Saturday, 22 December 2012

There she stood in the doorway; I heard the mission bell And I was thinking to myself this could be heaven or this could be hell

 Songs Everyone Should Know

“Hotel California” by the Eagles (1976)

The surfer boys were growing up and moving on by the late sixties. The beautiful sons and daughters of the migrants to this magnificent coast with its tinge of the Mexican influence were changing. California was not the same place as the fictitious Joad family sought out in “The Grapes of Wrath”. It wasn’t the California of real characters like Brian Wilson’s father’s family either – they had moved to California from Kansas when he was five and were so poor they tented on the beach.

No indeed California of the ‘60’s had become the dream. From  surrealistic places like the LA suburb called Laurel Canyon Joni Mitchell (remember “Ladies of the Canyon”) the Byrds, The Buffalo Springfield (with transplanted Neil Young) and others like a young Jackson Browne, had made a sound of their own – what loosely could be called the Southern California sound.

As the decade clicked off into the seventies a young DonHenley from Texas met Glen Frey from Michigan at the Troubadour club in Los Angeles. Both of them had their own bands and wanted to make it big in California. It was Linda Ronstadt who by instructing her manager John Boylan to recruit her some session musicians in spring of ’71 who set in motion the events that would ultimately produce one of the biggest bands of all time.

Randy Meisner who was the bassist for an arguably out-of-style Ricky Nelson and a guy by the name of Bernie Leadon a veteran of the floundering Flying Burrito Brothers rounded out the band. They all played on Ronstadt’s first album and would only play together once live – in Disneyland.

Soon David Geffen would form Asylum records and the four would become a band. Like some Jim Morrison copy-cat desert freaks they ventured into the desert to come up the name for the new band.  Supposedly when they were all under the influence of peyote and plenty of tequila it was Leadon who came up with the idea. He had read a book about the Hopi Indians of the Mojave Desert’s reverence for the eagle and decided that should be the name of the band.  It sounds all a bit contrived to me but hey; let’s go with it – besides I am a sucker for a good legend.

The eponymous first album was released in June 1972 and filled the airwaves with the first three hits. We heard “Take it Easy” co-written by Glen Frey and his buddy Jackson Browne. This was followed by “Witchy Woman” and the first time we are familiar with the distinct vocals of Don Henley. Finally a little lower on the charts we got “Peaceful Easy Feeling”. It had an easy country feeling with an edgier sentiment – an extension of the Burrito’s and the Byrds – a California blend.

In ’73 they released album number two: “Desperado”. We heard “Tequila Sunrise” but were less blown away.  Henley’s soulfully penned “Desperado” which has since become an Eagles staple originally did not top the charts. The song could have been influenced by Max Ehrmann’s “Desiderata” or  ‘Spirits Desparado’ by beat poet Michael McClure both of which could have been known to the band. I think the inspiration was more the influence of David Henry Thoreau who wrote, “most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them”.

It was in 1974 where the Eagles flew into the stratosphere with “On the Border” adding guitarist Don Felder partway through the recording of the album. The songs “Already Gone” and their first number one hit the syrupy “Best of My Love” fueled the flight.

By this time they were selling albums at a frantic pace and in 1975, “One of These Nights” put them on top forever. The songs “Lyin’ Eyes”, “Take it to the Limit” and “One of These Nights” were well crafted harmony masterpieces. Slicker sounding and with tight harmonies we hear so many influences of bands like Crosby Stills Nash, and Young, The Byrds, The Buffalo Springfield, The Flying Burrito Brothers and maybe even the harmonies of the Beachboys, the Everly Brothers or the Righteous Brothers. There is clearly a country influence but also a bit of rock influence of say Chuck Berry and the Beatles. There was a blend of the eastern country sound as well with Henley hailing from Texas likely being also influenced by the likes of Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, honky-tonk and Texas blues.

1976’s Hotel California has sold over 16 million copies just in the U.S. It spun off the top twenty hits of “Hotel California”, “New Kid in Town”, and “Life in the Fast Lane”. They were joined by Joe Walsh who added a harder sound to the mix. We see a change in direction away from innocence and country roots to more of a serious spin. There had become as Henley said in 2007 “an uneasy balance between art and commerce”. The pressure for them to produce great music must have been phenomenal: the producers, managers, the record companies, the fans and the critics not to mention themselves.

In 1979 the last studio album for decades was produced. As the stakes were once again high so was the tension in the band. The album “The Long Run” would see “Heartache Tonight”, “I Can’t Tell You Why” and of course “The Long Run” in the top twenty. Henley would leave the band and become embroiled in legal battles with Asylum and David Geffen for years.

In 1994 the Eagles reunited briefly for the “Hell Freezes Over” tour and released an album of combined live and studio songs. In 2004 they released the studio album “Long Road Out of Eden”.

The Eagles, ever trying to embody the old west outlaw sound inadvertently created a bridge to the new country sound for the like of Garth Brooks or Travis Tritt and others to follow. Like any band of this calibre they succeeded in bringing something new to the party in the form of ramped up country rock palatable by the masses but with realness, a darkness, that is part of the experience of a rock and roll outlaw and the decadence of the times they were living in. In some way that ying-yang of the Eagles is what continues to attract us to their music – well that and it is just damn good music – one hundred and twenty million albums and going strong!

Give the ol’ greatest hits a listen but check out a few of the more obscure Eagles songs like: “Ol’ 55”, “In the City”, “Victim of Love” and “Guilty of the Crime”.

No comments: