Greatest Eagles Songs: Beyond 'Hotel California' - 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.”

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.

(L-R) Don Felder and Joe Walsh of The Eagles perform on stage at Ahoy on 11th May 1977 in Rotterdam, Netherlands. (Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)

Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns/Getty Images

19

“On the Border” (1974)

For this hard, funky post-Watergate rant, the band was hoping to get a “Temptations feel,” according to producer Bill Szymczyk, who’s credited as playing “T.N.T.S.” (i.e., Tanqueray and tonics, which he made during the session). The song, which Henley called “a clash of styles and influences,” went out on a unique groove somewhere between Sly Stone and Neil Young. “I remember it was one of the last things to be recorded, and I had come up against an unmovable deadline,” says Henley. “So I somehow got my hands on a truck-driver pill called a Black Molly and stayed up all night completing the song. That’s how badly I wanted to go home.”

Singer and guitarist Glenn Frey (1948 - 2016) performing with American rock group, The Eagles, USA, November 1979. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Michael Putland/Getty Images

20

“The Sad Cafe” (1979)

During the making of 1975’s One of These Nights, producer Bill Szymczyk instituted a policy for all of the band’s recording sessions called the Six O’Clock Rule: no drinking or drugs before six o’clock. “Sometimes you’d hear them grumbling, like, ‘Is it six yet?’” he says, laughing. By 1979’s The Long Run, the final album before their 1980 breakup, even that diktat wouldn’t be enough to keep the band’s process from bogging down. Hearing that Fleetwood Mac was working on a double album (1979’s Tusk), the Eagles decided they needed to make a two-LP set of their own. Eighteen months of work rendered a single album that often reflected their weariness at the time. It closed with “The Sad Cafe,” an elegy to the scene that begat them. “It’s more than anything else about losing your innocence, our innocence,” says J.D. Souther. “It’s a real place and still a favorite restaurant – Dan Tana’s – where for years we huddled in the back booth and schemed, dreamed and laughed more than seems possible.” The title came from The Ballad of the Sad Café, a 1951 collection of Carson McCullers’ stories, and its smooth-jazz arrangement, burnished with a sax solo by David Sanborn, paved the way for Frey’s solo work.

(MANDATORY CREDIT David Tan/Shinko Music/Getty Images) Eagles live in USA, unknown, August 1978. (Photo by David Tan/Shinko Music/Getty Images)

David Tan/Shinko Music/Getty Images

21

“After the Thrill Is Gone” (1975)

The title of this somber standout from One of These Nights alludes to the B.B. King blues classic “The Thrill Is Gone.” “We wanted to explore the aftermath,” Henley recalls. “We know that the thrill is gone – so, now what?” The result was somewhat autobiographical, an estimation of their own feelings after the initial excitement of success had begun to wear off – “combining the personal and professional in song,” as Henley put it. Henley and Frey collaborated equally, with Frey writing the verses and Henley handling its gently vaulting bridge. “It’s a sleeper,” Frey said of “After the Thrill Is Gone.” “That record is a lot of self-examination, hopefully not too much.”

Joe Walsh of The Eagles performs on stage wearing a vintage military jacket at Wembley Stadium, London, 14th September 1974. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Michael Putland/Getty Images

22

“Hollywood Waltz” (1975)

By the eagles’ fourth album, Leadon, the band member with the deepest roots in country music, was losing interest in the Eagles’ increasingly rock-influenced sound. One of These Nights featured two of his songs, “I Wish You Peace,” co- written with Patti Davis, Ronald Reagan’s daughter, who he was dating at the time, and the forlorn “Hollywood Waltz,” co-written with his brother, guitarist Tom Leadon. “Henley and Frey liked the song, but they didn’t like the story,” says Bernie Leadon. “So they rewrote it as ‘Hollywood Waltz.’” Sung by Henley, with echoes of the country classic “Tennessee Waltz,” it’s a lament for the sad side of the California lifestyle.

UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01:  (AUSTRALIA OUT) Photo of EAGLES; L-R Glenn Frey, Don Felder, Don Henley, Joe Walsh and Timothy B.Schmitt - posed, studio, group shot  (Photo by GAB Archive/Redferns)

GAB Archive/Redferns/Getty Images

23

“Try and Love Again” (1976)

Meisner was going through a divorce around the time the Eagles were writing Hotel California, and his bandmates had to urge him to create material for the record. With his life in shambles, the meditative ballad “Try and Love Again” came to him almost automatically. “I sat around one evening and got a little high and started playing something and thought, ‘Is this OK?’” he recalls of the tune’s genesis. “I brought it to rehearsal, and they said, ‘That’s pretty good.’” The track, about struggling with the end of a relationship, would end up being, somewhat coincidentally, the bassist’s final contribution to the group, which he left the following year.

(L-R) Randy Meisner, Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Bernie Leadon of The Eagles perform on Popgala (Pop Gala) TV concert on 10th March 1973 in Voorburg, Netherlands (Photo Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)

Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns/Getty Images

24

“Doolin-Dalton” (1973)

Anchored by Frey’s mournful harmonica, the opening track on Desperado is a sparkling camp re yarn about real-life gang the Dalton Brothers – its members either slain or jailed in 1892, after attempting to rob two Kansas banks at the same time. The inspiration came from a book gifted to co-writer Jackson Browne by folk-soul songwriter Ned Doheny. “All the music artists who’d been in the folk movement…several of them testified before the House Un-American Activities [Committee],” says Leadon. “We all knew people who had been busted for pot, who had been prosecuted for avoiding the draft. So I think that we all felt some affinity with the concept of being outlaws.”

GERMANY - JANUARY 01:  Photo of EAGLES; L-R: Joe Walsh, Don Henley, Don Felder, Glenn Frey, Randy Meisner - posed, studio, group shot - Photo: Ellen Poppinga  (Photo by Ellen Poppinga - K & K/Redferns)

Ellen Poppinga - K & K/Redferns/Getty Images

25

“Wasted Time” (1976)

“Nothing inspires or catalyzes a great ballad like a failed relationship,” Henley says of “Wasted Time,” a tender Hotel California cut inspired by his breakup with jewelry designer Loree Rodkin. “It’s a very empathetic song.” The midtempo piano number straddles Philly soul and pensive, early-Eagles tracks like “Desperado.” It also showcases Henley’s vocal talents, as he deeply channels the pathos of the lyrics. “Don was our Teddy Pendergrass,” Frey, who co-wrote the song, once said. “He could stand out there all alone and just wail.” It was so dramatic that the group played an instrumental reprise as a suite to lead o the second half of the LP.

Members of the American soft-rock ensemble The Eagles sit on chairs as the perform on the television show 'Don Kirschner's Rock Concert,' 1979. Bandmembers are (left to right) Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Joe Walsh, and Don Felder. (Photo by Fotos International/Getty Images)

Fotos International/Getty Images

26

“Those Shoes” (1979)

“On the surface, the song was about the singles scene,” Henley has said of this lurking track from The Long Run. But the footwear image represented more, he said: “At that time, all the girls were wearing Charles Jourdan shoes – the ones with the little ankle straps. We said, ‘Well, it’s not enough just to write about that; we have to turn it into a metaphor for women standing on their own two feet, so to speak, and taking responsibility for their own lives, their own losses.’ ” Pushed along by Walsh’s and Felder’s dueling talk-box guitars, “Those Shoes” would get new life in later years when it became a go-to hip-hop sample used by the Beastie Boys and others.

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 01:  Photo of EAGLES; L-R: Glenn Frey, Don Felder, Joe Walsh performing live onstage on Hotel California tour  (Photo by Richard E. Aaron/Redferns)

Richard E. Aaron/Redferns/Getty Images

27

“The Last Resort” (1976)

The closing track on Hotel California took seven months to complete – “the last piece of the Hotel California puzzle,” Frey recalled. He referred to the song as “Henley’s opus,” a meditation on environmental degradation and the slaughter wrought in the name of Manifest Destiny. “I’d been reading articles and doing research about the raping and pillaging of the West by mining, timber, oil and cattle interests,” Henley remembered. “But I was interested in an even larger scope for the song, so I tried to go ‘Michener’ with it.” He was never totally happy with the result musically, but producer Bill Szymczyk feels its power rivals “Hotel California” itself.

UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 10:  BOSTON GARDEN  Photo of EAGLES and Don FELDER and Joe WALSH, Don Felder (L) and Joe Walsh performing on stage, playing twin necked Gibson guitar  (Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns)

Ebet Roberts/Redferns/Getty Images

28

“The Disco Strangler”

Like many rockers in the late Seventies, the Eagles were rather ambivalent about disco and its inflexible rhythms. That came out in this shadowy, pulsating Long Run track about a woman “lookin’ for the good life/Dressed to kill,” who meets her demise in a dance club at the hands of a stranger who is “the fiddler in your darkest night,” as Henley sings. “It’s ‘watch out for the guy on the date – he might have a knife,’ ” says producer Bill Szymczyk with a chuckle. The arrangement, fashioned by co-writer Felder, was a subtle, ironic nod to thumpy disco beats and ended up being one of the Eagles’ most mordant recorded moments. “That album has some quirky songs,” says Schmit.

The Eagles perform on stage in Amsterdam, Netherlands, 1975. (L-R) Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh, Bernie Leadon. (Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)

Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns/Getty Images

29

“Ol’ 55” (1974)

Raspy troubadour Tom Waits wasn’t exactly a candidate for mainstream success in the mid-Seventies. But after David Geffen played Frey a Waits demo in his office, the Eagles were inspired to record his elegiac “Ol’ ’55,” one of the first times someone had recorded a tune by the future Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. (Eagles fans weren’t quite as impressed; they booed Waits when he opened for the band at Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre in 1975.) “It’s such a car thing,” Frey said of the shabbily beautiful song, which they gave a steel-guitar makeover. “I loved the idea of driving home at sunrise, thinking about what had happened the night before.”

Joe Walsh of The Eagles during Joe Walsh of The Eagles Performs at the Bottom Line Club - November 21, 1976 at NYC Bottom Line Club in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Bobby Bank/WireImage)

Bobby Bank/WireImage

30

“Victim of Love” (1976)

The Eagles were not the kind of band to cut loose and bash out a song live in the studio. This scathing Hotel California rocker, which began as a Felder instrumental called “Iron Lung,” was a rare exception. (Hence, the mysterious words “v.o.l. is five piece live” carved into the inner groove on many of the album’s initial vinyl pressings.) Felder assumed he would be singing lead on the track, until the band’s manager Irving Azoff took him to dinner to tell him the vocal would be Henley’s. “Don stepped up and sang,” Felder later wrote, “and it was immediately apparent to everyone, especially me, that he should sing it – even though, deep down, I wasn’t thrilled at losing my slot.”

CIRCA 1977: (L-R) Don Henley, Bernie Leadon, Randy Meisner, Glenn Frey of the rock and roll band "Eagles" pose for a portrait in circa 1977. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

31

“Bitter Creek” (1973)

“The basic premise,” henley recalls of Desperado, “was that, like the outlaws, rock & roll bands lived outside the ‘laws of normality’ – we were not part of ‘conventional society.’ We all went from town to town, collecting money and women, the critical difference being that we didn’t rob or kill anybody for what we got; we worked for it.” When assembling their ambitious concept album, Henley and Frey asked their bandmates to help flesh out the material. “I’m not sure which one of them started to write some songs on this topic,” says Leadon. “As the songs came into focus, Glenn decided to try to ll in some blanks. I remember him kind of assigning song titles or ideas to us. He offered, or gave, me the title ‘Bitter Creek,’ based on a man in the Dalton gang named [George] Bittercreek Newcomb. I didn’t write it about him – I just used the phrase ‘Bitter Creek,’ which I quite liked.” With its sad-cantina feel, the song is a deep-cut highlight of Desperado, and one of Leadon’s most haunting contributions to the band. Of the album, Leadon says, “A lot of people, including David Ge en, just said, ‘You have three top singles on your first album and you made an art-concept album. What the fuck’s wrong with you?’ It was a gutsy call.”

