Glenn Frey’s California may have been something out of a dream, a golden land of peaceful, easy feelings, tequila sunrises, and takin’ it to the limit. As a founding member of Eagles, Frey spread the gospel of fast cars, beautiful women and eternal sunshine around the world, picking up six Grammy Awards and 24 Top 40 singles, solo and with his band, along the way. With his passing yesterday at age 67, popular music has lost one of its most cherished troubadours.
Though born in Michigan, Frey – along with his Eagles compatriots – defined the sound of California for the 1970s much as The Beach Boys did for the 1960s. Though the Eagles would be well-known for living “life in the fast lane,” per the memorable song by Frey, Don Henley and Joe Walsh, their music has far outlasted the sting of tabloid scrutiny. A talented guitarist, songwriter and lead vocalist, Frey sang two of the three hits on the band’s first album: the anthemic “Take It Easy” (surely one of the most famous songs of all time and one which he co-wrote) and breezy “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” 1972’s Eagles was key in popularizing the distinctive Southern California amalgam of country, rock and pop, and the band became the nexus of a tight-knit musical community with the likes of Linda Ronstadt (who played a crucial role in the Eagles’ early days), Jackson Browne, J.D. Souther, and Ned Doheny.
Radio and their record-shattering first volume of Greatest Hits made the Eagles ubiquitous and in some critical quarters unpopular, but that shouldn’t take away from their prodigious musical gifts. Frey and Henley co-wrote “Desperado” for the band’s second album, creating a standard that has since been recorded by a diverse Who’s Who including Carpenters, Andy Williams, Judy Collins, Johnny Cash and of course, Linda Ronstadt. 1974’s On the Border introduced the beautiful “Best of My Love,” written by Souther, Henley and Frey; Souther credited Frey with its gentle melody as inspired by Fred Neil, while Frey himself acknowledged Joni Mitchell for teaching him a tuning that he would use in crafting the song.
1975’s One of These Nights incorporated classic country and soul influences on songs such as “Lyin’ Eyes” and “One of These Nights,” respectively, and proved preface to the band’s dark, edgy opus Hotel California. Only one more studio album would arrive for the Eagles before their initial breakup, though tracks like “I Can’t Tell You Why” and “Heartache Tonight,” both co-written by Frey, left no doubt that the band’s melodies would thrive for The Long Run. Frey continued to have success as a solo artist as he adapted his sound for the 1980s with such memorable (and saxophone-driven!) hits as the sinuous, sensual “The One You Love,” the driving “The Heat is On” and dramatic “You Belong to the City,” written for Miami Vice.
The Eagles, of course, reunited in 1994 and continued to perform on and off through 2015. In 2012, Frey released his first studio album in 20 years with After Hours, on which he paid tribute to colleagues and musical inspirations alike, including Randy Newman, Burt Bacharach, Brian Wilson and Johnny Mercer. But ultimately, Glenn Frey’s music was for all hours. Right up until his death, this musical desperado gave fans the best of his love, conjuring a richly vivid dreamscape for all who would listen. Indeed, there’s a hole in the world tonight.