Discog Fever - Rating and Reviewing Every Don Henley and Glenn Frey Album

by Jeff Fiedler

Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums.

No Fun Aloud (1982, Asylum)

B –

The late Glenn Frey’s solo albums may have never equaled the greatness of former Eagles bandmate Don Henley’s better solo discs, but you can certainly say this much about Frey: unlike Henley, Frey never seemed – at least not as a solo artist, anyway – as if he was taking himself too seriously, and, spotty though Frey’s solo albums undeniably are, his sense of playfulness meant that his best singles were at least more fun than Henley’s singles typically were. Contrast, for example, Henley’s first Top 40 hit, the angry “Dirty Laundry,” to the happy “Chinese soul licks,” as Frey dubs them, of this album’s opening cut, “I Found Somebody,” influenced by Bobby Womack and a fine Top 40 hit that’s strangely been all but forgotten to time though it’s not all that far a cry musically from the title cut of The Long Run. Even better than “I Found Somebody” is the incredibly sultry ballad “The One You Love,” another deserving Top 40 hit (with an unforgettable performance on sax from Ernie Watts) and one that finds Frey delivering what might be the most silky-smooth vocal performance of his career. “Partytown” may be cringe-inducing, but the remake of Frankie Ford’s “Sea Cruise” is a fun throwaway, and the second side of the disc sports two excellent ballads in the Bob Seger co-write “That Girl” and the Spanish-flavored “She Can’t Let Go.”

I Can’t Stand Still (1982, Asylum)

A – 

Henley’s solo debut technically produced fewer hit singles than Frey’s, but it’s a bit mysterious why that was the case, because there are some awfully catchy songs here. The appealing slow burn of the title cut stopped at #48 and the playful “Johnny Can’t Read” – featuring Andrew Gold on keyboards and not all that far a cry musically from the Tex-Mex stomp of Nick Lowe’s “Half a Boy (and Half a Man)” – stopped at #42, but both songs rank among Henley’s most wildly underrated singles, and the latter song is actually downright fun. (Henley even hilariously tosses in a snippet of the Eagles’ “New Kid in Town” during the vamp-out.) The album did produce one monster-sized hit in the Top Five singalong “Dirty Laundry,” a brilliant – if a bit over-the-top – swipe at the world of journalism that features dueling guitar solos from Joe Walsh and Toto’s Steve Lukather. The hooks aren’t limited to the singles, though, and cuts like “Them and Us” (whish sports a cameo from Warren Zevon), the reggae-tinged “The Unclouded Day” (featuring Bill Withers on harmonies), the ballad “Lilah,” and “You Better Hang Up” are moderately catchy in their own right, while “Talking to the Moon” is one of Henley’s prettiest ballads in quite some time. This album isn’t nearly as well-known as the two that would follow it and none of its songs ever pop up on best-of packages except for “Dirty Laundry,” so this album tends to be very easily overlooked, but this is Henley’s most underrated solo affair and there are a lot of hidden gems awaiting you if you take the time to pick up this disc.

The Allnighter (1984, MCA)

B

A slightly more unified album than its predecessor and arguably the definitive Glenn Frey solo album, Frey’s sophomore solo outing has its filler (“Better in the U.S.A.” is particularly cringe-inducing), but it also has a pair of strong singles and Top 40 hits in the gritty blues-rock of “Smuggler’s Blues” (later used to great effect in Miami Vice) and the catchy “Sexy Girl.” Like No Fun Aloud before it, the best non-singles here are all ballads, and the retro-soul of “Let’s Go Home” and “New Love” and the more Eagles-styled balladry of the beautiful “Lover’s Moon” help to keep the album enjoyable in the gaps between hits. Most import copies of the disc add Frey’s deliriously fun contribution to the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack, the massive hit “The Heat Is On,” which stopped just one spot shy of hitting the top of the Hot 100, but that song is sadly absent on the American edition of the album. [Unfortunately, neither of Frey’s two biggest solo hits – the other being the sultry “You Belong to the City,” popularized in Miami Vice and, like “The Heat Is On,” a #2 hit – ever made it onto a Frey studio album in the U.S.]

Building the Perfect Beast (1985, Geffen)

A

Even stronger than its predecessor, Henley’s sophomore outing (and his first for Geffen) is just as star-studded as his last effort (both Belinda Carlisle and Charlie Sexton pop up on the rockabilly-tinged “Man with a Mission, while Lindsey Buckingham and the Motels’ Martha Davis crop up, respectively, on “You Can’t Make Love” and “All She Wants to Do Is Dance,” and Patty Smyth and Toto’s David Paich and Steve Porcaro all make multiple appearances), but it’s got an even better set of songs, and Henley would score four Top 40 hits this time around instead of just one. “Sunset Grill” goes on for just a little too long, but both its lyrics and music do a fabulous job of creating a very vivid setting. The Top Ten hit “All She Wants to Do Is Dance” is an unusually playful (for Henley, at least), almost danceable cut and surprisingly hooky for a song technically lacking a traditional chorus. The best of the four hits here, though, are the very soulful pop of “Not Enough Love in the World” (co-written – as was “Sunset Grill” – by Heartbreaker Benmont Tench and which finds Henley digging deeper into R&B territory than he has on anything since the Eagles’ “The Long Run”) and the now-iconic hypnotic pop of the Mike Campbell co-write “The Boys of Summer,” which became a Top 40 hit a second time decades later thanks to a cover by punk band The Ataris. Even the non-singles here are more inspired than those on I Can’t Stand Still, and the album ends on a very lovely note with the pretty ballad “Land of the Living.”

