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Old 04-11-2022, 10:34 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Trollheart's Album Discography Reviews: The Eagles

Yeah yeah you all hate them. Big deal. Suck it. I don't. And whether you love them or hate them, it's churlish (churlish, I say!) to deny the impact these guys have had on the music scene. Certainly not a bona fide country band, they've nevertheless reached across the, uh, lack of a divide to manage to appeal to a wide spectrum of the record-buying public. I bet something like one in every ten people has Hotel California in their collection, even if they refuse to admit it.

Anyway, deal with it. We're doing their - rather short, given their career - discography, and this is another we're doing chronologically. So we kick off with their debut.

And this is it.




The Eagles (1972)

Seldom does a debut album have such an immediate impact. Well, nowadays, sure, but back in the seventies it was not that often that an artiste's first album would yield two hit singles and lift them just short of the top twenty. But the multi-harmony vocal talents of the Eagles, and their crossover from country and folk to rock of a sort, with mixed in pop overtones, was something if not unique at the time then certainly unusual. The sharing out of the vocal duties on this and other albums also meant that, though people would come to know Glenn Frey and Don Henley as the singers behind most of the big hits (kind of in the same way Roger Hodgson would be known to the uninitiated as the voice of Supertramp) they would also hear Bernie Leadon sing and Randy Meisner would take the vocals on one of their big hits, so that probably not since the days of CSNY really had a band so varied a vocal load. You can hear it on this album: everyone sings, and not just the once for those who would become other than the usual singers, ie Henley and Frey.

Now, there's no getting away from the elephant in the room: it'll crush you if you ignore it, so let's not do that. Let's stand and face it, and hope we don't get squashed. The Eagles never really were country, not in the sense that your Townes Van Zandts, your Willie Nelsons or your Hank Williamses were. This was a new kind of country, perhaps the first real pop country (it couldn't quite be called country rock, though on occasions it does certainly rock, but I don't think it's fair to describe it as such) and certainly some sort of crossover between folk, country and popular music, which in itself I guess allowed a new (at the time) generation of listeners “get into" country, or think they were. No doubt, if they had mentioned it down the Shotgun and Daughter or the Bear and Wolf, they would have been laughed out of the pub by those who listened to “real country music”. We have to be honest about this: very little if any of the Eagles' lyrics address what you would think of as staple country themes - farms being repossessed, cheatin' lovers (well, maybe that, but then, that's ubiquitous in all music, isn't it?) or goin' out huntin'. There were no songs referencing the Civil War, nothing about gold mines or moonshine, and nary a song to be had about banks or foreclosures. Not that I know much about country music, but it seems these subjects do tend to crop up in a lot of that genre's music.

So this would probably be the music the young 'uns were listening to as they cruised the boulevards of San Francisco and LA, hundreds of miles from anything vaguely rural, and maybe wore Stetsons and shouted “Yee-hah!” and thought they were cowboys. While the older generation shook their heads sadly and derided this as being nothing like country music. Even my hero, Tom Waits, once remarked of them caustically “The Eagles ain't country. They don't have shit on their boots!” How right he was. None of these guys were brought up singing the old ballads of Merle or Hank; they played in rock bands, though Henley was associated with country luminary Kenny Rogers at one point. But then again, what does that say, really?

Anyhoo, that's the elephant shooed out of the room. Nobody should think that I mistakenly believe the Eagles to be country, not real country. At best, they could possibly be described as country-lite, but that didn't stop them tapping into the zeitgeist and creating a slew of hits that endure even today, more than forty years after they were formed. A lot of people hate the Eagles, and it's easy to see why: it's like they pretend to be something they're not. But if you can get past that, there's a whole lot of really good music just a-waitin' over the border, or something.

Love them or hate them, it's highly likely you know the opener, one of their big hit singles, and “Take it Easy” gets things going in a real breezy, uptempo groove with just maximum cool factor (for the time) as the guitars ramp up and the first voice we hear is that of the late Glenn Frey, the song co-written by Jackson Browne, one of two he contributes to the album, although I don't know if “Nightingale” is a cover of one of his or one he wrote for the Eagles. The spirit of freedom is invoked in the first lines of “Take it Easy” as Frey sings “I'm runnin' down the road, tryin' to loosen my load, I got seven women on my mind...” Yeah. Veiled misogyny or at least a healthy disrespect for women would come through in a lot of these guys' songs, like “Lyin' Eyes”, “Already Gone” and of course “New Kid in Town”. There's no getting away from that, and again it's something we have to face: the Eagles, an all-male band, had little if anything good to say about women.

