The 40 Greatest Eagles Songs – Rolling Stone
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The 40 Greatest Eagles Songs

The Eagles’ finest moments – from car-radio classics to golden deep cuts

UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01: Photo of Glenn FREY and Joe WALSH and Don HENLEY and Don FELDER and EAGLES and Randy MEISNER; L-R: Don Felder, Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Glenn Frey, Randy Meisner - posed, studio, group shot - Hotel California era (Photo by RB/Redferns)

RB/Redferns/Getty Images

From the start, the music of the Eagles was saddled with terms like “country rock” and “laid-back,” as if the band only strummed and harmonized its way through its records. But just as the internal dynamic within the band was never as mellow as their image, neither was their music one-dimensional. Far from it. The group’s back catalog has its share of ballads but also forays into gnarly rock & roll, soul moves, and nods to mainstream country, bluegrass and funk. As Don Henley told Rolling Stone in 2016, “We wanted to create material that would showcase each of the band members’ strengths. … Our main goal, at the beginning, was to write good, memorable songs, make albums that had little or no filler, that were consistent from beginning to end in terms of songwriting and production.”

Just after the third anniversary of the death of Glenn Frey, who died from complications from acute ulcerative colitis, pneumonia and rheumatoid arthritis, we look back at the band’s 40 greatest songs, with the help of past and present band members and collaborators like songwriter JD Souther and producer Bill Szymczyk. Want to find out which songs were inspired by which real-life outlaws or which particular eatery? Which song was about which band member’s romantic turmoil? Which studio indulgence enhanced which track? The enduring appeal of the songs proves the band was truly it in for the long run.

CIRCA 1976: (L-R) Bernie Leadon, Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Don Felder and Randy Meisner of the rock and roll band "Eagles" pose for a portrait in circa 1976. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


“Hotel California” (1976)

“We were all middle-class kids from the Midwest,” Don Henley said. “‘Hotel California’ was our interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles.” Even more, it was a sweeping portrayal of the dark side of the American dream. “Hotel California” began as a 4-track recording made by guitarist Don Felder at a house he was leasing on the beach in Malibu. Henley fleshed it out with Glenn Frey, whose lyrical images evoked what he later called L.A.’s “tarnished elegance.” “It had the two things that are necessary for life: mystery and possibility,” Henley said. Originally titled “Mexican Reggae,” the finished product was sculpted during sessions in Miami and Los Angeles, with Felder and Joe Walsh spending three days working up their epic, climactic guitar battle. Released in December 1976, the song spent 19 weeks on the charts, grounding one of the most successful albums of all time and inspiring listeners to assume it was about everything from satanism to heroin abuse. “It’s just like a little movie,” Frey said. “A lot of it doesn’t have to make sense.”

The Eagles perform at Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Netherlands in 1972. Left to right: Bernie Leadon, Glenn Frey and Randy Meisner. (Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)

Gijsbert Hanekroot/Getty Images


“Take It Easy” (1972)

The song that became the Eagles’ national anthem was written by Jackson Browne on a road trip that took him through Utah and Arizona. He showed a rough draft to his upstairs neighbor, Frey, who immediately recognized its potential. “He played the second unfinished verse, and I said, ‘It’s a girl, my lord, in a flatbed Ford, slowin’ down to take a look at me.’ Jackson already had the lines about Winslow, Arizona,” Frey recalled. Jackson Browne let Frey take it to the Eagles. “The song has this momentum to it – it’s cruising,” says guitarist Bernie Leadon. “We all went, ‘Yeah!’ and started playing along.” From its wind-in-your-sails intro to its catchphrase title, the Eagles’ first Top 20 hit embodied the band’s mellow vibe.“ Just those open chords felt like an announcement, ‘And now…the Eagles,’” Frey said. Timothy B. Schmit, who was in the country-rock band Poco at the time, remembers the song’s impact as well: “We would be driving along the road to some college gig, and then we would hear ‘Take It Easy’ on the radio and kind of sigh. This band was doing the same genre, and they were soaring past us.”

UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01:  (AUSTRALIA OUT) Photo of EAGLES; 1973 - L-R Bernie Leadon, Glenn Frey, Don Henley and Randy Meisner  (Photo by GAB Archive/Redferns)

GAB Archive/Redferns/Getty Images


“Desperado” (1973)

“Desperado” is the stunning title track of the Eagles’ second album, an imagined Western – with a dramatically cinematic orchestral arrangement and lyrics about coming to terms with your wild side. It was also one of the first songs Henley and Frey penned as a songwriting duo. The pair had huddled around an upright piano in Henley’s starkly furnished Laurel Canyon house a few days after they recorded their debut LP; Henley showed Frey a melody and chord progression he’d been toying with since around 1968. The lyrics originally addressed a friend of Henley’s named Leo (“Leo, my God, why don’t you come to your senses?”) and, according to the drummer, “had something to do with astrology.” On the advice of Jackson Browne, they gave the tune a Western theme and went on to record it with the London Symphony Orchestra – “I was terrified,” Henley recalled. It became a landmark country-rock ballad, covered by Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond and Miranda Lambert. “I brought Don ideas and a lot of opinions, he brought me poetry,” Frey once said. “We were a good team.”

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - 1st JANUARY: American group Eagles perform live on stage at Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Netherlands in 1972. Left to right: Randy Meisner,Glenn Frey, Bernie Leadon and drummer Don Henley. (Photo Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)

Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns/Getty Images


“Peaceful Easy Feeling” (1972)

The third hit single from the Eagles’ debut was their first collaboration with songwriter Jack Tempchin, who’d write several songs with the band as well as Frey’s 1985 solo hit “You Belong to the City.” Tempchin wrote the ballad after a gig at a coffee shop in El Centro, California. “It was a small club in a mini-mall,” he recalled years later. “It was my first time in the desert, and the view of the stars was amazing. I was attracted to a waitress there, but unfortunately, she didn’t feel the same way about me because she went home – without me. I wound up sleeping on the floor in the club with my guitar instead of the girl. It was then that I started writing ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling.’ ” When Frey heard Tempchin play it at Jackson Browne’s house, he asked if he could road test it with the Eagles. “The next day, Glenn brought me a cassette of what they had done with it,” Tempchin recalled. “It was so good I couldn’t believe it.” With tender strumming and elegant three-part harmonies, “Peaceful Easy Feeling” felt like an addendum to “Take It Easy”; according to Leadon, playing it was just as natural as its title implies: “You just fall in.”

Joe Walsh of The Eagles performs live on stage, New York, October 1979. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Michael Putland/Getty Images


“New Kid in Town” (1976)

Early in the writing of “hotel California,” Eagles co-writer J.D. Souther arrived at Frey’s house and played the band “a bit of a song” he’d been working on. “Everyone looked at me: ‘Man, that’s a single, that’s a hit. Where’s that been?’” Souther recalls. “I didn’t know what else to do with it.” Frey developed a narrative around Souther’s music. The tale was, in Henley’s words, “about the fleeting, fickle nature of love and romance” as well as “the fleeting nature of fame, especially in the music business.” At the time, new sounds like punk were on the rise, taking aim at established acts like the Eagles. Souther agrees: “We were approaching 30 and could see that the rearview mirror was full of newcomers as hungry as we had been.” (Contrary to rumor, Souther insists the song is not about Bruce Springsteen.) With Randy Meisner playing an acoustic bass known as a guitarrón (gifted to him by a friend from Mexico), “New Kid in Town” was an exquisite piece of south-of-the-border melancholia, with overlapping harmonies so complex that the song won the band a Grammy for Best Vocal Arrangement.

