|First posted 2/11/2011; last updated 9/20/2020.|
A Retrospective: 1971-2003
A Brief History:
The Eagles formed in Los Angeles, California, in 1971. Don Henley and Glenn Frey from Michigan had come to Los Angeles in 1970 and were recruited by Linda Ronstadt for her band. That troupe also consisted of Randy Meisner, who’d worked with Ricky Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band, and Bernie Leadon, who’d formerly been with the Flying Burrito Brothers.
The four joined efforts to form the Eagles, releasing their self-titled debut in 1972. Initially a rock band with a country-tinged sound, they evolved into a more guitar-driven, classic-rock format by decade’s end in which only Henley and Frey were constants. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees have sold more than 150 million records, with two of those – Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 and Hotel California – ranked in the top 3 in the United States when it comes to official certifcations.
The group broke up in 1980, swearing they wouldn’t reunite unless hell froze over. In 1994, they came back together with a mostly live album called, appropriately enough, Hell Freezes Over. After that, they embarked on a series of tours, but didn’t record again until 2003 when they added a new song to their Very Best of compilation.
The Studio Albums:
Under each album snapshot, songs featured on the anthologies below are noted. If the song charted, the date of the song’s release or first chart appearance and its chart peaks are noted in parentheses. Click for codes to singles charts.
The Eagles’ debut sported three top-40 hits, including the top-10 hit “Witchy Woman.” “Take It Easy” became somewhat of the group’s signature song, probably only behind 1976’s “Hotel California” in popularity.
With a theme centered around Old West outlaws, the Eagles’ sophomore outing saw the development of Don Henley and Glenn Frey as a writing force. They wrote eight of the album’s eleven songs, including the title cut which was never a single, but became one of the group’s most popular songs.
On the Border (1974):
Henley and Frey continued their dominance of the Eagles with the third album. Interested in developing a harder edge, they recruited Don Helder as a guitarist. They also went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Best of My Love,” a feat they’d achieve four more times in their career.
One of These Nights (1975):
The group’s fifth album saw them take an even bigger leap forward commercially, landing their first #1 album on the strength of three top-ten hits. “Take It to the Limit” featured Randy Meisner’s only lead vocal on an Eagles’ single and the title song, which Frey has said is his favorite Eagles’ tune, became their second chart-topper. One of These Nights marked Bernie Leadon’s departure from the group as he preferred their earlier, country-rock sound.
Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975
About the Album:
This album wasn’t just the “first album ever certified platinum;” WR1 it was the best-selling album in the U.S. in the 20th century. WK1 It lost the title to Michael Jackson’s Thriller after the artist’s death in 2009, but regained it in August 2018. WK1 “There may be no explaining that, really, except to note that this was the pervasive music of the first half of the 1970s, and somehow it never went away.” WR1
“On their first four albums, the Eagles were at pains to demonstrate that they were a group of at least near-equals, each getting a share of the songwriting credits and lead vocals. But this compilation…demonstrates that this evenhandedness did not extend to singles – as far as those go, the Eagles belong to Glenn Frey and Don Henley.” WR1 They wrote or co-wrote eight of the collection’s songs and one or the other sang lead on every song but Take It to the Limit.
Of the ten songs that comprise this collection, nine were released as singles (Desperado is the sole exception). Eight were top 40 hits on the Billboard pop chart (only Tequila Sunrise missed the top 40), five went top ten, and two of them (One of These Nights and Best of My Love) topped the charts.
The band, however, didn’t have any say in putting together the album and complained it was “nothing more than a ploy by the record company to sell product without having to pay additional production costs.” WK1 Don Henley didn’t like that songs like “Tequila Sunrise” and “Desperado” were taken out of the context of their original albums. WK1 The album did, however, buy the band time while they worked on what would become their best-selling studio album, 1977’s Hotel California.
Despite Henley’s frustration that songs were taken out of context, “these songs make up a collection consistent in mood and identity” WK “unlike the albums from which they come.” WK1 Thre result is that this compilation “works so much better than the band’s previous discs [that it] practically makes them redundant.” WR1
“The tunes are melodic, and the arrangements – full of strummed acoustic guitars over a rock rhythm section often playing a shuffle beat, topped by tenor-dominated harmonies – are immediately engaging. There is also a lyrical consistency to the songs, which often concern romantic uncertainties in an atmosphere soaked in intoxicants. The narrators of the songs usually seem exhausted, if not satiated, and the loping rhythms are appropriate to these impressions.” WR1
In addition to phenomenal sales, this was the rare compilation that topped the Billboard album charts. It debuted at #4 in its first week and then went to #1 the next week, where it stayed for five non-consecutive weeks. Over the years, the album has logged the equivalent of five years on the album chart.
Hotel California (1976):
After the overwhelming success of their first compilation, the Eagles returned with their most successful studio album. The album sported two #1 hits, the more country-oriented “New Kid in Town” and the title track, which became an album rock staple and the group’s signature song. It also won a Grammy for Record of the Year. The album marked the introduction of Joe Walsh, who came with an already established career with the James Gang and as a solo artist.
Christmas single (1978):
The Long Run (1979):
As the ‘70s came to a close, so did the Eagles. They wouldn’t record another studio album for 28 years. Randy Meisner had left the group after their 1977 tour and was replaced by Timothy B. Schmit, who also replaced Meisner after his departure from Poco. Schmit sings lead on top-10 single “I Can’t Tell You Why.” The album, another #1 for the Eagles, also sported top-ten hits with the title cut and the #1 “Heartache Tonight.”
Eagles Live (1980):
Infighting between the band while on tour supporting The Long Run would signal the end. They were contractually obligated to release a live album, which came in 1980. “Seven Bridges Road,” written by Steve Young, had been a concert staple and was featured on the album and became its only single.
Greatest Hits Volume 2
About the Album:
Considering the monstrous success of Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975, it was a no-brainer to release a second collection. The band officially disbanded in May 1982 and this set, collecting seven Top 40 hits as well as three album cuts, followed that fall. While not as huge as its predecessor (what could be?), this album still achieved multi-platinum status and outsold all the band’s studio albums except Hotel California.
While that album should be a staple of anyone’s catalog, this collection spared casual listeners from buying “mediocre albums like The Long Run and Eagles Live just to have copies of the best-known songs from those releases.” WR2 This set “was perfect for listeners who knew the band through number one radio hits like New Kid in Town, Hotel California, and Heartache Tonight.” WR2
The Very Best of (1994)
About the Album:
1982’s Greatest Hits Volume II was seemingly the last anyone would hear of the Eagles, but they surprised the world in 1994 with their Hell Freezes Over reunion tour. That same year, a single-disc retrospective of the band’s seventies’ output was released in Europe, Australia, and New England. The collection included 9 of the 10 songs from Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975, inexplicably opting to substitute the album cut Doolin’ Dalton instead of the hit single Already Gone, and also adding the minor hit James Dean from that era.
The other six cuts from the Eagles’ latter two albums were all hit singles featured on Greatest Hits Volume 2. This collection jettisons the three album cuts that rounded out that collection, but unfortunately also omits Seven Bridges Road, a top 25 hit from the band’s 1980 live album.
Hell Freezes Over (1994):
About the album
The Very Best of (aka “The Complete Greatest Hits”) (2003)
About the Album:
In 2003, the Eagles were anthologized yet again – this time with a double-disc collection. This seemed especially unnecessary, given that roughly two-thirds of their entire studio catalog of six albums would fit on two CDs. However, this set completely replicated Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975, Greatest Hits Volume 2, and the 1994 Very Best of sets, rendering all three of them unnecessary. This compilation added Get Over It and Love Will Keep Us Alive, studio cuts from Hell Freezes Over, and a new song, Hole in the World. In addition, the 1978 Christmas single Please Come Home for Christmas finally earned a spot on an Eagles’ greatest-hits package.
The collection does start feeling bloated when another seven album cuts are slapped on. Songs like Midnight Flyer really don’t belong here, but other cuts, like The Last Resort and Ol’ ‘55, seem just as worthy as some of the better-known material.
This set also does something none of its three predecessors did – presents the material in chronological order. This allows for a nice progression from the country rock of the band’s early days through the more guitar-driven album rock of the latter half of the ‘70s.
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