Just Find a Place to Make Your Stand
On the list of the United States' five best-selling albums of all time, one name stands tall - the only artist to lay claim to two of those five titles. That artist is, of course, a band: Eagles. 1976's Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) sits atop the list at 38 million copies sold; Hotel California is third with 26 million. The ten tracks on the former are all modern-day standards, each and every one of them still a radio staple. Though the original line-up is long gone - Bernie Leadon departed in 1975, Randy Meisner followed in 1977, and Glenn Frey passed away in 2016 - Don Henley still leads the Eagles for exultant, sold-out concerts around the world celebrating their formidable legacy. Now, Legacy is the simple but appropriate title for the band's new 12CD/1DVD/1BD (or 15-LP, sans the DVD and BD) box set.
This handsome collection contains all of the original studio and live albums by the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers from 1972's Eagles to 2007's Long Road Out of Eden. In addition, a bonus disc has been included featuring 10 single edits, B-sides and singles (including the CD premiere of "Get You in the Mood"). Exclusive to the CD box is a DVD of 1994's concert film Hell Freezes Over and a Blu-ray of the 2005 concert film Farewell Tour: Live from Melbourne. It seems impossible to believe that any classic rock fan wouldn't already have these recordings, but for those who don't, Legacy is one-stop shopping. For those who do, it's a refreshing, and sonically upgraded, look back at a group whose music is so ubiquitous, it's easy to take for granted.
"Easy" is, of course, the buzzword for the debut album Eagles. The word figured in two of its three top 40 singles - "Take It Easy" and "Peaceful Easy Feeling" - both of which were more than just songs; for many, they conjured a way of life. Like The Mamas and the Papas' "California Dreamin'" years earlier, both songs welcomed listeners to embrace a certain lifestyle of romance, the open road, sunshine, and relaxation. Glenn Frey's laid-back yet emotive vocals were powerfully inviting, the group's harmonies were heavenly, and the musicianship clean and crisp. Brought together in large part by Linda Ronstadt, the Eagles built on the country-rock foundation laid by groups like The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers (of which Leadon was a member), bringing a remarkable knack for traditional, melodic songcraft. But Eagles is actually a more varied collection of songs than is often remembered. The album's third single, Henley and Leadon's ominous ode to a "Witchy Woman," has elements of rock and R&B not to mention a heavy dose of theatricality. Leadon kept the band rooted in country and bluegrass on tracks like "Earlybird," with its sprightly picking, and the "Train Leaves Here This Morning," co-written with country-rock pioneer Gene Clark. Meisner brought a straightforward rock-and-roll sensibility to "Tryin'" and "Take the Devil." Frey's ballad "Most of Us Are Sad" showed a band unafraid to wear its heart on its sleeve. Much like the 1971 debut of fellow SoCal country-rockers America, Eagles wasn't recorded in the U.S. but rather in England. Producer Glyn Johns returned for the band's sophomore effort, Desperado.
The Southwest stylings of Eagles expanded to encompass classic western themes on the 1973 LP. Drummer/vocalist Henley came into his own; while he co-wrote just one song on Eagles, he had eight credits on Desperado including the achingly beautiful title track. Though it wasn't released as a single, the Frey/Henley composition nonetheless earned popularity thanks to covers by artists including Ronstadt, Johnny Rodriguez, and Carpenters. The newly-minted songwriting team also supplied the dreamy "Tequila Sunrise," and shared lead vocals on the Old West epic "Doolin-Dalton." Heard three times on the LP as loose connective tissue, "Doolin-Dalton" was penned by Henley and Frey with pals Jackson Browne (author of Eagles' "Nightingale" and co-writer with Frey of "Take It Easy") and J.D. Souther, Frey's old bandmate in the duo Longbranch Pennywhistle. David Blue's "Outlaw Man" viscerally captured the album's ethos while "Saturday Night," written by all four members, was a shimmering, reflective ballad. Not a strict concept album, Desperado had traces of its predecessor's variety, especially because Leadon's two contributions (the rave-up "Twenty-One" and moody, evocative "Bitter Creek") and the Meisner-led rocker "Certain Kind of Fool" were so dissimilar to the Henley/Frey material. Even that duo's "Out of Control," eschewing the western themes, was atypically noisy.
