THE EAGLES -
The Eagles chronicled America in the high-flying Seventies, a time of rapidly changing social mores leading up to what they called “life in the fast lane.” Between the lines, their favorite subject matter was the pursuit and unraveling of the American dream. They began as wide-eyed country-rockers on the fertile Los Angeles music scene and evolved into purveyors of grandiose, dark-themed albums about excess and seduction. The Eagles were defined and bounded by the Seventies, forming in 1971 and parting ways in 1980. They were born again in 1994 as public demand for their music and messages persuaded them to reunite.
The statistics on the Eagles reveal their influence as a rock and roll band. The group’s first best-of collection, Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975, is among the best-selling albums of all time, having sold more than 26 million copies. It was the first album to be certified platinum (1 million sold) by the Recording Industry Association of America, which introduced that classification in 1976. They released four consecutive Number One albums between 1975 and 1979: One of These Nights, Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975, Hotel California and The Long Run. Collectively, those four albums topped Billboard’s album chart for 27 weeks. Proving they hadn’t lost their touch, the 1994 reunion album Hell Freezes Over occupied the Number One spot for two weeks. The Eagles charted five Number One hits, and five more singles made the Top 10. They sold more albums in the Seventies than any other American band. Moreover, though the band was inactive in the Eighties, their back catalog steadily sold 1.5 million copies a year.
The Eagles formed in Los Angeles as four musicians from varied backgrounds and locales. Drummer Don Henley had migrated west from Texas with his band, Shiloh. Guitarist Glenn Frey was a rocker from Detroit who headed to Los Angeles, where he befriended fellow musicians Jackson Browne and John David Souther. Bernie Leadon, who plays a variety of stringed instruments, boasted a bluegrass background and belonged to the Flying Burrito Brothers. Bassist and high-harmony singer Randy Meisner played with such country- and folk-rock mainstays as Rick Nelson, James Taylor and Poco. After touring together in 1971 as members of Linda Ronstadt’s band, they went off on their own and were honing the repertoire of songs that would appear on their debut album, Eagles.
At this point, their country-flavored rock evoked vistas as boundless as those of the Old West, whose frontier mythology they adopted. The album kicked off with the rousing country-rocker “Take It Easy” (cowritten by Frey and Browne). It also contained the Eagles standards “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and “Witchy Woman.” The social milieu of Southern California inspired the central metaphor of Desperado, a concept album in which the Eagles explored the notion of rocker-as-outlaw. Released in 1973, it yielded such Eagles favorites as “Tequila Sunrise” and the title track. The group’s third album, On the Border, found the Eagles changing producers (Glyn Johns to Bill Szymczyk) and locales (London to Los Angeles). Harder-rocking than its predecessors, On the Border was beefed up by the addition of guitarist Don Felder late in the sessions. Ironically, it was an acoustic ballad, “The Best of My Love,” that carried them to the top of the charts in March 1975.
One of These Nights, the Eagles’ next album, reflected the disillusionment that had infiltrated the political outlooks and personal lives of young Americans at mid-decade. With the nation poised between Watergate and the Bicentennial, the Eagles unerringly captured the mood of uncertainty and mistrust. The group was rewarded with their first Number One album and a trio of hit singles: “One of These Nights,” “Lyin’ Eyes” and “Take It to the Limit.” One of These Nights took six months to make and the increasingly grueling recording process, along with the creative control exerted by chief songwriters Henley and Frey, caused Bernie Leadon to quit at the end of 1975. He was replaced by Joe Walsh, an old friend who added even more of a hard-rock edge to the Eagles’ sound.
By now, the Eagles could justifiably be called superstars. The Eagles raised the stakes with their masterful fifth album, Hotel California, and its haunting, metaphorical title track. Largely composed in the studio,Hotel California was released in December 1976. The album instantly struck a responsive chord and stands as their best-selling release (excluding compilations). The Eagles added a popular catch phrase to the lexicon – "life in the fast lane" – and set a new standard for song composition and recording with the exquisitely layered “Hotel California.” However, the year spent making Hotel California claimed another member. Citing exhaustion, Randy Meisner left in September and was replaced by Timothy Schmit, formerly of Poco.
Sessions for their sixth album, The Long Run, dragged on for two years and drove the Eagles to the breaking point. Although it was by all outward standards a success, yielding yet another trio of hits ("Heartache Tonight,” “The Long Run” and “I Can’t Tell You Why"), its making had been a draining experience that ultimately spelled the Eagles’ demise. Tellingly, the album cover was black. “I knew the Eagles were over about halfway through The Long Run,” said Frey. Their swan song was Eagles Live, a double album released in 1980. By that time the group had essentially disbanded, though no formal announcement was made. “We probably peaked on Hotel California,” Henley noted in a 1982 interview. “After that, we started growing apart as collaborators and as friends.”
Various members (particularly Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Joe Walsh) thereupon launched or resumed successful solo careers. Meanwhile, the Eagles’ ongoing influence inspired the renegade “new country” movement. When 13 of country’s hottest acts recorded the tribute album Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles in 1993, its triple-platinum success helped trigger an Eagles reunion a year later. Glenn Frey announced at the start of a 1994 concert for MTV’s cameras that the Eagles’ 14-year-old “vacation” had ended. “We see this not as a reunion but a resumption,” Frey explained. The Eagles recorded four new studio songs, and these joined live run-throughs of 11 old favorites for Hell Freezes Over. Despite high-priced tickets that engendered some controversy, the subsequent Eagles tours were bonafide events for fans who’d despaired of ever seeing them share a stage again. The Eagles closed out the century as headliners at a Millennium Eve concert in Los Angeles.
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