But this was the seventies, and such sentiments were almost expected from a rock band, so I doubt anyone at the time gave it much attention. In latter years, no doubt several studies have been made and theses written about the overt mistreatment of the distaff side in the songs of the Eagles. The woman is always a temptress, a cheat, in some cases even a killer and just plain crazy, like in “Hotel California”. There are love songs, sure, but not too many of them. So “Take it Easy” became something of an anthem and a mission statement for “poor guys” pursued by vengeful or too-clingy or just plain inconvenient girlfriends, wives and mistresses, and we all sang out hearts out to the lines “We may lose, and we may win, but we will never be here again!” The powerful multi-vocal comes into effect here already, particularly in the end, where the song goes a little bluegrass, thanks to Bernie Leadon's banjo, and on we go into the similarly misogynistic “Witchy Woman”.

With a sort of Native American rhythm (perhaps suggesting the guy in the song is singing about an “Injun girl”?) it's much slower, darker - whereas you could, if you wanted, take the opener as a lighthearted snook being cocked at relationships that try to tie you down (“Four that wanna own me, two that wanna stone me, one says she's a friend of mine”), this is a harsher indictment of womankind - and basically about a witch. Or if not an actual witch, a woman who has, shall we say, powers? “See how high she flies” sings Don Henley, on his first vocal performance, “she got the moon in her eyes.” Sure, Cliff Richard would sing about a “Devil Woman” a few years later, and Country legend Marty Robbins had already done so (same title but not the same song) in the sixties, but these people were not almost synonymous with songs that put down women.

It's a moody, brooding song, and in it the man is warned of the devilment the woman can work on him - “Sparks fly from her fingertips” - and it's clear that she's a figure to be avoided. Salem, huh? That said, it's not a bad song and after “Take it Easy” was the second single, though I believe there are far better tracks here that would have served as well, or better. It does at least give Randy Meisner a chance to bring his sultry bass to the fore, and it drives the rhythm well. Frey is back then behind the mike for the abysmal “Chug all Night”, which is basically a good old boys, rabble-rousin' drinkin' song, and sounds like it. I ran this album previously in my Bitesize journal (much smaller review of course) and there was nothing good I could say about this track then. That hasn't changed. This is garbage. Moving on. Randy Meisner exercises his vocal talents for the first time on the album, and it's a beautiful little ballad which quickly erases the memory of the banality of the previous track, and shows us a glimpse of what the Eagles would be like in their more laidback moments. With echoes of “Best of My Love, “Take It to the Limit” and “The Last Resort”, the song features the close harmony singing of all the quartet, and it has to be said, it's moving and beautiful, and “Most of Us Are Sad” gets us right back on track.

That Jackson Browne song then kicks things back up a gear, and we're back in “Take it Easy” territory with “Nightingale”, rocking along nicely but to be honest it's nothing terribly special. In fairness, I guess it's one track on which there's a positive view of women, even if it is just “Here comes my baby”. I've checked and I see Browne's solo career began the same year as the Eagles', so I have to assume this was written for them, as it's not on his debut solo album and I haven't seen it on any others up to about 1980. I know Henley and Browne were flatmates or at least lived in the same building, so maybe he couldn't use the song, or didn't want to, and gave it to him for use in his band. Whatever, it's not worth exploring too deeply because as I say it's not a great song. What is a great song - almost the standout as far as I'm concerned - is the cover of Dillard and Clark's “Train Leaves Here This Morning”, which gives an idea of how the Eagles' music should have been developing if they wanted to be taken as serious country performers. Course, I'm sure they were much more interested in becoming famous and rich, and who can blame them, so they went more the popular West Coast route. But this is a lovely glimpse into what they could have been.

It lopes along at an unhurried pace and has a real western feel to it, the vocal harmonies really coming into their own on the chorus, and gives Bernie Leadon his first chance to sing lead, which he does extremely well. There wasn't, it would seem, one of these guys who couldn't sing, and sing well. Of course, for those who don't know, Leadon was with Clark in that band and played on as well as co-wrote the song, so it's not so much a cover as one of his own songs brought over to the new band. Great track though. “Take the devil” brings Meisner back into the spotlight, and it's a sharp, tough song on which the guitars really speak and a feeling of desperation permeates the song. It's a mile away from “Take it easy”, the last two songs perhaps categorisable as “serious” Eagles songs, and it also presages the likes of “Bitter Creek” from Desperado. Very powerful, and much more rock than pop, or even country. It's also one of two songs on the album written by Meisner.