I Will Sing This Vict'ry Song
But rather than follow the natural progression of their first two albums, the Eagles sought to court a new audience with their third LP. They began sessions for On the Border in London with Glyn Johns but felt Johns was impeding their move away from country and into pure rock. Back in California, they enlisted producer-engineer Bill Szymczyk (who, ironically, had solid country-rock bona fides himself) as well as a fifth member: guitarist Don Felder. Though Felder only appeared on two tracks ("Good Day in Hell" and the breezily rollicking "Already Gone") he brought the required edge to the group. For his part, Szymczyk allowed the band more freedom in the studio, leading to the somewhat less polished, more immediate sound they were seeking. The gamble paid off when On the Border became the Eagles' most successful album to that point.
On the Border didn't completely abandon the country sound of the band's first two LPs. Paul Craft's "Midnight Flyer" was steeped in bluegrass banjos. Even the hit "Already Gone" by Jack Tempchin and Robert Stradlund wore C&W influences proudly, but under Szymczyk's supervision was decidedly more muscular. The Eagles gave a push to fledgling songwriter Tom Waits with a persuasive cover of his wistfully yearning "Ol' 55." Souther and Browne reteamed with Henley and Frey for the ironically upbeat "James Dean," one of the Eagles' numerous songs about the darker side of showbiz. Gram Parsons was celebrated on Leadon's touching tribute "My Man," while Henley and Frey's "Good Day in Hell" was inspired by the drug-fueled demise of Parsons and Crazy Horse's Danny Whitten. The biggest hit off On the Border was, ironically, one of the two tracks held over from the Glyn Johns sessions. Henley, Frey, and Souther's "Best of My Love," a gorgeously tender ballad in classic American songbook style with lush harmonies, earned the Eagles their first No. 1 on the U.S. Hot 100.
With Felder now ensconced in the line-up, the Eagles returned more than a year later for the album that turned out to be the end of an era. 1975's One of These Nights, pardon the pun, took the band's blend of country, rock, and pop to the limit: the Henley/Frey songwriting team continued to reign supreme, Randy Meisner delivered a smash hit, and Bernie Leadon bid farewell to his band. The title track was viewed, not incorrectly, by Frey as a breakthrough for their joint songwriting. In less than five minutes, the band made their biggest leap towards soul and R&B yet, adding a blistering Felder guitar solo, disco-influenced drums from Henley, Meisner's bass at its most liquid, and a delectable high harmony from Meisner complementing Henley's soulful, gritty lead. With Frey on piano and Leadon on rhythm guitar, the Eagles sounded like a wholly different group than the one that implored listeners to "Take It Easy." They were rewarded with their second Number One. Two other tracks went top ten, as well. Henley and Frey headed for "the cheatin' side of town" with "Lyin' Eyes." Sung by Glenn, it continued in the breezy vein of "Take It Easy" and "Peaceful Easy Feeling." The melodic folk-rock ballad not only reached No. 2 Pop, but gave the band a top ten berth on the Country chart and earned a Grammy Award. The third single was Randy Meisner's triumphant, orchestrated waltz "Take It to the Limit." The empowering anthem was so undeniably strong that it became the first Eagles A-side not sung by either Henley or Frey and the sole one sung by Meisner.
But One of These Nights wasn't solely about its singles. The wistful "Hollywood Waltz" from Henley, Frey, and Leadon conjures an engaging, old-time country feel, Eagles-style; Leadon's mystical, banjo-and-strings driven instrumental "Journey of the Sorcerer" embodied the cosmic American music that came naturally for him as a writer and musician. (It was later used prominently in the BBC's adaptation of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and subsequent versions.) David Bromberg joined the band on fiddle. Henley and Frey's "After the Thrill Is Gone" explored the aftermath of B.B. King's "The Thrill Is Gone" in a mature, sympathetic pop fashion. The most controversial track was Leadon's ballad "I Wish You Peace," co-written with Ronald Reagan's then-estranged daughter, Patti Davis. Yet it made for an apropos closer to the album and Leadon's tenure with the Eagles.