NEW YORK - MAY 11: Glenn Frey of the American rock band the Eagles performing at the Academy of Music in New York City. (Photo by Waring Abbott/Premium Archive/Getty Images)

Waring Abbott/Getty Images


“Already Gone” (1974)

Written by “Peaceful Easy Feeling” tunesmith Jack Tempchin, this hard-driving rocker – the rest of three hits from On the Border – was the right song for the right time. In search of radio-friendly material after the middling sales of Desperado, the band saw “Already Gone” as a chance to toughen up its sound. The original version (co-written by Tempchin and Robb Strandlund) was softer than the Eagles’ final version. The band first took a crack at the song during the early, aborted On the Border sessions in London. After parting ways with producer Glyn Johns and relocating to L.A., they tried it again – and nailed it in just a few takes. “I got a call from Glenn Frey and he was in the studio, and he said, ‘Hey, you know that country song you wrote? I think we could make that a great rock song,’” Tempchin said. “He held the phone to the speakers, and there was the Eagles recording.” Uncharacteristically, the band even left in an improvised bit – Frey singing “all right, nighty night” – at the end. “That’s me being happier, that’s me being free,” Frey said later. “Already Gone” kicked off On the Border, the band’s first Number One album.

Jul 1, 1975 - Los Angeles, California, U.S. - EXCLUSIVE - Glenn Frey left on the telephone with Don Henley. THE EAGLES at Glenn Frey's house in Los Angeles during an interview with Dutch writer Constant Meijers voor music magazine OOR in 1975. (Credit Image: © Barry Schultz/Sunshine/

© Barry Schultz/Sunshine/ZUMA


“Lyin’ Eyes” (1975)

This six-minute story-song was inspired by Frey seeing an attractive young woman dining with an older man at an L.A. restaurant. “Look at those lyin’ eyes,” he reportedly said, and a song was born – the tale of a woman who stays in a loveless relationship with a “rich old man,” then heads out at night for “the cheatin’ side of town” to see her boyfriend. “I don’t want to say it wrote itself, but once we started working on it, there were no sticking points,” Frey later said. For Leadon, the song embodies one of Frey’s signal contributions to the Eagles: “As the saying goes, Henley could sing the phone book and make it sound interesting, but Glenn was a great storyteller. Just listen to the way he sings ‘Lyin’ Eyes.’” Thanks to its Nashville feel, enhanced by Leadon’s guitar, the song was one of the few Eagles singles to make the country charts. And, as producer Bill Szymczyk learned, it embodied the band’s meticulousness in the studio. The opening line alone – “City girls just seem to find out early” – took six tries to get right. Says Szymczyk, “The ‘ci’ and ‘ty’ came from two different takes, ‘girls’ from another, and each word after that from different takes.”

CIRCA 1976:  Musician Joe Walsh of the rock band "Eagles" poses for a portrait in a truck in circa 1976.  (Photo by Peter Sherman/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Peter Sherman/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


“Life in the Fast Lane” (1976)

One mythical L.A. evening, Frey was en route to a poker game, flying down the highway in the passenger seat of a car driven by a drug dealer buddy of his known as “the Count” – “because his count was never very good,” Frey recalled. “He moved over to the left lane and started driving 75 to 80 miles per hour. I said, ‘Hey, man, slow down.’ He goes, ‘Hey, man, it’s life in the fast lane.’ And I thought, ‘Oh, my God, what a title.’ I didn’t write it down. I didn’t have to.” “Life in the Fast Lane” was a showcase for Joe Walsh, who had recently joined the Eagles in place of the departed Leadon. “That song actually sprang from the opening guitar riff,” Henley recalls. “One day, at a rehearsal, Joe just busted out that crazy riff and I said, ‘What in the hell is that? We’ve got to figure out some way to make a song out of that!’” They quickly wrote lyrics about a jaundiced rich couple. At the time, the working relationship between Frey and Henley was so symbiotic that Henley can’t quite remember exactly who wrote what lyrically. “Back then, we were always finishing each other’s sentences. We had a kind of telepathy going on.”

Glenn Frey, Randy Meisner, Don Henley and Joe Walsh of The Eagles perform on stage at Ahoy on May 11th 1977 in Rotterdam, Netherlands. (Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)

Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns/Getty Images


“One of These Nights” (1975)