“Earlybird” then has him collaborating with Leadon, with the latter taking the vocal this time, and they work well as a team, even if the song is a lightweight bluegrass tune with overtones of the West Coast sound and silly birdsong effects. Great banjo from Leadon gives it an authentic feel, and to be fair it rocks along at a good lick. Probably everyone knows “Peaceful Easy Feeling”, but did you know it was not written by them? No? And you don't care? Well, why are you reading this then? Fuck off and read some other thread. Jack Tempchin, a struggling songwriter and performer, gave the song to Glenn Frey when they met up and he asked if he could develop it further. It subsequently became a big hit for the Eagles. Its easy, finger-clicking beat harks back to the likes of “Take it Easy” but with a slower, more laconic, even lazy beat, and it has a really nice guitar solo in the midsection. Frey sings it of course, and it became another iconic song for the band. Which leaves us with the closer, another Randy Meisner effort, simply called “Tryin'”.

Written and sung by him, it's a fitting closer for a pretty impressive debut album. It's quite short - the shortest track on the album, in fact - but it brings the rock back and almost bookends the album with “Take it Easy”, the basic melody rather similar but more uptempo and with the guitars sharper. It's perhaps a little touching when he sings “I'm gonna make it with my friends.” And he did, of course.

TRACKLISTING

Take it Easy
Witchy Woman
Chug all Night
Most of Us Are Sad
Nightingale
Train Leaves Here This Morning
Take the Devil
Earlybird
Peaceful Easy Feeling
Tryin'

Up to now I've been pretty constant in my damning debut albums with faint praise. I know you can't expect gold too often on your first outing, and I'm prepared to give a band or artiste time to settle in as it were. But here, though it's not gold all the way, this album gets it right far more than it gets it wrong. Three hit singles and a top twenty (nearly) album on your first outing? That's not tryin': that succeedin'!

Rating: 9/10
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Old 04-28-2022, 09:04 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Desperado (1973)

I could of course be wrong - wouldn't be the first time - but I think this is the first, possibly only concept album I've seen in the country music genre. Of course, I'm not all that well versed with country and western music, so that's really not a claim I should be making. However, it is the only country concept album I've ever seen or heard of, so for that at least it deserves a listen.

Second album released by the Eagles, it's based around the concept of an outlaw gang, the Daltons, who figure fairly heavily in the history and mythology of the Old West. Although they only enjoyed a brief spell of notoriety, operating from the year 1890 to 1892, they ran with the Youngers, who were affiliated with Jesse James' James Gang (though the Daltons and the James never met or rode together), as well as Bill Doolin, legendary founder of the Wild Bunch. The Daltons were three brothers, who began life as lawmen but later became outlaws for various reasons.

The album opens on “Doolin-Dalton”, an acoustic rendition of the tale of the Daltons, who later joined up with Bill Doolin and became the Doolin-Dalton Gang. Don Henley takes the lead vocal, with Glenn Frey also adding vocals and a very atmospheric harmonica. Great guitar from Frey and Bernie Leadon, who would only last with the Eagles two more years, unhappy with the direction the band was taking towards more commercial, radio-friendly music and away from pure country and bluegrass. The latter is evidenced by “Twenty-one”, on which Leadon not only sings, plays dobro and banjo but also wrote the song. Very much a one-man-band, in terms of this song. It's a good foot-tapper with a good melody, but the sort of song very definitely that the Eagles would gravitate away from, over the course of the next two albums. Far harder and rockier is “Out of Control”, where Frey takes over both on vocals and guitar, perhaps taking a leaf out of Bowie's book on “Suffragette City”. A good rocker, with some great guitar from Frey, a real drinking song, and again the sort of thing they would move away from in favour of more AOR and often bland soft rock in the future, culminating in the record-breaking milestone Hotel California.

One of their big hits is up next, the mid-paced ballad “Tequila Sunrise”, Glenn Frey again behind the mike and also adding acoustic guitar, with Leadon playing the electric and a beautiful little mandolin solo that really makes the song. This then of course shows the slide towards commerciality that would for some people ruin the Eagles, and for others offer them a door into the world of country music and an appreciation of this band. Either way, it was a huge hit, and the boys were already on their way to fame and glory. The next song everyone knows, but perhaps not everyone knows it was never a single, despite being one of the huge standards of the Eagles. “Desperado” is sung by Henley, with Frey performing a classic and heartfelt piano piece which more or less carries the whole thing, as the outlaw is warned not to push his luck too far: ”Don't you draw the Queen of Diamonds, boy/ She'll beat you if she's able/ The Queen of Hearts is always your best bet.” One of my favourite Eagles songs, and with good reason. Why this was never released as a single I will never know.

