Up until this year, Bob Dylan had never really expressed much interest in the Eagles. But then in his epic song “Murder Most Foul,” released in March, he called out Don Henley and Glenn Frey by name, along with their 1975 classic “Take It to the Limit.” That inspired historian Douglas Brinkley to ask Dylan to name his favorite Eagles song when he interviewed him recently for The New York Times.
“‘New Kid in Town,’ ‘Life in the Fast Lane,’ ‘Pretty Maids All in a Row,'” Dylan said. “That could be one of the best songs ever.”
All three songs he picked appear on Hotel California. “New Kid in Town” was written by Henley, Frey, and their longtime buddy J.D. Souther. “Life in the Fast Lane” is by Henley, Frey, and Joe Walsh. But “Pretty Maids All in a Row” is one of just two songs on the album (along with Randy Meisner’s “Try and Love Again”) where Henley and Frey receive no songwriting credits. It was written by Joe Walsh along with drummer Joe Vitale.
In a 2018 interview with The College Crowd Digs Me, Vitale looked back at the creation of the song. “They were making Hotel California and Joe Walsh was writing this song,” he said. “And he didn’t quite have a title for it yet. He had a couple verses of lyrics and he had verse music. He had a beautiful start. And Joe called and asked if I’d help him finish writing this song. So I went over to his house. I heard what he had and I sat down at his piano and I threw a few things at him. We were there for two or three hours, until we finally arrived at it. I wrote the chorus and added changes in the chorus. And then he added the words. And in a matter of two or three hours, we finished it.”
The mournful ballad about lost love fits in perfectly on Side Two of the record between “Victim of Love” and “Try and Love Again.” “‘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.”
Here’s video of the Eagles performing it at their 1994 Hell Freezes Over reunion concert. It was a beloved classic by that time, but Walsh and Vitale could never have dreamed that the greatest songwriter of all time would name it “one of the best songs ever” 26 years later. Maybe now that Dylan appears to be done recording Sinatra standards, he can tackle the Eagles catalog on his next covers record.