Panache, and plenty of California cool
Unlike CSN, The Eagles knew how to compose a song that would immediately appeal to the masses. Country-rock, West-Coast AOR, whatever you want to call it, The Eagles were a class act – predictable, maybe – but in their case at least, quality always outweighed quantity, something which explains their popularity.
On The Border is two sides of inoffensive, lightweight fuzz – not in a sickly-sweet way a la The Carpenters – because no matter how much whisky and cocaine they imbibed, the band always stayed within the speed limit of commercial expectation.
On The Border was The Eagles’ third album, and remains one of their greatest. Although unlike CSN and Y, and The Byrds, two groups to which they owe their existence, The Eagles were extremely apolitical when it came to subject matter. Yes they had long hair, wore jeans and T-shirts, and partied like anyone else, yet by 1974, the year this album was released, any hippie ideals had well and truly evaporated in a hedonistic haze of booze, heroin, and good old fashioned nihilism.
“James Dean,” co-written by Don Henley, Bernie Leadon, and Jackson Browne, is as enjoyable as they come, and it truly rocks, as does “Already Gone,” a song full of rich harmonies and California sunshine. “You Never Cry Like A Lover” and “Is It True” are fine romantic rockers, while “Midnight Flyer” sees the band break out into hillbilly mode, thanks to Leadon’s banjo playing, and sounds like The Good Old Boys attempting to hunt down The Blues Brothers.
The title track may not be much of a song, but the musicianship is excellent, like a Laurel Canyon Little Feat. Tom Waits’ obscure “Old 55” is given a CSNY makeover, and whether you prefer the original (like me), The Eagles still do it credit. Another good, but not great tune, is “My Man,” written by Leadon in dedication to Gram Parsons.
They add a little meat to the bone on “Good Day In Hell,” before finishing things off with “The Best Of My Love,” a wedding anthem if there was ever one, albeit a fine one at that.
If anything, On The Border is a well crafted document by a band who at this point had found their niche, and knew how to exploit it.