When the eagles began work on their fourth album, disco was just making moves toward the pop mainstream, and Henley and Frey thought the rising new sound would be the perfect backdrop for a song that explored America’s depleted post-Watergate mood. “We thought, ‘Well, how can we write something with that flavor, with that kind of beat, and still have the dangerous guitars?’” Henley said. “We wanted to capture the spirit of the times.” The song’s R&B feel wasn’t completely foreign to the band: Henley and Frey were both fans of soul music. “Glenn loved Al Green and Otis Redding,” says friend and fellow Detroit native Bob Seger. “And ‘One of These Nights’ was kind of a soul song.” Felder came up with the song’s signature bass part, which he then taught to Meisner, and the guitarist also contributed a biting solo that helped sharpen and define the track. The unlikeliest – and sultriest – of Eagles singles, it hit Number One. Frey would call it “my favorite Eagles record” and “a breakthrough song”: “We made a quantum leap with ‘One of These Nights.’ ”
CANADA - MARCH 30:  Take flight: The Eagles have launched their latest album; The Long Run; and Peter Goddard says it's good but . . . The Eagles; pictured at a CNE concert in 1978; are clockwise from top; Timothy B. Schmitt; Don Felder; Glenn Frey; Joe Walsh and Randy Meisner.   (Photo by Doug Griffin/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Doug Griffin/Toronto Star/Getty Images


“Heartache Tonight” (1979)

This shout-along stomper went through a typically prolonged gestation. Frey and J.D. Souther worked out the basics, inspired by Sam Cooke records. “Glenn started clapping his hands and singing and I joined in, until the first verse felt right,” says Souther. Later, in Aspen, Bob Seger was enlisted. “They already had [most of] the lyrics, and I started singing really hard, ‘We can leave it in the parking lot/But either way there’s gonna be a heartache tonight!’ and Don said, ‘That’s it – we’re done.’ ” To achieve the perfect sonic-boom percussion, Henley laid down on the floor of the studio, holding a marching-band-style drum on his chest and beating it with a mallet. “He did that forever,” says Schmit. “It took a long time.”

Joe Walsh Performing with the Eagles at the Fabulous Forum in Los Angeles Ca Usa On March 3 1980 Photo © Kevin Estrada / Media Punch Usa Los AngelesJoe Walsh in Concert - 03 Mar 1980

Joe Walsh Performing with the Eagles at the Fabulous Forum in Los Angeles Ca Usa On March 3 1980 Photo © Kevin Estrada / Media Punch Usa Los Angeles Joe Walsh in Concert - 03 Mar 1980

Kevin Estrada/REX/Shutterstock


“I Can’t Tell You Why” (1979)

In 1977, five years of constant hard work was beginning to wear on the Eagles. The strain felt by Meisner was especially acute; he was suffering from stomach ulcers and often in severe pain. After an argument with Frey one night on tour, he left the band. “I won’t go into real details,” Meisner said in 2008. “But that was kinda the end.” When the band landed in Miami to record The Long Run, one of the first songs it finished would feature a lead vocal by Meisner’s replacement, Timothy B. Schmit. “I was going through a rough emotional time,” Schmit says. “I was young and confused about how to make relationships function, and this song was a vent for my melancholia.” When Schmit was slow in finishing the song, he learned a lesson about his new band’s hardened work ethic: “I was just kind of having a good time. I wasn’t working really hard, trying to find the rest of the lyrics. Don came up one day and said, ‘I think I finished this.’ It was a good lesson for me. Don said, ‘Reality check.’” When it was eventually completed, “I Can’t Tell You Why” had such a smooth soft-soul feel that it would be covered by R&B artists Howard Hewett and Gerald Alston.

Eagles (Photo by Paul Natkin/WireImage)

Paul Natkin/WireImage


“The Long Run” (1979)

Henley and Frey displayed their love of soul music on the title track of The Long Run. The song’s steady groove recalled vintage Stax Records as well as “Turning Point,” a 1975 smash by Chicago singer Tyrone Davis, and its sense of resilience was tinged with defiance: “Despite the extraordinary success of Hotel California, we were collectively in a pretty dark place during the making of The Long Run,” says Henley. “We were beginning to see press articles about how we were passé.” Yet, despite celebrating longevity, The Long Run would be followed by a 14-year hiatus. “Here we are…still going strong,” Henley joked in 2003. “The long run, indeed.”