Leadon's acoustic guitar and powerful mandolin lead in the only song on the album voiced by Randy Meisner, as “Certain Kind of Fool” tells the tale of how the Daltons became outlaws, with lead guitar from Frey as Meisner tells of the outlaw's purchase of his first gun: ”He saw it in a window/ The mark of a new kind of man/ He kind of liked the feeling/ So shiny and smooth in his hand.” Great solo from Frey, and Meisner's vocal, though a little strained, somehow seems to fit this song. With a flourish on the drums it ends and hits into the only instrumental on the album, less than a minute long, and mostly riding on Leadon's versatile banjo, “Doolin-Dalton (instrumental)” runs directly into “Outlaw Man”, a boogie rocker with Frey back on vocals, on the only song on the album not written by any of the Eagles. A great rippin' guitar solo from Leadon, then the song kicks into higher gear, almost southern boogie style, with fine backing vocals to the end, like a train hurtlin' down the tracks.

Another great ballad then in the mariachi-influenced “Saturday Night”, a real song of reminiscence with Henley on vocals and acoustic guitar, and Leadon adding his mesmeric touch on the mandolin, almost giving the song a vaguely Celtic feel. Really nice song this, close to the standout, but then you have of course the title track, “Tequila Sunrise” and “Doolin-Dalton” to consider. The next one is close to a contender as well, with vocal from Bernie Leadon on the introspective “Bitter Creek”, also written by him. It has a very Delta blues feel to it, and I'm pretty sure that's a dobro Leadon is playing. It's also the longest track on the album, just over five minutes. Some great vocal harmonies on this, puts me in mind in places of Simon and Garfunkel at their best.

The closer is a sort of pastiche of the opener and the title, called “Doolin-Dalton/Desperado (Reprise)”, which at the time excited me when I found out about it. I had listened to, and loved, “Desperado” for decades, never knowing or even dreaming there was more to the song, that there was a reprise. It's not a disappointment, and it closes the album really well. The first part, the “Doolin-Dalton” section, is essentially just a retreading of the song that opened the album, though more acoustic with banjo and dobro in Leadon's capable hands, and Henley on lead vocals. About halfway through the song, a banjo break ends the first part and we slide into “Desperado (Reprise)”, which is indeed a continuation of the famous classic, and gives it new life, finishing the story but nevertheless leaving the conclusion unresolved, and taking this classic album to a very satisfying end.

There are those who love the Eagles, and those who hate them. There are those who think they sold out on the Hotel California album, and perhaps they did. There's no doubt that, like Deep Purple and perhaps Led Zeppelin too, they were coaxed out of retirement by huge mountains of money: Don Henley's promise that the band would reform “when Hell freezes over” was used as a clever marketing ploy to title the reunion album, but is fairly clear evidence that these guys did not get back together because they missed each other. Most had quite successful solo projects going, and they surely did not need the hassle of a world tour. But the dollar has a loud voice, and they listened to it.

Many will denounce them for that, for making the music secondary to money, but there's no doubting that, while that album was little more than a live set of old material with four new tracks, it did lead to one of the best albums, in my opinion, of 2007, the real comeback album, Long Road out of Eden. Whatever your view on their future work, Desperado shows the two sides of the Eagles: the pure, undiluted country/bluegrass and the more adult-oriented rock side of them, the latter of which won out in the end and made them huge international stars. But I really like this album, not so much for its disparities but for the way it pulls all the threads together into one cohesive whole. Elements which should really have no business working together do, and the album is the better for it.

The final word I leave to a review in, of all things, an Alias Smith and Jones annual from my childhood. A few paragraphs only, concerned of course with the fact that this album addresses the story of cowboy gangs and outlaws, and yet, for all its brevity and simplicity, it really does say it all about this album.

Desperado, by the Eagles. It's only a record. But what a record.”

TRACK LISTING

1. Doolin-Dalton
2. Twenty-one
3. Out of Control
4. Tequila Sunrise
5. Desperado
6. Certain Kind of Fool
7. Doolin-Dalton (instrumental)
8. Outlaw Man
9. Saturday Night
10. Bitter Creek
11. Doolin-Dalton/Desperado (Reprise)

Rating: 8.9/10
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Old 04-28-2022, 03:47 PM   #3 (permalink)
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So much churlishness! I'll have to look up the word after I post this.

I became familiar with Don Henley's solo work before I found out about the Eagles. I think it's safe to say that the band's place in history is cemented. They wrote a ton of hits. Desperado was drilled into 90s kids thanks to Seinfeld. Hotel California has one of the most recognizable guitar solos out there.

Fun fact - on a live album, Kelly Jones from Stereophonics said that when he first heard Life In The Fastlane, he thought he heard life in the vaseline.