Soul Searchin’ (1988, MCA)

C –  

More forgettable than dreadful, this is easily the least essential of Frey’s ‘80s albums. Like Steve Winwood’s “Roll with It,” this disc is influenced by soul music from the ‘60s, but the songwriting is slightly spottier than usual – the disc even opens up with an attempt at a physical-fitness anthem, “Livin’ Right” (which seems ridiculously random if you don’t realize that Frey was also starring in gym commercials at the time, and, no, I swear I’m not making that up) – and the better tunes are just given way, way too much production gloss to make them seem like the retro-soul songs Frey wants them to be (the Spinners-like “Let’s Pretend We’re Still in Love” could have been fantastic if it had been given a Thom Bell-type Philly soul production; instead, the production makes it sound like an ‘80s TV theme), and they never feel nearly as organic as the much-rawer “Roll with It” was. But it’s not a complete mess, and the title cut is a reasonably good ballad and “Two Hearts” an infectious, if lightweight, piece of adult-contemporary R&B-pop akin to Dionne Warwick’s excellent late-‘80s hit Jeffrey Osborne duet “Love Power” that really should have chosen as the third single from this disc over “Livin’ Right.” (Now whether Frey should have been recording material that could just as easily fit in on a Dionne Warwick album is debatable in and of itself, but for what it is, it’s a well-crafted track.) Better still is the lead-off single, the soulful Top 40 hit “True Love,” which, though a bit too overdone, is a very pleasant and catchy piece of songwriting that was deservedly inescapable on adult-contemporary radio that year. But if you’ve already got a copy of “True Love” on 45 or on a best-of package, there’s not a whole lot of reason to pick this one up unless you’re looking to complete your collection.

The End of the Innocence (1989, Geffen)

A –

It’s a bit lacking for up-tempo moments, but Henley’s third solo outing is a slightly more introspective outing that boasts a fabulous trio of Top 40 hits. The title cut, written by the very-underrated Bruce Hornsby and featuring the composer himself on piano, might be Henley’s most beautiful solo single, while “The Last Worthless Evening” (co-written by Silver Condor’s John Corey) is great mid-tempo fare and the gospel-laced “The Heart of the Matter” is perhaps the most insightful and profound meditation on relationships that Henley has ever crafted, either as a solo artist or as an Eagle. The hauntingly lovely ballad “New York Minute,” featuring Take 6 on background vocals, sadly missed the Top 40 (but not by much, peaking at #44), but should have fared much, much better on the charts, though it did have the notable distinction of deservedly becoming one of the few non-Eagles songs to make its way into the setlist of that band’s Hell Freezes Over reunion. The other cuts are slightly more hit-and-miss, but the Prince-like funk of “Shangri-La” fares much better than it has any right to and the reggae-tinged “Little Tin God” is infectious, and there are high-profile guests throughout: Patty Smyth pops up on “How Bad Do You Want It,” Melissa Etheridge and Edie Brickell lend their voices to “Gimme What You Got,” and even Axl Rose makes an unlikely appearance on “I Will Not Go Quietly.”

Strange Weather (1992, MCA)

C

A nice bounce-back from Soul Searchin’, Strange Weather still isn’t nearly as essential as either of Frey’s first two solo discs and it was a major commercial flop, failing to either reach the Top 200 or produce any Top 40 singles, but it feels substantially more inspired than Soul Searchin’ and sounds like a more carefully-thought-out album piece than that disc. Like any Frey solo album, it does have its share of filler, but there are more good songs here than the last time out, highlighted by the rocker “Love in the 21st Century,” the smooth R&B-pop of“River of Dreams,” “I’ve Got Mine,” and “Part of Me, Part of You” (the latter popularized in the film Thelma & Louise).

Inside Job (2000, Warner Bros.)