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)

Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns/Getty Images


“Tequila Sunrise” (1973)

A classic hit from Desperado, “Tequila Sunrise” is a forlorn, countrified ode to (liquid) courage in the face of lost love. Frey wrote most of it and handled main- vocal duties, singing his lines in a way that’s direct but tender, with a uttering vibrato that helps lend an encouraging note to the melancholy instrumentation underneath. In the 2003 Eagles compilation, The Very Best Of, Henley revealed that Frey “was ambivalent about it because he thought that it was a bit too obvious or too much of a cliché because of the drink that was so popular then.” Eventually, Frey warmed up to it. “I love the song,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a single chord out of place.”

Joe Walsh of the Eagles at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinois, August 19, 1978. (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

Paul Natkin/Getty Images


“Best of My Love” (1974)

J.D. Souther was hanging out at producer Peter Asher’s L.A. house one night when Henley, on the phone from London, had an urgent request: “Can you get on a plane? We need a bridge.” Souther flew overseas the next day and helped the band finish this ballad – considered a risky move at the time. “Someone at Asylum [the Eagles’ label] told us it could never be a single – too long, too slow, steel guitar, not enough drums,” Souther recalls. But prompted in part by a Michigan DJ who began playing it, the song gained momentum and became the Eagles’ first Number One single. “People requested it, and there you go,” says Souther. “It’s a pretty song that feels true.”

Joe Walsh, Randy Meisner, Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Don Felder of The Eagles perform on stage at Ahoy on May 11th 1977 in Rotterdam, Netherlands. (Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)

Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns/Getty Images


“Take It to the Limit” (1975)

One of the Eagles’ most beloved ballads was written by Meisner in a moment of inspiration one night at his L.A. home. “I was feeling kind of lonely and started singing ‘All alone at the end of the evening, and the bright lights have faded to blue,’” he recalls. “And it went from there.” Henley and Frey helped him finish the song, and during its recording, producer Bill Szymczyk had Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ soul ballad “If You Don’t Know Me by Now” in mind. At the song’s end, Meisner reached for – and hit – a heady high note. “Randy said, ‘If it’s a hit, I’m going to have to hit that note every night,’” recalls Szymczyk. “Which is exactly what happened.”

CANADA - MARCH 30:  Take flight: The Eagles have launched their latest album; The Long Run; and Peter Goddard says it's good but . . . The Eagles; pictured at a CNE concert in 1978; are clockwise from top; Timothy B. Schmitt; Don Felder; Glenn Frey; Joe Walsh and Randy Meisner.   (Photo by Doug Griffin/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Doug Griffin/Toronto Star/Getty Images


“In the City” (1979)

Walsh originally wrote “In the City,” a big-riffing epic about escaping a dreary urban existence, with songwriter Barry De Vorzon for the soundtrack to 1979’s gangs-of-New York cult classic The Warriors. When the band began work on The Long Run, which came out the same year as the movie, Walsh was having writer’s block, producer Bill Szymczyk recalls. “That’s the only song he had,” he says. “No one had seen the movie or heard the soundtrack,” so the Eagles recut a lusher, lighter version of their own. “I always liked the song and thought it could have been an Eagles record,” Frey once said, “and so we decided to make it one.”

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - 1st JANUARY: American group Eagles perform live on stage at Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Netherlands in 1972. Left to right: Bernie Leadon, Glenn Frey and Randy Meisner. (Photo Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)

Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns/Getty Images


“Witchy Woman” (1972)

On tour in Cape Cod with his previous band, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Leadon came up with this song’s signature tribal riff. He eventually took it to Henley, who later described it as “a Hollywood-movie version of Indian music – you know, the kind of stuff they play when the Indians ride up on the ridge while the wagon train passes below. It had a haunting quality.” Henley wrote the lyrics while laid up with the flu, taking inspiration from iconic party girl Zelda Fitzgerald and various women he’d met at L.A. clubs like the Troubadour. “An important song for me,” Henley said. “It marked the beginning of my professional songwriting career.”

OAKLAND - 1977:  Glenn Frey of The Eagles performs live at The Oakland Coliseum in 1977 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Richard McCaffrey/ Michael Ochs Archive/ Getty Images)

Richard McCaffrey/ Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images


“James Dean” (1974)

“You were the lowdown rebel if there ever was/Even if you had no cause,” Frey sang over a boogieing groo