Such a Lovely Place
Everything about Eagles' next album was larger than life - beginning with the epic title track. December 1976's Hotel California yielded two U.S. No. 1 singles, was certified platinum within a week of release, and sold over 17 million copies in the U.S. alone as of 2013 - a number that grew to over 32 million worldwide, and counting. The sinister yet alluring tone of "Hotel California" was helmed with grace and precision by longtime producer Bill Szymczyk. On guitar, Walsh and his arena-ready heft had left no trace of Leadon and his country-fried lilt. With Walsh trading licks with Felder, and Henley as assertive as ever on drums and vocals, Eagles were taking flight to rock. Meisner was locked in the groove on bass, as Frey added texture on keyboards and guitar. The high level of craft behind the blazingly intense "Hotel California" (fleshed out by Henley and Frey from Felder's original musical concept) carried over through the relatively taut album's nine songs. The cautionary tale of "Life in the Fast Lane," built around Walsh's now-famous central riff, once more commented on the high life with which the band was so closely associated. The searing tale of a "Victim of Love," penned by Felder, Frey, Henley, and "honorary Eagle" J.D. Souther, soared with the twin-guitar approach from Walsh on slide and Felder on lead.
"New Kid in Town," co-written by Frey, Henley, and. Souther, revisited the band's lush and languid country-rock sound, with its ruefully yearning lead expressively provided by Frey in his only lead of the album. The group's trademark harmonies also shone here. Randy Meisner's "Try and Love Again" also was in this vein, returning the band to its roots. The heart of the album may belong, however, to the heartbreaking Frey/Henley soul ballad "Wasted Time." The Walsh-led "Pretty Maids All in a Row" (co-written by the guitarist and Joe Vitale) complements "Wasted Time" in its conversational reflection on a past relationship.
Frey and Henley's "The Last Resort" closed out the album. An even lengthier song than "Hotel California," it's similarly filled with evocative California imagery and shares with "Hotel" and "Life in the Fast Lane" the theme of excess - in this case, of man destroying the nature he once found so beautiful. There's a despairing grandeur in Henley's poignant vocal as well as in the anguished melody. The Eagles tackled the big picture on Hotel California, using the real or imagined place as a vehicle for their musings on man's seamier side and the underbelly of the American dream - of success and excess, of love and loss, of triumph and disappointment.
Despite reaching a commercial and creative zenith with Hotel California, the Eagles struggled to fashion a follow-up. The Long Run didn't arrive until September 1979, almost three full years after Hotel. In the interim, Randy Meisner had followed Bernie Leadon out of the band, and Timothy B. Schmit replaced him - much as Schmit had done when Meisner departed Poco. Originally mooted as a double album, The Long Run arrived with just ten tracks. It's unfair to call a Grammy-winning, 7x platinum LP that spawned three top ten singles a disappointment, but the uneven nature of the material reveals the band coming apart at the seams.
It's hard to argue that the three singles are the finest tracks on the LP. "The Long Run" was Henley and Frey's rebuke to critics who felt that the Eagles didn't have staying power; their "Heartache Tonight," co-written with Frey's old pal Bob Seger, was a robust slice of old-time rock-and-roll. Schmit brought "I Can't Tell You Why" to the table, finishing it off with Henley and Frey. Showcasing his lustrous, silky voice, the slinky blue-eyed soul ballad is one of the finest slow dancers ever recorded by the Eagles. Not far behind in quality is Joe Walsh's "In the City." Though he had previously cut it on the soundtrack to The Warriors, the Eagles' rendition cemented "In the City" as a stone-cold classic. Top-loaded with these staples (only "Heartache Tonight" was on Side Two), the balance of The Long Run could hardly compete. Inspiration was seemingly lacking on the likes of "The Disco Strangler," "Teenage Jail," and "The Greeks Don't Want No Freaks." While not one of the group's most melodic tracks, "King of Hollywood" continues the band's thread of chronicling unsavory behavior in the capital of the movie biz. "The Sad Café" (written by Henley, Frey, and Walsh with an assist from J.D. Souther) captured some of the old spark, and ended this chapter of Eagles history on a quiet note.