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

32

“My Man” (1974)

Leadon had just arrived in London for the On the Border sessions when he heard that Gram Parsons, his former bandmate in the Flying Burrito Brothers, had fatally OD’d. “This was my first peer who had died, so I was quite set back by it,” says Leadon, who began writing “My Man,” his lovely homage to Parsons. When the Eagles reconvened in Los Angeles to finish the album, Leadon hadn’t completed the words. “They said, ‘OK, we’re going to go to dinner, and you’re gonna stay here and finish the song,’” Leadon laughs. “Henley gave me a clue for something to tie in, the Gram song ‘Hickory Wind.’ They came back, and was like, ‘OK, let’s put the vocal on.’”

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

Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns/Getty Images

33

“Most of Us Are Sad” (1972)

At the end of one early band rehearsal – during a period when the Eagles had few original songs – Frey sat down with his guitar and played this poignant ballad, which expressed a more vulnerable side of its writer. “I thought, ‘Well, that’s a really interesting song,’’’ says Leadon. “It really does express something truthful – that a lot of people probably are sad but don’t express it.” In the final version included on their debut, Meisner took the lead vocal, his softer, higher voice adding to the lyrics’ mournful quality. “We had a natural tenor singer in Randy Meisner,” Leadon says. “And in Henley too. So we had two guys that could go up high and not be strained-sounding.”

Feb. 22, 1995 - U.S. - February 22, 1995 Glenn Frey played acoustic guitar while the other original Eagles  member, Don Henley, pounded his drum kit Tuesday night for about 15,000 fans at Target Center, the first of two Minneapolis shows, Story Page 1B, review Page 7B.  Jeff Wheeler, Minneapolis Star Tribune (Credit Image: © Jeff Wheeler/Minneapolis Star Tribune via ZUMA Wire)

© Jeff Wheeler/Minneapolis Star Tribune/ZUMA

34

“Love Will Keep Us Alive” (1994)

Somewhere during the 14-year gap between the Eagles’ implosion in 1980 and their successful reunion in 1994, Schmit and Felder recorded demos for an unnamed supergroup with Max Carl of .38 Special and singer Paul Carrack. “Everything was fine and dandy, when much to my chagrin, they came to their senses and put the Eagles back together,” recalled Carrack. “That was the end of my little project.” Though the band was a false start, Schmit asked if he could use “Love Will Keep Us Alive,” a ballad co-written by Carrack, Pete Vale and Jim Capaldi. Featuring Schmit’s lead vocal, it became an Adult Contemporary chart-topper.

Glen Frey and Joe Walsh10th annual Collaborating for a Cure benefit dinner and auction for the Samuel Waxmen Cancer Research Foundation, New York, America - 29 Nov 2007

Glen Frey and Joe Walsh 10th annual Collaborating for a Cure benefit dinner and auction for the Samuel Waxmen Cancer Research Foundation, New York, America - 29 Nov 2007

Allocca/Starpix/REX/Shutterstock

35

“How Long” (2007)

When the Eagles convened to make 2007’s Long Road Out of Eden, their first studio album since The Long Run, they had a wealth of material and ended up making a double album that shifted from biting political interrogations to introspective personal reflections. Walsh later joked that it might have been a triple album: “At least when we had a record company, there was always somebody saying, ‘You’re done!’ ” he said. “When you signed a contract back then, you gave away your power to say no. We don’t have mean guys telling us we’re done, and this band works best with tension among ourselves. That makes us all show up artistically.” During the making of the album, Frey’s family found a clip of the Eagles performing a J.D. Souther obscurity called “How Long.” As Souther recalls, “Glenn’s wife, Cindy, said, ‘That sounds like a classic Eagles hit – did you ever record it?’ Glenn said, ‘No, in those days, if one person put a song on an album, the other person didn’t.’ ” Now, they did. Written in 1969, Souther’s song was inspired by a soldier in Vietnam sentenced to prison for murder after going AWOL. “His girlfriend at home had been counting down the days until he returned,” Souther says. “How long? He never did.”

