitious, taking a concept theme of the ‘Old West’ the album was their attempt to be taken more seriously as writers and musicians. Inspiration for songs like ‘Doolin Dalton’ came from the Doolin Dalton Gang – better known as the Wild Bunch.
Despite not being released as a single, the title song Desperado was ranked by Rolling Stone as one of the 500 greatest songs of all time. It’s also one my favourites. In 1975 Linda Rondstadt released her own cover of the title track.
The album cover was also another concept with the band, with friends Jackson Browne and J.d Souther dressed as Wild West outlaws. The cover photography was shot by the legendary Henry Diltz. On release it was somewhat of a flop, despite the critical success, and remains their least commercially successful album. The classic Tequila Sunrise failed to chart in the top 50 on it’s release!
Seeking a harder rock sound for their third album, the band turned to Bill Szymczyk as they moved away from two albums with Glyn Johns. An old friend of Bernie Leadson, Don Felder was invited to play guitar on the track “Good day in Hell.” The band were so impressed with his guitar style (his nickname was ‘fingers’) that he was invited to become a full member the following day. Nowthe Eagles were five strong.
On the Border
Recorded in London (back at Olympic Studios) and LA’s The Record Plant, the 1974 ‘On the Border‘ album was to include some rockier numbers including James Dean (left over from the previous album sessions) and Already Gone. However, the ballad ‘Best of My Love’ was the single that deliver their first of 5 US number ones, propelling album sales to 2 x platinum (2,000,000 sales) in the US alone.
One of these Nights
It was their fourth album, ‘One of these Nights’ that transformed the band into global superstars. This was the album that delivered some of their greatest hits which would fuel their superstardom even further very soon. With Don Henley and Glenn Frey starting to take most of the writing credits, the album was to feature the hit singles ‘One of these Nights’, their second chart topper, ‘Lyin’ Eyes’ which almost hit the top spot – and ‘Take it to the Limit’
The instrumental track ‘Journey of the Scorcher, written by Bernie Leadon seems out of place amongst the other lush tracks but found fame for another generation as the theme song for the BBC’s radio adaptation of Douglas Adam’s Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Bernie left the band in December 1975 after feeling disillusioned by his lack of creative input and the bands direct away from his favoured country music to a more rock sound.
Needing a replacement, the band turned to wild guitarist Joe Walsh, already a known figure in the music world. With a new guitarist and a world tour to complete, the band needed some time to recover and find a new direction for their next studio album.
the Eagles Greatest Hits
The Eagles Greatest Hits (1971 to 1975) – in a piece of genius inspiration, Asylum’s David Geffen released a greatest hits album, collecting all of the singles and some of the best album tracks from the first four albums. Despite reservations from the band, Don Felder said the band had not been consulted, and Don Henley was unhappy with album tracks like Desperado being played out of context, the album charted straight in at number 4 achieving number one ranking the following week, staying atop the charts for five weeks. To date the album has sold almost 41 million copies, making it the second most successful album of all time. Only Michael Jackson’s Thriller has sold more. The album in third position of global best sellers was their follow up album, the 1976 juggernaut that was Hotel California.
For many, Hotel California is simply the greatest album of all time. Released in December 1976, just five years after the group’s formation, this album encapsulated the highs and the lows of success. In the wonderful 2013 documentary, the history of the Eagles Don Henley said the title song was about a journey from innocence to experience (a theme covered decades later by U2.)
The title single and the album became commercial juggernauts ultimately becoming, to date, the third biggest selling album of all time, surpassing Fleetwood Mac’s rumours that was released just two months later in February 1977.
The Long Run
How do you top one of the greatest and biggest albums of all time. That was the challenge for the Eagles final studio album in the seventies. Entitled, ‘The Long Run’ this 1979 album found the band physically, “emotionally, spiritually and creatively exhausted” after a long tour of the previous album. The band line up was again changing, Randy Meisner left after a bust up on the tour, replaced by Timothy B. Schmidt who would write and sing on their last single from the album, “I can’t tell you why.”
For me this album feels like a band that have run out of steam, despite still delivering a couple of big hits, almost like they knew the best was behind them. The Sad Cafe a Henley song about the legendary Troubadour club now felt like the excitement of hitting the big time was waning.
In 1980 the band split. When Henley was asked if the band would ever play together again he responded, “when hell freezes over.”
The band members went their own ways, with Don Henley and Glenn Frey achieving the greatest solo visibility of them all.
After a 1993 covers/tribute album ‘Common Threads: The Songs of the Eagles’ which encouraged Henley, Frey, Felder & Walsh to reunite for a video clip for the lead single. The video shoot went so well they started talking about doing more.
Hell Freezes Over
Hell Froze Over in 1994 with a new tour, aptly named ‘Hell Freezes Over’ which took them around the world for two years. The tour spawned a live album and a return, of sorts.
In 1998 the band were inducted to the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame and would return to tour in 2001.
Don Felder was fired from the Eagles in 2001, which resulted in lawsuits and counter suits that would rumble on for a few years.
The release of 2003’s ‘Very Best of the Eagles’ brought the band to the attention of a new generation, selling over 3 million copies.
Long Road out of Eden
‘Long Road out of Eden‘, the first studio album since 1979 was released, online at first, and would later go on to sell 7 million copies, earning the band another 2 Grammy awards. It was also the last studio album from the band.
As the first decade of the new millennium started, the Eagles concluded the Long Road tour and went quiet until 2013 with another tour supporting the release of their documentary, “History of the Eagles” which is worth watching.
The passing of Glenn Frey in 2016 has not stopped the band from touring sporadically. For the year 2021, the band were the 7th highest grossing live act (the Rolling Stones were top) and with tour dates set for Autumn 2022, the music of the Eagles remains in high demand.