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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

ON A DARK DESERT HIGHWAY......

Okay, I can already feel the dismay coming off some of you. Whatever, I'm doing my thing.

It begins with the Byrds. After their initial pop success, and the departure of David Crosby, Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman needed a shot in the arm. They had derailed, and were wont for direction. To fill out the band for a tour they hired then unknown Gram Parsons. Parsons in turn led the Byrds toward a country vibe.

Parsons would go on to form the extremely influential Flying Burrito Brothers, then he went out on his own, released two solo records, and promptly died.

The brief career of Gram Parsons was not in vain. Though he never achieved the superstar success of the many artists whom he mentored, his influence was broad and is still felt today.

Among the artists who followed Gram's lead was Linda Ronstadt. In 1971 a touring band was put together for Ronstadt that included guitarist Glen Frey, bassist Randy Meisner, former Flying Burrito Brothers guitarist Bernie Leadon, and a drummer named Don Henley.

After the tour Ronstadt encouraged them to form their own group, and put them in touch with David Geffen at Asylum Records. Thusly the Eagles were born.

With some songwriting help from label mate Jackson Browne, in 1972 they released their self titled debut. Spawning the hits 'Take it Easy', 'Peaceful Easy Feeling', and 'Witchy Woman', the first record is a bit, well, easy. Certainly the Eagles had established themselves as hit-makers, but they lacked sack for the most part. Deftly recorded by Glyn Johns, 'Eagles' does manage to define a sound that has remained with the band ever since.

Glyn came back for 1973's 'Desperado'. An effort was made to toughen up the bands image. The album cover depicts them as old west outlaws, and indeed much of the record deals with that theme. Though Bernie Leadon's considerable talents are showcased on the record, it is on 'Desperado' where Henley and Frey emerge as the dominant force in the band. Much like the first record, the hits were soft rock fare ('Tequila Sunrise', 'Desperado'), but the meat of the album features a move toward a ballsier rock approach.




Don and Glen wanted to continue the migration toward a 'heavier' sound, and during the recording of the third record, 'On the Border', they dropped Glyn Johns in favor of Bill Szmczyk. This marks the spot where Don and Glen become the duo of dickdom. As if Glyn Johns, producer of The Who, was the roadblock to big rock,......yeah, sure.

At any rate, Bill Szmczyk is no slouch. Bill brought in guitarist Don Felder to take a whack at a slide track. Don was quickly inserted into the line-up. 'On the Border' delivered the hits 'Already Gone' (my most loathed Eagles tune) and 'Best of My Love'. Jackson digs the Tom Waits cover ('Old 55').

Now a five-piece, the Eagles returned to the studio in 1975 to record 'One of These Nights'. Broader in scope, it was clear that the band was reaching for bigger, more sophisticated production. The title track, the wonderful 'Take it to the Limit', and the Grammy winning 'Lyin' Eyes' provided the monster hits that took the Eagles where they obviously were foaming at the mouth to get to, ridiculously successful.

The three guitar line-up pleased Don and Glen, but Bernie wasn't diggin' it. His diminished role coupled with the trend leading away from Country compelled him to leave the band. A replacement was desired, and label mate and Szmczyk pal Joe Walsh was tapped to fill the spot.

Joe joined the band officially, and they recorded the ridiculously successful LP 'Hotel California'. This is the crest, the apex of the arc of the Eagles. You can say all you want about how much you hate this record, how ubiquitous it became, how ridiculously successful it was, and still is, but nothing you can say can take away from the fact that nothing you have ever done, or ever will, could ever come close to the greatness of 'Hotel California'.

It's just a plain fact.




Hey, I change the radio station when the title track comes on....usually. I'm way over it. It's like 'Stairway to Heaven' or 'More Than a Feeling', I don't ever need to hear it again.............but it is still great. 'Great' is even selling it short. 'New Kid In Town', 'Life In the Fast Lane', 'Victim of Love', 'Wasted Time', and the sublime 'Last Resort' flesh out a masterpiece.

Here is where Don and Glen destroy the music industry. The massive success of 'Hotel California' in concert with the chart dominating greatest hits package released a few months prior created a money trail that attracted the worst element to the cash cow the record business suddenly became.

Damn them.

Predictably there were repercussions. Randy Meisner quit dealing with the Don and Glenn Monster by quitting the band. In true rock fashion he was replaced by Timothy B. Schmit who had replaced Meisner in Poco when Randy helped form the Eagles.

Timothy B. Schmit has many other distinctions to his credit. He joins Ron Wood, Jason Newstead, and Brian Johnson as rock 'new guys' who have been in the band longer than they weren't. He is the more commonly known Eagles bassist, though until last year he had only played on one Eagles record. And, he takes second place, behind Scott Gorham, on the 'Best Rock Hair' list. Virtually indistinguishable, Gorham wins by default since Schmit was never in Thin Lizzy.



Another repercussion was the lackadaisical approach to the follow-up record. Though 1979's - yep, three years later - 'The Long Run' was also extremely successful, and contained hits (Title track, 'Heartache Tonight', 'I Can't Tell You Why'), it lacked greatness, except for the Joe Walsh contribution 'In the City', which is most certainly great.

The band hated each other. They were done. A final tour provided a live album, 'Eagles Live', and with that, the band split up, and we were thankful.

It had been enough, the seventies were over, and peaceful easy feelings were not in fashion any longer, nor had they been for some time.

Many blissful years later they committed the outrage of a reunion tour. Charging exhorbinant ticket prices they effectively secured an audience consisting solely of wealthy white women and their lobotomized men-folk.

After another lengthy period of gracious inactivity they released an album of new material last year. Tony says it's good. I believe him, I'm just not interested. Along with Axl Rose and Van Halen, I have no current need for them.

Comments:
Funny how all these people were connected... Isn't Leadon's brother in Mudcrutch?
 
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GREAT POST!!! I lived the Eagles rise and fall and Hotel CA was one in the batch of LP's I selected when join my first penny for 6-12 record clubs against my parents wishes back in the 6th grade. Hotel CA is EXACTLY as you describe. I do enjoy the Long Run quite a bit and would argue its better than you contend.

I've always wondered how a chill dude like Joe can put up with the Duo of Dicktom. I wouldn't last a minute.

Your post has inspired me to chase down the Linda Ronstadt thread. Her and Jackson B were all over working the "backline" of the whole So Cal thing. I remember hearing her name come up in the Zevon bio a good deal. My mom was a HUGE fan of hers and spun her records a lot when I was a wee little Alva.

Thanks for putting in the time on this one.
 
Yes, Mudcrutch does feature Bernie's brother.

It does seem like a little community developed in the early seventies around Asylum Records, but spilling over into the likes of Fletwood Mac and others.
 
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