Speaking of Don Henley, he had huge hair! I loved the hair.
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Old 05-10-2022, 07:12 PM   #4 (permalink)
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On the Border (1974)

Opening on what would become another hit, “Already Gone” is pretty much “Take it Easy Part II” really. It's quite similar in construction, and yes, again, it's a song in which the woman is to blame. Sigh. Another Tempchin song, it has some fine biting guitar in it and I guess it's got to be seen as a “so long getting out of this relationship” song, another of which features later. There's definitely a sense of triumph and emancipation about it. Not surprisingly, it's Frey who takes the vocal again, as he and Tempchin, as already mentioned, were friends and it's a song the writer sent to him in the hope he might popularise it with his band, as he did. I do like the line “So oftentimes it happens that we live our lives in chains, and we never even know we have the key.” There's a certain sense of taking control of your life here, so I guess you can't be too critical.

The next track sounds like a complaint a man would make, maybe, but it's a bit odd. “You Never Cry Like a Lover” features some beautiful piano from Frey, but the vocal is taken by Henley, and it's a really nice ballad, even given the somewhat perhaps insulting theme. The melody sounds slightly familiar, but as so often is the case, I can't remember where I heard it, or even if I did. “Midnight Flyer” kicks out the bluegrass jams, and it's the first song on the album not written or at least co-written by an Eagle. It takes the old country idea of the railroad and pumps along on Bernie Leadon's sprightly banjo as Randy Meisner gets his first shot at vocals this time around. One of the standouts next in the Bernie Leadon show, where he writes, sings, plays lead guitar and pedal steel on “My Man”, a tribute to the late Gram Parsons, with whom he used to play. It's another ballad, but tinged with real bittersweetness as Leadon remembers his fallen comrade. Again great harmony vocals make the song. It's touching when he sings “We who must remain go on living just the same” and you can really feel the hurt in his voice.

The title track brings in handclaps that would later surface on one of their last hits, with what sounds like Jew's harp and has a very doo-wop style chorus, some very nasty guitar; the basic melody would be robbed decades later for Henley's solo album Inside Job. There's quite a bit of funk about the guitar too mixed in with a sense of the blues. Good song and a very good title track. Rocking out then like good things with “James Dean”, one of the songs originally written for the project which ended up becoming the Desperado album, with input from Jackson Browne again. It's a good song, but a little one-dimensional, though the vocal harmonies rescue it from being too run of the mill. They then (probably) infuriate Waits by tackling his “Ol' 55”, and to be fair they do an okay job, but also to be fair, they don't change it much so what was the point really? It's a great song, and it fits in with the general “You screwed up my life and now I'm leaving you” mini-theme that runs through the album, and I guess they wanted to pay homage to the great man, but still, do something with the song if you're going to cover it. Once again though, the amazing vocal harmonies save it.

Meisner is back with his other song (written by him too; seems any solo-penned song gets sung by the writer. Must be an agreement they came to) “Is it True?” which is really not too bad, and features some of the slide guitar that would later become famous on “Life in the Fast Lane”, then some powerful and dirty gee-tar (it's got to be written that way: this is not guitar, it's gee-tar! Boy) opens “Good Day in Hell”, which once again casts the woman in the worst light possible. With both Frey and Henley on vocals though it works really effectively and you catch yourself singing along when they sing “Oh well, it's been a good day in Hell.” Indeed. And we end on another classic, the beautiful ballad “Best of My Love”, which sees Henley back on vox to complete the album. Sadly, once again, it's the woman's fault: “I know you were trying to give me the best of your love”, and later he sings “Every night and day you get the best of my love.” So he can give her the best of his love, but not vice versa? Man, when you start thinking, really thinking about this lyrics you can get really annoyed. Ah in fairness the guy does take some of the blame - "Look at the way that we live/ Wastin' our time on cheap talk and wine/Left us so little to give." Still, beautiful pedal steel from Bernie and a gorgeous acoustic guitar kind of make you forget about all that.

And of course, there's always the sublime vocal harmonies. Never forget the sublime vocal harmonies. Hold on to the sublime vocal....

TRACK LISTING

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
Best of My Love

This album sees the Eagles building on their already pretty amazing success. While Desperado was not the hit they might have hoped after the debut did so well, this album took them into the top twenty and gave them a number one hit single. You can see how their songwriting craft was developing, as well as their sound, and soon they would no longer need covers or songs written by other songwriters. Did they but know it, immortal fame and complete commercial success was only two albums away. Of course, after that, it was all downhill.

Rating: 8.2/10
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