Eager for Action and Hot for the Game
1980's Eagles Live, the first of three concert albums included in Legacy on CD, fulfilled Eagles' obligations to Elektra/Asylum. Culled from both the Hotel California and Long Run tours, it featured both Randy Meisner and Timothy B. Schmit. The band broke up - or rather, went on vacation - between 1980 and 1994, formally reuniting in the latter year for the album cheekily entitled Hell Freezes Over. There had been baby steps first: a 1990 benefit performance by all members sans Don Felder, and then the appearance of all five Eagles in Travis Tritt's music video for his cover of "Take It Easy" in 1993. Hell Freezes Over included eleven songs performed live for MTV and four new studio tracks; it's included here on both CD and DVD, with the latter including three additional songs (as the original DVD release did). It's unfortunate that Hell hasn't been upgraded to Blu-ray. The Millennium Concert, which premiered on CD as part of the 2000 Selected Works box set, is re-presented here. The millennium shows marked the final time Don Felder would play with his bandmates, as he was dismissed from the Eagles in 2001. 2005's Farewell Tour - Live from Melbourne is included here on Blu-ray. However fine a concert, it was hardly a farewell.
In 2007, the Eagles finally released their double-album. The sprawling, 20-song Long Road Out of Eden was their first complete studio album since The Long Run, and found them in fine form. They explicitly revisited their past with the first single, J.D. Souther's "How Long," which they had performed in concert in the 1970s but never recorded in deference to Souther's own studio version. Long Road rekindled the Henley/Frey songwriting team, and in addition to Souther, also welcomed old collaborator Jack Tempchin on the closer co-authored with Frey, "It's Your World Now." Joe Walsh and Souther penned "Last Good Time in Town," and sideman Steuart Smith contributed to the songwriting as did Timothy B. Schmit. Long Road sounds like a "band" record, albeit an older and wiser band. Eleven years after Long Road, the Eagles still haven't said farewell. After weathering the loss of Glenn Frey in 2016, they have just played a sold-out tour featuring Frey's son Deacon - a true legacy, indeed - and old friend Vince Gill. They will resume touring in 2019.
Another Tequila Sunrise
The box has one major attraction for longtime fans. The 10-track Singles and B-Sides CD offers six rare single versions and edits (including the mono single of "Take It Easy" and the significantly truncated 45s of "One of These Nights" and "Lyin' Eyes") plus the CD premiere of the long-unavailable "Get You in the Mood," the original flipside of "Take It Easy." The disc is rounded out by the non-LP holiday single "Please Come Home for Christmas" b/w "Funky New Year" as well as the 2003 single "Hole in the World," written by Henley and Frey in response to the 9/11 attacks. It's unfortunate that "Born to Boogie," an outtake from the Long Run sessions which was first issued on Selected Works, has not been reprised here, for completeness' sake. (There's less of an argument to be made for the inclusion of the instrumental montage of unfinished music and the "blooper reel" also included in that set. Similarly, it's understandable why the live concert included with last year's Hotel California 40th anniversary set hasn't been reprised.)
While the paucity of new-to-CD material may detract some potential purchasers, there's still much to be said for this set, produced by Don Henley with Jason Day, Bill Inglot, and Steve Woolard. The studio albums are heard in Bernie Grundman and Chris Bellman's 2013 high-definition digital remasters; the bonus disc as well as the live CDs have been remastered by Bob Ludwig. The contents of Legacy are housed within a sturdy slipcase. The discs are stored in two handsome "albums" (one for The Studio Albums and one for Live and Bonus) with slots for each disc. A 60-page hardcover book has a brief essay by Walter Tunis plus photos, memorabilia, and credits. Its only disappointment is the lack of original album artwork for any of the titles.
Legacy is as close to a definitive set as we're likely to receive from the Eagles. (Henley commented upon the release of the Hotel California box that future outtakes were unlikely to surface.) Given the opportunity to revisit this familiar music in such comprehensive fashion, the band's craftsmanship, musicianship, and knack for a feel-good hit are all undeniable. There's still some Eagles music yet to be mined in this digital era, including original quadraphonic LP mixes, but Legacy makes for a compelling presentation of the band's official canon to date.