Writer(s): Glenn Frey, Don Henley (see lyrics here)
Released: April 17, 1973 (as album cut)
First Charted: --
Peak: 3 CL, 1 DF (Click for codes to charts.)
Sales (in millions): -- US, 0.25 UK
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 3.0 radio, 9.9 video, 114.19 streaming
Click on award for more details.
About the Song:
“Desperado” was never released as a single by the Eagles, but it became one of their most beloved songs, often performed as the last song of the night in concerts. RS Don Henley has credited Linda Ronstadt, who recorded the song for her 1973 Don’t Cry Now album, with making it a hit. WK He called her version “very poignant and beautiful.” SF It was ranked the #2 Eagles song by a poll of Rolling Stone readers in 2015. RS Similarly, Billboard magazine ranked it the second best Eagles song in 2017. In both cases, “Hotel California” was ranked #1.
Don Henley wrote parts of what author Dave Thompson called the “great cowboy ballad” DT as early as 1968. He was writing in the style of Stephen Foster, a famous songwriter from the 19th century. He originally wrote it about a friend named Leo, as evidenced by the original opening line: “”Leo, my God, why don’t you come to your senses,” WK which evolved into “Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses.”
After the Eagles recorded their first album in London in 1972, Don Henley and Glenn Frey decided they should write together. A few days after returning from London, they had their first songwriting session in Laurel Canyon at Henley’s house. He played the unfinished song for Frey. He said, “When I play it and sing it, I think of Ray Charles and Stephen Foster. It’s really a Southern Gothic thing, but we can easily make it more Western.” WK According to Henley, Frey helped fill in the blanks and give it more structure and a songwriting partnership was born.
The song became the title cut for the band’s sophomore album, which was, as Henley explained, “to be our big artistic statement on the evils of fame and success, with a cowboy metaphor.” RS It was a loose concept about the famed Dalton outlaw gang with the title cut being “a sad lament about the lonely life out on the trail.” RS However, the song could also be interpreted as being “about a young man who discovers guitars, joins a band, pays his dues and suffers for his art.” SF
First posted 7/2/2022; last updated 4/1/2023.