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Eagles

Eagles/Desperado

Eagles/Desperado cover

Asylum Records' compilation Eagles: Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 turned out to be a financial bonanza, selling many millions of copies. But the downside of that equation was that the album's success cut the legs out from under the four regular LPs the collection had drawn from. Why should people buy those records when the best tracks from them were all on the hits album? In the early 1980s, Warner Communications, Asylum's parent company, instituted a program to stimulate sales of cassettes. "Two on One" put two albums on one cassette. Here was a way to sell some more copies of those early Eagles albums; the first four LPs were included in the program. And as it happened, the Eagles catalog did break down neatly into groups of two. Eagles and Desperado were more country-oriented sets; On the Border and One of These Nights found them adding an extra guitarist and turning more to rock; Hotel California and The Long Run (a twofer released later in the series) were the group's superstar, arena rock sets. Balance is the key element of the Eagles' self-titled debut album, a collection that contains elements of rock & roll, folk, and country, overlaid by vocal harmonies alternately suggestive of doo-wop, the Beach Boys, and the Everly Brothers. If the group kicks up its heels on rockers like "Chug All Night," "Nightingale," and "Tryin'," it is equally convincing on ballads like "Most of Us Are Sad" and "Train Leaves Here This Morning." The album is also balanced among its members, who trade off on lead vocal chores and divide the songwriting such that Glenn Frey, Bernie Leadon, and Randy Meisner all get three writing or co-writing credits. (Fourth member Don Henley, with only one co-writing credit and two lead vocals, falls a little behind, while Jackson Browne, Gene Clark, and Jack Tempchin also figure in the writing credits.) The album's overall balance is worth keeping in mind because it produced three Top 40 hit singles that do not reflect that balance. "Take It Easy" and "Peaceful Easy Feeling" are similar-sounding midtempo folk-rock tunes sung by Frey that express the same sort of laid-back philosophy, as indicated by the word "easy" in both titles, while "Witchy Woman," a Henley vocal and co-composition, initiates the band's career-long examination of supernaturally evil females. These are the songs one remembers from Eagles, and they look forward to the eventual dominance of the band by Frey and Henley. But the complete album from which they come belongs as much to Leadon's country-steeped playing and singing and to Meisner's melodic rock & roll feel, which, on the release date, made it seem a more varied and consistent effort than it did later, when the singles had become overly familiar. If Henley was the sole member of the Eagles underrepresented on their debut album, he made up for it on their second, the "concept" album Desperado. The concept had to do with Old West outlaws, but it had no specific narrative. On Eagles, the group had already begun to marry itself to a Southwest sound and lyrical references, from the Indian-style introduction of "Witchy Woman" to the Winslow, AZ, address in "Take It Easy." All of this became more overt on Desperado, and it may be that Henley, who hailed from Northeast Texas, had the greatest affinity for the subject matter. In any case, he had co-writing credits on eight of the 11 selections and sang such key tracks as "Doolin-Dalton" and the title song. What would become recognizable as Henley's lyrical touch was apparent on those songs, which bore a serious, world-weary tone. Henley had begun co-writing with Frey, and they contributed the album's strongest material, which included the first single, "Tequila Sunrise," and "Desperado" (strangely, never released as a single). But where Eagles seemed deliberately to balance the band's many musical styles and the talents of the band's members, Desperado, despite its overarching theme, often seemed a collection of disparate tracks -- "Out of Control" was a raucous rocker, while "Desperado" was a painfully slow ballad backed by strings -- with other band members' contributions tacked on rather than integrated. Meisner was down to two co-writing credits and one lead vocal ("Certain Kind of Fool"), while Leadon's two songs, "Twenty-One" and "Bitter Creek," seemed to come from a different record entirely. The result was an album that was simultaneously more ambitious and serious-minded than its predecessor and also slighter and less consistent.

Review by William Ruhlmann

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