Eagles Live by The Eagles

July 15, 2009

The Eagles were no more. Tensions within the group had caused their dissolution. “Hell would have to freeze over before The Eagles would get back together” or so stated Don Henley. It turned out that it took just under 15 years for hell to freeze solid.

The group owed their label one more album and so Eagles Live was issued in the fall of 1980. It was cobbled together from their 1979-1980 Long Run tour and their pre-release Hotel California tour from 1976. Producer Bill Szymczyk overdubbed some of the harmonies and guitar parts after the fact.

I believe the less you know about how the album was put together the better as it is actually a pretty good listen. It presents an accurate picture of The Eagles live at the end of the first part of their career. The performances are sharp and the harmonies and musicianship near perfect. Of particular note is the work of back-up drummer Joe Vitale who adds an extra dimension to the sound.

The track that always attracts my attention is “Seven Bridges Road.” I am still amazed at the purity of the harmonies at the beginning of the song. This gentle folk song, written by Steve Young, was a perfect addition to their stage act.

Joe Walsh shines with what are basically two solo numbers with The Eagles as his back-up band. There is a nine minute plus version of “Life’s Been Good” which allows him to improvise a bit more than normal for a member of The Eagles. His “All Night Long” is Walsh at his hard rocking best.

For the most part they stick to their well known material. “The Long Run,” “New Kind In Town,” “Take It To The Limit,” “Life In The Fast Lane,” and “Desperado” all make appearances. They vary from their hit parade with the unplugged “Saturday Night” which is another fine addition.

The final track, “Take It Easy,” rocks more than the studio version and benefits from that treatment. It is a perfect conclusion for a live album.

Eagles Live may not be the best live album ever released but it was quite good and served its purpose. Today it has been rendered somewhat obsolete by the Hell Freezes Over live material. Still if you want an entertaining picture of The Eagles circa 1976-1980 then this release is still worth seeking out.

The Long Run by The Eagles

July 14, 2009

The Eagles returned nearly three years after the release of Hotel California and all was not well. Drug use and bickering among the group members had almost reached a climax. Original member Randy Meisner would become fed up with the mess and leave altogether. He was replaced by Timothy B. Schmidt who had, oddly enough, taken over for him in Poco a number of years before.

It was difficult at best to follow the brilliant Hotel California and the biggest selling album in U.S. music history, Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975). The anticipation leading up to their next album was tremendously high and only intensified through its two-year recording process.

The Long Run may not have had the consistent excellence of some of the group’s other studio albums, but it nevertheless contained a number of high points. It would ultimately prove to be a very popular release as it was the Number One album in America for over two months, contained three Top Ten singles including their last Number One hit, and garnered yet another Grammy award.

Joe Walsh was now firmly entrenched within the group and his dual guitar attack with Don Felder signaled an effective end to their country/rock inclinations as here they would veer in a harder rock direction.

“Heartache Tonight” which would reach Number One on the American charts, remains one of my favorite Eagles songs. The a capella type introduction and the morphing into a smooth rock song are a brilliant combination. Glenn Frey’s vocal along with Joe Walsh’s slide guitar make it a perfect Eagles track.

I am sure I am in the minority but my other favorite track from this album is the goofy “The Greeks Don’t Want No Freaks.” I’m not sure how serious they were when recording this song but it gets the spirit of college or toga rock just perfect. It’s just an infectious and fun, rocking romp.

“I Can’t Tell You Why” is a showcase for new member Timothy B. Schmidt, whose lead vocal is memorable while his voice among the harmonies is effective as well. The title track bears a wistful aspect to it as Don Henley’s vocal floats above the mix. “In The City,” which finds Joe Walsh in full-on rock mode both vocally and musically — especially on the slide guitar — is a remake of his contribution to the movie, The Warriors.

The final track, “The Sad Café,” would be the group’s swan song. Henley’s bluesy vocal is enhanced by David Sanborn’s soulful sax, making for a poignant finish to what would be perceived as the end of the Eagles’ career.

The Long Run is flawed by some of its lesser songs but it also remains very listenable — especially if you want the rocking Eagles.

The group members would go their separate ways and produce a number of solo projects with varying degrees of success over the subsequent years. The bitterness of the group’s dissolution was such that they maintained hell would have to freeze over before they played together again.

Hotel California by The Eagles

July 14, 2009

Late 1976 found The Eagles reigning as one of the most popular bands in the world. Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975), released the previous February, was well on its way to becoming the biggest seller in United States music history. Hotel California, issued on December 6th, would build upon that legacy.

The album would be their most successful studio release. It would spawn two Number One singles, earn two Grammy awards including Record of the Year, and eventually sell sixteen million copies in the United States.

Change was in the air for the Eagles. Bernie Leadon had departed and taken his soft country/rock inclinations with him. His replacement was rock guitarist extraordinaire Joe Walsh, who would change the group’s sound and provide a formidable presence over the years ahead. The added bonus was that his vocals would fit their harmonies just right. Hotel California would also mark Glenn Frey and Don Henley’s official domination of the group as they co-wrote seven of the album’s nine tracks.

It there is one song that shows off Joe Walsh’s arrival it’s “Life In The Fast Lane.” The lead-off riff makes it quickly apparent that there is a new guitarist in town. While Don Henley’s vocal explores the lyrics of a ’70’s lifestyle, it is the guitar of Walsh that makes the track memorable. His other major contribution was “Pretty Maids All In A Row.” This track, written with long time partner Joe Vitale, sounds more like a solo effort and is very seventies as the guitar shares equal billing with the synthesizers.

The two signature songs were both huge hits. “Hotel California” would include memorable solos by Walsh and Felder, demonstrating just how technically adept they could be both separately and together. A classic Don Henley vocal floats above the mix. “New Kid In Town” is basically a Glenn Frey production as he provides the lead vocal and a fine acoustic guitar performance.

“Try and Love Again” was written and sung by Randy Meisner and would prove to be his swan song with the group. I’m not sure of his reason for leaving the Eagles but his contributions cannot be underestimated. This mid-tempo rocker finds him at his best one last time.

Many people regard Hotel California as the apex of their recording career. It would show a lyrical depth while maintaining the perfect harmonies, musicianship, and production for which they were so noted. The catchiness of the music combined with the seriousness of its themes makes it memorable, entertaining, and enduring.

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.