Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) by The Eagles

July 14, 2009

When exploring the catalog of an artist many times I skip the compilation albums. However, when the release is the biggest selling album in United States music history it deserves some attention.

To date, Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) by the Eagles has sold over 29 million copies in the USA — and that is a lot of albums. It ranks in the top five worldwide with over fifty million units sold — and that is really a lot of albums.

The album was assembled from the best and most popular tracks from the group’s first four studio releases. It’s appeal has endured, now going on three generations plus fans of rock, pop, and country music still find it attractive. The songs still receive extensive radio airplay which enables the group and the album to remain in the public eye.

The ten tracks, actually recorded between 1972 and 1975 despite the title, are from what can be labeled as the pre-Joe Walsh Eagles. Glenn Frey and Don Henley had not yet begun to dominate the group and Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner were significant contributors.

All of the material is instantly recognizable and form much of what is most associated with the Eagles and remains an important part of their concert act decades later.

The music travels from the smooth flowing country/rock of “Take It Easy,” “Lyin’ Eyes,” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling” to the rock orientations of “Already Gone,” “One Of These Nights,” and “Take It To The Limit” to the poignant, beautiful ballads “Best Of My Love,” “Tequila Sunrise.” and “Desperado,” and culminating with the ominous undertones of “Witchy Woman.” Through it all the harmonies are impeccable, the musicianship superb, the music catchy, and the production polished.

My favorite aside to the album is in recalling that Jack Tempchin, who has had a good career as a producer and singer/songwriter, wrote two of the tracks and so has been collecting royalties for each album sold for the past three plus decades. I can’t imagine what that adds up to but it gives meaning to the phrase “a boat load of money.”

Is it the best album release in American music history? The answer to that question is no but almost thirty million people have put down their hard earned cash to purchase a copy and that is a testament to its timeless quality.

Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) remains listening enjoyment at its best by a group that has had enduring popularity.

One Of These Nights by The Eagles

July 13, 2009

One Of These Nights, issued in June of 1975, would be one of the Eagles strongest and most consistent albums, proving to be their commercial breakthrough. It would sell over four million copies in the United States, produce three top five singles, and top the American charts for over a month.

1975 found the Eagles producing the type of polished pop/rock that would serve them so well for the rest of their career. While they would receive some criticism for their sound being a little too slick and technically correct, it would be popular and enduring regardless.

As with many of their releases, the group and producer Bill Szymczyk had a knack for choosing the best songs to release as singles, which was important for radio airplay in the mid-seventies. “One Of These Nights” was their second Number One single, containing memorable dual-lead vocals by Don Henley and Randy Meisner and featuring Don Felder providing one of the better guitar performances of his career. “Lyin’ Eyes” is smooth country/rock with tight harmonies in support, which would win the group a Grammy Award. “Take It To The Limit” was Randy Meisner’s most famous vocal performance, proving that he was integral to the Eagles’ success and sound during his tenure with the group.

One of the more interesting songs in the Eagles catalog was the instrumental, “Journey Of The Sorcerer.” This nearly seven-minute extravaganza would feature contributions by all group members but Bernie Leadon, who wrote the song. It would be one of the quirkiest tracks of the group’s career yet, in its own way, it was also mesmerizing.

Several other tracks of note would include the rocker “Visions” which contained the only lead vocal that Don Felder would ever provide; “Hollywood Waltz,” which was a mid-tempo ballad with a smooth lead vocal by Don Henley; and “After The Thrill Is Gone,” a song about love lost which would be a part of their stage act for years.

The album would conclude with “I Wish You Peace.” This gentle song of good wishes would be Bernie Leadon’s swan song as he would shortly depart.

One Of These Nights was one of the better albums of the seventies. Commercially and artistically, the Eagles would never look back. It remains essential not only to their catalog but to the decade as well.

On The Border by The Eagles

July 13, 2009

Change was in the air for the Eagles. Bernie Leadon was tired and invited Don Felder to join the group as a second guitarist to provide insurance should he decide not to tour or to leave the group for a time. Felder would end up as his permanent replacement, ultimately pushing the group in a rock direction. His arrival would also foreshadow the dual guitar sound that he would eventually provide alongside Joe Walsh.

Perhaps just as important at the time was their decision to switch producers. Englishman Glyn Johns was replaced two tracks into the recording sessions by American Bill Szymczyk who would prove to be a perfect match for the group.

In many ways, On The Border, released in March of 1974 was a transitional album. Country/rock now shared equal billing with pop/rock. Their harmonies and catchy music remained intact as they moved toward a sound that would sell more albums than all but a few groups in music history.

It is ironic, though, that their breakout song was one of the two tracks produced by Glyn Johns. “Best Of My Love,” the album’s third single, was not issued until November of 1974, yet it would quickly rise to the top of the charts in the United States, setting the stage for the huge commercial success that would follow. The song was a ballad rooted in country/rock, with Don Henley’s voice floating about the harmonies as Leadon’s pedal steel guitar provides support.

I consider “Already Gone” as one of the perfect Eagles’ songs and up-tempo pop rock at its best. Felder and Leadon provide a dual lead guitar attack and Glenn Frey’s vocal leads the harmonies on a song that was meant to be played loud. A quarter of a century after its release it still makes me feel good.

There is a lot of other terrific music contained on this album, too. “Midnight Flyer” has a bluegrass feel as Randy Meisner gives one of the best vocal performances of his career. Frey’s slide guitar and Leadon’s banjo combine to create a memorable sound. “Good Day In Hell” — an all-out rocker fueled by Felder’s guitar work — is one of the more underrated songs in the band’s catalog. Tom Waits can be a quirky songwriter and it’s difficult to interpret his material. The Eagles get his song, “Ol’ 55,” just right, though, as they make the song their own through the use of a double lead vocal by Frey and Henley.

On The Border find the modern day Eagles beginning to emerge. As such, it remains essential to their body of work. The table was now set and the Eagles were about to cash in.

Desperado by The Eagles

July 13, 2009

Desperado was a concept album released by the Eagles in April of 1973. It was an ode of the Old West as it followed the exploits of the Doolin-Dalton gang. Under the surface, however, it told of the trials and tribulations of a rock ‘n’ roll band.

It’s almost a perfect country-rock album. The harmonies, the production, the lyrics, and the musicianship are impeccable and have a polish that was unprecedented in country or rock music in its day. Sometimes, though, I feel that it’s almost too perfect as it’s an album that demands my respect but over the years I’ve not played it as often as a number of other Eagles releases.

What strikes me about this album and the band’s first release as well was the importance of guitarist and vocalist Bernie Leadon to their early sound. He brought a gentleness to their music that kept them squarely in the country/rock tradition. Guitarists Don Felder and Joe Walsh were waiting in the wings, but they would take the group in very different directions.

Desperado is most remembered today for its stunning ballads. The title track would become one of their signature songs and is still used as a concert closer over 35 years after its release. Don Henley’s voice always has purity to it but here he gives one of the best performances of his career. This haunting tale of living on the edge with love always in sight but never attainable may be one of the top ten ballads of all time. “Tequila Sunrise,” which precedes it on the album, is a gentle song with a subtle lead vocal by Glenn Frey. “Saturday Night” is a beautiful outing with what may be the best harmonies that the original four-man incarnation of the group would produce.

Two rockers form a nice counterpoint to the slower material. “Out Of Control” is an apt title as it is about as ragged as the usually technically adept Eagles would get. I can’t help but wish that they would have tried this formula more often during their career. “Outlaw Man” was more under control but still presents the Eagles at their rocking best.

In the final analysis, the best way to describe Desperado is majestic and elegant — and yes, maybe a little too perfect.

Eagles by The Eagles

July 13, 2009

Poco, Rick Nelson & The Stone Canyon Band, Gram Parsons, The Byrds, and The Buffalo Springfield explored the fusion of country and rock music with moderate to very good commercial results. It was the Eagles, however, that grabbed the brass ring. They added a polish and sheen to this country/rock sound that was embraced by tens of millions of fans and would enable them to become one of the top-selling groups in music history and an enduring concert attraction.

Listening to their first and self-titled album made me realize how accustomed I had become to their greatest hits. It also made me realize that many of their less famous songs were very strong in and of themselves and deserved more lasting attention than they received.

Eagles find the group’s beautiful harmonies already in place. Bernie Leadon’s guitar work is stellar. That fact plus his vocals makes you realize why he was such an important part of their early sound.

The album is best remembered for the three hit singles which still receive extensive radio airplay. “Take It Easy” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling” remain smooth and enjoyable 37 years after their release. Glyn Johns got the production just right and the lyrics tell the story of love in an easygoing and inoffensive way. “Witchy Woman” is more haunting as Don Henley’s lead vocal floats against the harmonies.

The lesser-known songs make Eagles one of the better debut albums of the seventies. “Nightingale” is a rocker with tight harmonies. ‘Train Leaves The Station” may actually be the best track on the album as Leadon’s guitar and vocal are terrific. “Take The Devil” finds Randy Meisner pushing the group in a harder direction than usual. “Earlybird” has almost a bluegrass feel to it. “Chug All Night” may not be from the south, but it is southern fried type rock at its best.

It all adds up to a tremendously solid album. It holds up well and remains enjoyable nearly four decades after its release. If you want to explore the music of the Eagles, this is the place to start.