Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: Eagles

For years I’ve been one of the millions of Eagles haters out there – including the most famous, the Dude: “I hate the fuckin’ Eagles, man!” And don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of very good reasons to hate the Eagles. But you know, the Eagles aren’t at No. 1 on my “hate” list any more. That spot now belongs to Billy Joel – but that’s another story, for another time.

When they came out of Southern California in 1972, the Eagles were influenced by the era’s country rock, pioneered by Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers. They were a slicked-down distant cousin to Buffalo Springfield’s country rock excursions, even more pallid and meek than Poco.  Among the many adjectives attached to the Eagles included “soulless,” “insincere” and “phony.” People hated the Eagles for their self-satisfaction, misogyny, false emotions and their aspiration to pop success. Any of this criticism of the Eagles, truth to be told, could have been successfully also laid at the feet of any of the big Southern California acts of the day (Linda Ronstadt, Fleetwood Mac, Jackson Browne, America).

But it was easier to hate the Eagles – they personified everything we despised about L.A. at the time and became the biggest band in the world. Today I want to spin their 1975 LP One Of These Nights, which helped to make them international superstars. The band – Don Henley, Randy Meisner, Glenn Frey, Bernie Leadon and Don Felder – had already put out three albums and Henley had gone on record saying he wanted to push the band in the direction of hard rock before the third album, On The Border. Fans learned that what you get with the Eagles was not always necessarily what was promised – the so-called hard rock songs from On The Border, like “Already Gone” were nowhere near what was considered hard rock of the day (Led Zeppelin).

So when Henley promised a turn toward R&B for One Of These Nights, you got the song “One Of These Nights.” With its thumping beat and high-register vocal (by Henley) the song reflected the Eagles’ idea of R&B. Had it come out a few years later, it would certainly have been called disco. But the lyrics reflect a dark, occult sensuality that threads through other songs on the album.

The darkness continues on “Too Many Hands,” written by Meisner and Felder and sung by Meisner. Now you could make a case for Henley’s hard rock on this tune, as Felder and Frey deliver some tasty rockin’ guitar leads. This song is about a girl who has had “too many hands” on her and though “she’s lost all her glory” her heart “is still yearning to be found.” Henley could be singing about the same woman on “Hollywood Waltz,” but this song’s tone is one of sadness, sung to a sweet country-rock steel guitar played by Leadon. Here you can detect the seeds of Don Henley’s later solo career – but give ’em credit, “Hollywood Waltz” may be the most humane set of lyrics he’s written.

Side One of this album closes out with the instrumental “Journey of the Sorcerer,” a Leadon effort featuring space banjos and cosmic fiddlin’ (by guest David Bromberg). A bit of a head scratcher, particularly coming from the ever-reliable Leadon, “Sorcerer” nevertheless gives the album a sense of majesty and a feel for the world beyond L.A. The song was used a few years later as the theme music for the BBC radio series “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.”

Side Two kicks off with “Lyin’ Eyes,” which if you didn’t hear on the radio in 1975 you probably heard it five years later on the soundtrack of Urban Cowboy. A few songs later comes “After The Thrill Is Gone,” an OK ballad but disturbing signs the Eagles are already beginning to repeat themselves. Better is “Take It To The Limit,” apparently written by Randy Meisner with help from Henley and Frey. These songs paint an unsettling portrait of the L.A. scenester, mindlessly chasing pleasures of the flesh without a sense of morality or mortality.

This side’s two clunkers are “Visions,” written and sung by Felder, and the godawful “I Wish You Peace,” sung by Leadon. “Visions” at least has some more rockin’ guitar work from Felder. “Peace” is an attempt at a positive statement to close out the album, and it’s terrible. The song is notable because it was co-written by Patti Davis, Leadon’s girlfriend at the time and the daughter of then-governor Ronald Reagan.

Well, One Of These Nights was naturally a platinum-selling album that spawned a handful of hit singles. The Eagles were on top of the world, but the view wasn’t so great from the inside – Bernie Leadon would quit the band in disgust over the direction of the music (hard rock) and would subsequently be replaced by Joe Walsh. Meisner would last one more album, Hotel California, then he would be replaced by Timothy B. Schmidt. You probably know the rest of the story.

MP3: “Too Many Hands”

MP3: “Hollywood Waltz”

MP3: “Journey Of The Sorcerer”

Article in The Dudespaper, “Creedence and the Fuckin’ Eagles, Man!”

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