The Eagles

Not Rated

The Eagles' "Take It Easy," is simply the best sounding rock single to come out so far this year. The first time through, you could tell it had everything: danceable rhythm, catchy, winding melody, intelligent, affirmative lyrics, a progressively powerful arrangement mixing electric guitar and banjo, and a crisp vocal, with vibrant four-part harmony at just the right moments for maximum dramatic effect. To top it off, "Take It Easy" was co-written by Jackson Browne and Eagle Glen Frey, whose vocal on the record fell somewhere between Browne and Rick Nelson.

Now the album is here, and it's awfully good. Turns out that the Eagles are four veterans of the Los Angeles countrified rock & roll school, and they display to best advantage their distinguished backgrounds: Poco, Rick Nelson's Stone Canyon Band, the Flying Burrito Bros., Dillard & Clark, and a couple of Linda Ronstadt's always impressive bands, to name the most notable. There's another Jackson Browne song, "Nightingale," on the album, and it's just about as good as "Take It Easy." So is "Peaceful Easy Feeling," a haunting love song by unknown Jack Tempchin (who, so we hear, will eventually have his own album) distinguished by a strikingly cinematic lyric: "I like the way your sparkling earrings lay/Against your skin so brown./I'd like to sleep with you in the desert tonight/With a million stars all around ..." The song has a warmly intense Glen Frey vocal, and the Eagles' clear harmonies glide around its edges. Even the guitar bridge is a thing of beauty — the guitars of Frey and Bernie Leadon sound as softly luminous as the singing.

Those three are the absolute high points — they'll stand proudly right next to the best recordings of the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Burrito Bros., and the other premiere Los Angeles groups. Not a bad start for a brand new band. But, surprisingly, that's not all. Each of the remaining seven tracks has something to recommend it. If Frey's "Most of Us Are Sad" and "Chug All Night," Mandy Meisner's "Tryin'," and "Train Leaves Here This Morning," written by Leadon and his former colleague Gene Clark, aren't as extraordinary as the previously mentioned three, they're not all that far behind. "Tryin'" and "Chug All Night" aren't great songs in themselves, but the Eagles use them as frames to hang their rock & roll licks on, and the controlled explosiveness of the performances makes them among the most exciting songs here. Glen Frey's snarling rhythm guitar is featured on these two, as it is on "Nightingale"; it's worth paying special attention to. "Most of Us Are Sad" and "Train ..." are slow, melancholy songs full of desert loneliness.

The only tracks that didn't touch me the first or second time through were "Witchy Woman," "Take the Devil," and "Early-bird." The last, a Leadon-Meisner song, is little more than an excuse to show off for a couple minutes on banjo (Leadon) and acoustic guitar. The other two are moderately fast, moody songs in which the playing and singing have much more to offer than the material itself. Even these are growing on me now, however, maybe in part because of the reflected glow from the adjoining music.

But I still keep going back to the song I started with. Each time I listen to "Take It Easy," it unfurls new pleasures. The compressed narrative in the second verse, full of Jackson Browne incisiveness, is my current point of special interest:

Standin' on a corner in Winslow, Arizona,
Such a fine sight to see
It's a girl, my lord, in a flatbed Ford
Slowin' down to take a look at me
So come on, baby, don't say maybe
I gotta know if your sweet love is gonna save me
We may lose or we may win
But we will never be here again
So open up, I'm climbin' in
Take it easy.

The rest of the songs — and a major part of the album — is as good as those lines. So get the album, by all means. And get the single, too — it has a side that isn't on the LP. The Eagles is right behind Jackson Browne's record as the best first album this year. And I could be persuaded to remove the word "first" from that statement.