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Glenn Frey: 20 Essential Songs

From Eagles’ Seventies masterpieces to his solo Eighties hits, here are the late singer-songwriter’s finest tracks

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“In the beginning, we were the underdogs,” Glenn Frey once said of the Eagles‘ formative days on the L.A. rock scene of the early Seventies. “Being in close proximity to Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, and Crosby, Stills and Nash, this unspoken thing was created between Henley and me, which said, ‘If we want to be up here with the big boys, we’d better write some fucking good songs.'”

Mission accomplished, sir. The music Frey made in the Eagles is some of the most beloved and successful in rock history. Frey was a triple threat phenom: a gifted guitar player, dazzling singer and powerful songwriter. The hits he co-wrote with Henley and the rest of the Eagles — “Desperado,” “One of These Nights,” “Tequila Sunrise,” “Lyin’ Eyes,” “Hotel California,” “Life in the Fast Lane,” “New Kid in Town” — came with melodies that were perfect for the easygoing mood of the Seventies and lyrics that reflected the decade’s sense of world-weariness and cynicism.

When the Eagles wound down their initial run, Frey made the transition to Eighties solo status better than many of his peers, scoring hits like “You Belong to the City” and “Smuggler’s Blues.” He only recorded sporadically during the past couple decades, but his music remained with us — whether in Eagles concerts or on classic-rock radio. Here are some of his most indelible moments. 

Eagles; Glenn; Best Songs

The Eagles pose for a group portrait in London in 1973. L-R Randy Meisner, Bernie Leadon, Glenn Frey and Don Henley. (Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)

“I Can’t Tell You Why” (1980)

This is bass player Timothy B. Schmit's signature Eagles song, but Frey nearly steals the show with a powerfully emotive guitar solo near the end. In a band that counted Joe Walsh, Don "Fingers" Felder and Bernie Leadon as members, it's a little bit easy to discount Frey's prowess as a guitarist. "I Can't Tell You Why" is a sublime reminder of just how good he was on six strings. 

Eagles; Glenn; Best Songs

The Eagles pose for a group portrait in London in 1973. L-R Randy Meisner, Bernie Leadon, Glenn Frey and Don Henley. (Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)

“The One You Love” (1982)

Less than two years after the Eagles split, Glenn Frey established his solo career with "The One You Love" from his debut LP, No Fun Aloud. He turned to old friend Jack Tempchin (co-writer of "Peaceful Easy Feeling" and "Already Gone") to help pen the material, and they landed a Number 15 hit with the mellow, sax-driven "The One You Love." The song came together quickly. "We were just sitting there, working on another song, and all of a sudden, I said, 'Jack, you know I've always wanted to write a song that kind of goes something like this,'" Frey said. "And I just started playing stuff and singing the saxophone line, and the next thing we knew, we had written half the song in about 20 minutes. We were just sitting there going, 'Whoa! Where did that come from?'"

Eagles; Glenn; Best Songs

The Eagles pose for a group portrait in London in 1973. L-R Randy Meisner, Bernie Leadon, Glenn Frey and Don Henley. (Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)

“Smuggler’s Blues” (1984)

With the Eagles no longer occupying all of his time, Glenn Frey was able to try his hand at acting in the 1980s. His first role was a drug smuggler on the 1985 Miami Vice episode "Smuggler's Blues," named after Frey's song of the same name. This was the peak of Miami Vice's popularity, and the song reached Number 12 on the Hot 100 and appeared on the mega-selling soundtrack to the television show. Co-written by Jack Tempchin, it's the tale of a drug deal gone very, very bad.