Don Felder of The Eagles performs on stage c 1974 in United States. (Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)

Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns/Getty Images

36

“Outlaw Man” (1973)

To add another old west element to Desperado, the band recorded this tune from singer-songwriter and Dylan pal David Blue. (Frey had just guested on a Blue album, Nice Baby and the Angel, that same year, which included the original version of the song.) “We all heard Blue’s album before it was released,” Leadon says, “and I think Glenn suggested the song t the theme of the album and that we should work it up.” According to Leadon, their cover of “Outlaw Man” – an even more thunderous version than the Blue original – also filled another gap on Desperado. “We needed some rockers,” he says, “and we weren’t writing very many at the time.”

Bassist Timothy B. Schmit (left) and singer/guitarist Glenn Frey (1948 - 2016) performing with American rock group, The Eagles, USA, November 1979. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Michael Putland/Getty Images

37

“The Greeks Don’t Want No Freaks” (1979)

Maybe it was the end of the long and grueling sessions for The Long Run, or maybe, as Schmit says, it was fueled by a movie released during that time. “We’d been watching Animal House,” he recalls, “and they decided to write about that.” Whatever the inspiration, one of the last songs cut for The Long Run was this atypically loose two-and-a-half-minute homage to Sixties garage rock, complete with a Farfisa organ and shouted back-up vocals from pal Jimmy Buffett. “That was a song where you didn’t have to be that precise,” Schmit says. “Looseness was inherent in it. It was so bizarre. But it was so much fun.”

Nov. 18, 1976 - U.S. - November 18, 1976 Drummer Don Henley and Guitarist Glenn Frey  Tom Sweeney (Credit Image: © Tom Sweeney/Minneapolis Star Tribune via ZUMA Wire)

© Tom Sweeney/Minneapolis Star Tribune/ZUMA

38

“Pretty Maids All in a Row” (1976)

An uncharacteristic Walsh ballad about regretfully looking back on life, “Pretty Maids All in a Row” found the rocker and his bandmates exploring dense soul orchestration. Of course, Walsh couldn’t help but play a soaring, bluesy slide-guitar solo midway through. The song would come out as the B side to “Hotel California,” a fitting spiritual counterpart since both songs explore the ghosts of lost love. “‘Pretty Maids’ is kind of a melancholy reflection on my life so far,” Walsh has said. “And I think we tried to represent it as a statement that would be valid for people from our generation on life so far.”

Glenn Frey (1948 - 2016) of the Eagles at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinois, August 19, 1978. (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

Paul Natkin/Getty Images

39

“Please Come Home for Christmas” (1978)

In mid-1978, as the Eagles ground out The Long Run, Asylum Records was antsy for stopgap material. “This was in September, so we said, ‘Let’s give them a Christmas song,’ ” says producer Bill Szymczyk. Henley had been a fan of Charles Brown’s 1961 R&B hit “Please Come Home for Christmas” since hearing it on the radio as a kid in Texas, and the band worked up a loving version for release as a single. Recording in Miami, they had to use their imaginations to get in the holiday spirit. “It was hot as hell,” Frey recalled. “Perfect for a Christmas record.”

UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01:  Photo of Don FELDER and Glenn FREY and Bernie LEADON and Randy MEISNER and EAGLES and Don HENLEY; L-R: Randy Meisner, Bernie Leadon, Glenn Frey, Don Felder, Don Henley - posed, studio, group portrait, c.1974/1975  (Photo by RB/Redferns)

RB/Redferns/Getty Images

40

“Saturday Night” (1973)

Meisner got the idea for this song – which he co-wrote with Henley, Frey and Leadon – while reflecting on his youth. “I was sitting there one night, and I came up with the line ‘What ever happened to Saturday night?’ ” the bassist recalls. “When I was younger, I would be out partying, and with girls and having fun. And that’s what it was about: Whatever happened to it? And the answer was, ‘You’re older now.’ ”Leadon’s lovely mandolin and Henley’s forlorn vocals give the soft country waltz a gently heartbroken feel that helps personalize Desperado’s sense of placeless drifting.

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