Founded by Don Henley and Glen Frey in 1971, it was The Eagles, along with Fleetwood Mac, who came to represent the pinnacle of accessible AOR by the mid 1970’s, and a dream come true for FM radio programmers the world over. As opposed to The Flying Burrito Brothers and Poco, The Eagles were more rock-country than country-rock, whose blend of tough though easy listening instrumentation was enhanced by some of the finest vocal harmonies ever recorded in popular music.
When Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) was released in 1976, the band, or record company’s timing couldn’t have been better. And what a compilation it is. Here the listener doesn’t need to purchase their first four albums, because all one ever wants or needs to listen to is captured and chronicled on a single disc. Sure, there are superior anthologies on CD, but for me, this will always be the one. Especially if I’m having a few drinks with the wife on a Saturday night, knowing that pretty soon we’ll be flipping a coin to decide whether it’s David Bowie or Weather Report one of us will have the luxury of playing next.
We open with their classic rendition of Jackson Browne and Glen Frey’s “Take It Easy”, a great road tune if there ever was, and a song that never drags, but rather picks you up and carries you along. On “Witchy Woman” Henley’s sexually-infused vocals still manage to captivate the listener after all these years, while with “Lyin’ Eyes” The Eagles proved that they could appeal to both rock and country fans in equal measure. The band take off down the highway on the muscular “Already Gone”, sung by Frey, before the melancholic “Desperado” offers the listener a moment to pause and reflect on the differences between reality and destiny.
“One of These Nights” is country-disco, for want of a better term, and one those songs that can either be enriching or annoying, depending on what mood you’re in. “Tequila Sunrise” is a Henley/Frey composition about lost love and being cheated on, which for some reason reminds me of Neil Young. The slow waltz of “Take It to the Limit” (AKA credit card blues) has Randy Meisner singing lead vocals, not surprising since he wrote it (with a bit of help from Henley and Frey). Based on the lyrics I’d say that Meisner was just about at his limit emotionally, whether due to a woman, or other factors better left to biographers. We return to country-rock with Jack Tempchin’s uplifting and memorable “Peaceful, Easy Feeling”, a song which makes you feel that everything is OK, no matter what life may throw at you.
The last track is the reflective and breezy “Best of My Love”, about a failed (or failing) relationship, with more of those impeccable and timeless harmonies The Eagles were famous for. It’s not my favourite track of theirs, but a pleasant way to end what is overall a relatively immaculate collection of ditties.
As far as the music is concerned, most of this album’s contents have been played far too much on the radio, thus taking away some of the impact they would potentially have on anyone discovering them for the first time. Always a target for the musical cognoscenti, The Eagles’ oeuvre has continued to mature over the decades, to the point where they have today become virtually bullet proof. Even at the band’s peak, their songs could be both cheesy and intoxicating, though always with a mood unfailing in character. Let it be said that The Eagles were certainly unique, and with the passing of Glen Frey, much of this finely crafted material can suddenly take on a whole new meaning. However for me, that meaning has always been there from the beginning. Music that will indeed lighten your load, and take you back to a time when things were far more peaceful and easy than they seem to be today.