Eagles (Elektra/Asylum, 1972)
Desperado (Elektra/Asylum, 1973)
On the Border (Elektra/Asylum, 1974)
One of These Nights (Elektra/Asylum, 1975)
Eagles: Their Greatest Hits, 1971–1975 (Elektra/Asylum, 1976)
Hotel California (Elektra/Asylum, 1976)
The Long Run (Elektra/Asylum, 1979)
Eagles Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (Elektra/Asylum, 1982)
Hell Freezes Over (Geffen, 1994)
Eagles 1972–1999: Selected Works (Elektra/Asylum, 2000)
The Very Best of the Eagles (Warner Bros., 2003)
Long Road Out of Eden (Lost Highway, 2007)
One of the best-selling bands of all time, the Eagles were an anomaly in the L.A. country-folk-rock scene that they came out of: They didn't expand the great country and folk hybrids of Buffalo Springfield, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and Gram Parsons so much as provide a template for the Nashville pop of the Nineties, as epitomized by Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt, and Brooks & Dunn. (Fittingly, several major country stars repaid the debt on the 1993 tribute album Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles).
Eagles is anchored by one of the band's signature songs, "Take It Easy," cowritten with Jackson Browne. It defines their sound: Breezy tunes outfitted with golden harmonies about rambling and womanizing in the posthippie hangover days of Seventies California. It put the Eagles--particularly cocaptains Don Henley and Glenn Frey--at the center of the burgeoning singer-songwriter movement. It was also blessed with some virtuoso instrumentalists, with Burrito Brothers alumnus Bernie Leadon bringing a bluegrass feel to parts of the album.
The Eagles strain to turn Desperado into a concept album. The album hints at the darkmess Eagles darkness that would imbue much of the band's later work, presenting their Old West outlaw conceits as a series of dirges. On the Border rocks harder, bolstered by the addition of a new producer (Bill Szymczyk) and a guitarist (Don Felder) whose fills and solos are like miniature songs in themselves. One of These Nights is the band's most musically adventurous outing yet, flirting with disco on the title song, a waltz on "Take It to the Limit," and bluegrass psychedelia on Leadon's "Journey of the Sorcerer."
Hotel California is widely regarded as the band's masterpiece, and as a snapshot of Seventies decadence and jadedness it'll do nicely: It's resplendent pop music about a spiritually bankrupt age. But the album is mighty thin after the twin peaks of the reggae-tinged title song--easily the band's finest moment—and "Life in the Fast Lane," which boasts a tougher sound and a greater sense of humor than ever before, thanks to the addition of former James Gang guitar slinger Joe Walsh.
Walsh's presence also gives The Long Run a rougher edge, while bassist Timothy B. Schmit's "I Can't Tell You Why" just may be the mellowest gold in the Eagles' canon. But the album also marks thebeginning of the end. The Eagles scold their critics ("we'll find out in the long run"), even as the title song recycles the melody from Otis Clay's R&B cult classic "Tryin' to Live My Life Without You."
Hell Freezes Over includes 11 songs from an MTV Unplugged performance. Having booted guitarist Don Felder in 2001, the remaining four Eagles proceeded to spend nearly six years grinding out the double-CD Long Road Out of Eden. It's an incredible simulation of their Seventies prime, except without the memorable songs. Their moralistic haughtiness hasn't aged well (the title track--whose verses can also be sung to the tune of "Hotel California"--finds Henley calling out America, rather than his band, for being "bloated with entitlement"), and the liveliest performance here belongs to a cover: J.D. Souther's "How Long," revived from their early onstage repertoire.
A quintessential singles band, the Eagles are best represented by their hits collections; Their Greatest Hits 1971–1975 focuses on the country-tinged early years, Vol. 2 nails the more varied and adventurous approach of the late Seventies, and the two-disc The Very Best of the Eagles provides the most comprehensive career overview. Selected Works: 1972–1999 repackages older material, devoting one of its four discs to the band's Millennium Concert, which proves they're still experts at stiffly re-creating their studio recordings onstage.
Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).
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