The Eagles forever changed country and rock, but I just think of what they did as being great American music. It's amazing how one band could take all those influences — country and rock, of course, but also soul, R&B and folk — and still sound so distinctive.
The Eagles were a real band. After an album or two, Don Henley and Glenn Frey turned into one of rock's all-time great songwriting teams. But everyone contributed material and incredible musicianship to the effort: Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon, then Don Felder, and later Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit. They started out in the age of the sensitive singer-songwriter, and their music was as smart and sensitive as anyone's, but when they called upon it, they also had the power of a great rock & roll band.
The first song of theirs that I vividly remember hearing was "Take It Easy." Those lyrics — by Frey and Jackson Browne — could have been from any Merle Haggard or Willie Nelson song, but the instrumentation and energy were decidedly rock. The combination sounded so powerful.
I also remember being on a long cross-country family road trip as a kid, driving across the Texas desert at night. The only radio station we could get was a scratchy AM station from who knows where. The haunting opening strains of "Hotel California" came on the radio. My father thought that all of us kids were asleep; I immediately assumed that he would shut the radio off. But he didn't. He couldn't resist it any more than I could.
The Eagles provided the soundtrack to so many of my summers, and likely many of yours, too. Their melodies and harmonies have always been instantly familiar. "Desperado," "Take It to the Limit," "Tequila Sunrise" and "Best of My Love" are some of the best pop songs ever written. To this day, it simply doesn't get any better than that guitar riff from "Life in the Fast Lane."
When I sang backup for Don Henley in the early Nineties, it was a surreal experience, supplying vocals every night to Eagles songs. The audience's reaction to those classics cemented their value in my head. In my own way, I got to experience the power of the Eagles' music. But then again, we all have.