B –    

Released a whopping eleven years after his last solo outing, the passage of time since his last record has seen him soften up somewhat and he doesn’t seem nearly as bitter or cantankerous as he can sometimes be (“I hate to tell you this,” he even sings at one point, “but I’m very, very happy”), and the album surprisingly has its fair share of optimistic or even touching moments, but the melodies are noticeably less catchier than usual, which makes it slightly hard to remember individual songs from the album. The ballads fare much better than the up-tempo material, though the groovy opening cut, “Nobody Else in the World but You” is fairly fun, if only for the inclusion of cameos from Stevie Wonder and Frey. The moving “Annabel” is a lovely and stirring piano ballad featuring a string arrangement from Randy Newman, and the heartfelt ballads “For My Wedding” and “Taking You Home” (the latter of which features a guest spot from Eagles bandmate Don Felder) both deservedly garnered a modest amount of radio play on adult-contemporary stations, but the greatest moment here has to be the gospel-tinged “Everything Is Different Now,” which almost sounds like a sequel of sorts to “The Heart of the Matter.” Though it would be nice if the hooks were just a little stronger, the only major flaw with the album is that, at thirteen cuts, it’s a little too long for its own good, and “Everything Is Different Now” is incongruously followed by four consecutive bitter topical songs that seem completely out of place and don’t at all fit the tone of the rest of what is otherwise a very easygoing and largely inward-looking affair. 

After Hours (2012, Hip-O)

C

On paper, this album – Frey’s first solo outing of new material in twenty years – looks like an unbelievably terrible idea (Glenn Frey doing a cocktail-jazz-styled album of mostly standards), but, surprisingly enough, this is actually a much more listenable album than you would expect it to be. It doesn’t always work – “Route 66” and “The Shadow of Your Smile” both should arguably have been substituted with other songs – but his delicate covers of the Bacharach-David classic “The Look of Love” and the Nat King Cole song “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons” are surprisingly pleasant. The album fares best, though, when Frey tries his hand at less familiar standards, like “I’m Getting Old Before My Time” and “It’s Too Soon to Know” or when he cheats a bit and slips in rock-era songs like Brian Wilson’s gorgeous and indestructible “Caroline, No” and Randy Newman’s “Same Girl.” It’s not anywhere near as seminal a purchase as The Allnighter or No Fun Aloud, both of which capture Frey at his commercial peak as a solo artist, but this is a genuinely better album than Soul Searchin’ and as equally pleasant as Strange Weather, and for a standards disc from one of the last people you would ever expect to make one, it’s surprisingly tasteful and graceful most of the time. This would sadly turn out to be the last solo album Frey would make before passing away in January of 2016, unfortunately.

Cass County (2015, Capitol)

B –

A full-blown excursion into country, Cass County never quite feels like a sell-out move, if only because Henley’s roots, after all, lay in the country-rock of the Eagles (and if you go back earlier, his pre-Eagles band Shiloh had their one and only album produced by country great Kenny Rogers). Henley also wisely retains the Heartbreakers’ Stan Lynch (who co-produced The End of the Innocence and Inside Job) as his co-writer/co-producer. The album does go way, way too overboard on special guests (including Merle Haggard on “The Cost of Living,” Martina McBride on “That Old Flame,” Vince Gill on “No Thank You,” and two-thirds of the Dixie Chicks on “She Sang Hymns Out of Tune”), which makes the album almost feel like Santana’s Supernatural at times, but the songs themselves are largely very tasteful and only rarely succumb to country clichés. The album falters only when it ventures into faster material, as on “Where I Am Now” or “No Thank You,” and fares best when it sticks to ballads. “Words Can Break Your Heart” (featuring Trisha Yearwood) and “Waiting Tables” (a co-write with old Eagles bandmate Timothy Schmit and featuring Lee Ann Womack and Jamey Johnson) are pretty good, but even better are the Louvin Brothers’ “When I Stop Dreaming” (featuring Dolly Parton), “Praying for Rain” (featuring Yearwood, Gill, Alison Krauss, and Ashley Monroe), and, best of all, Tift Merritt’s “Bramble Rose” (a duet with Miranda Lambert and – no kidding – Mick Jagger!). Like Inside Job, it’s not nearly as essential as any of his first three solo albums (especially the hit-packed Perfect Beast and Innocence), but it’s a more coherent album piece from start to finish than that album, and, for a late-career solo outing, it’s actually surprisingly graceful and inspired.

Compilations:

The most satisfactory available Henley best-of is the 2009 package The Very Best of Don Henley; sadly, it doesn’t include anything from I Can’t Stand Still other than “Dirty Laundry” (they may have missed the Top 40, but it would’ve been nice to have “Johnny Can’t Read” and “I Can’t Stand Still” here), and it lacks the hit duets “Leather and Lace” (with Stevie Nicks) and “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough” (with Patty Smyth), but it includes all of the most essential cuts from Henley’s four solo albums up to this point. Solo Collection is the best of Frey’s two hits discs; it’s sadly missing “I Found Somebody” but is otherwise as complete as you could want a Frey compilation to be, gathering Top 40 hits like “The Heat Is On,” “You Belong to the City,” “The One You Love,” “True Love,” “Smuggler’s Blues,” and “Sexy Girl,” along with some good lesser-known singles like “Part of Me, Part of You.”