by Jeff Fiedler
Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums.
Eagles (1972, Asylum)
The band’s debut album is also a real anomaly in their catalog. Don Henley and Glenn Frey have yet to assert their dominance over the band, and half of the tracks here are consequently written and/or sung by the then-quartet’s other two members, former Poco bassist Randy Meisner and former Flying Burrito Brother Bernie Leadon. The album’s three singles are all classics: the rollicking Jackson Browne-co-write “Take It Easy” (which, perhaps more so than any other single of the ‘70s, really defined and helped usher in the country-rock genre), the unsettling “Witchy Woman,” and the breezy “Peaceful, Easy Feeling.” None of the other cuts are nearly as catchy as the singles, and neither of the Leadon-sung cuts really fit in terribly well, but there are a small handful of hidden gems to be found, particularly Meisner’s ominous rocker “Take the Devil” and the stunningly pretty ballad “Most of Us Are Sad” (penned by Frey, but sung by Meisner.) It’s noticeably much rawer than their later albums, but the potential of the band is obvious in the album’s best moments.
Desperado (1973, Asylum)
A true concept album, the Western-themed Desperado is a much more artistically ambitious album than its predecessor. There’s nothing here quite as immediately catchy or as obviously commercial as “Take It Easy,” but the songs aren’t entirely without hooks, either. Inexplicably, neither of the album’s two best tracks – the much-covered and iconic title track (later the subject of a memorable Seinfeld episode) and the equally lovely ballad “Saturday Night” – were issued as singles. (As catchy though it is, “Saturday Night” has somehow never made it onto an Eagles best-of package.) “Tequila Sunrise,” which did get issued as a single, peaking at #64, is also here, but that’s the only other song you’re likely to be familiar with if you’ve only ever heard their greatest-hits discs. (“Outlaw Man” was actually the biggest hit from this album, peaking at #59, but it’s never been included on an Eagles hits package, probably because the David Blue-penned composition and Glenn Frey’s atypical vocal both sound far more like Neil Young than Eagles.) Bernie Leadon’s own songs still sound out of place next to the other band originals, but the extremely beautiful “Bitter Creek” is his finest contribution to the band yet and shouldn’t be skipped. Randy Meisner also delivers a real winner in the overlooked gem “Certain Kind of Fool,” which sounds suspiciously like where Miley Cyrus got the idea for the music for “Wrecking Ball.” (Seriously, go listen to any verse in “Certain Kind of Fool” and see what I mean.)
On the Border (1974, Asylum)
The band picks up a fifth member in new guitarist Don Felder and makes a change in producers from Glyn Johns to Bill Szymczyk, resulting in a noticeable shift away from more country-tinged territory to more straightforward rock. For the most part, the changes work. The band has never rocked harder to this point than it does on the rollicking “Already Gone” (one of the band’s most underrated singles), but it also hasn’t lost its fine touch with a pretty country ballad, as can be seen on the band’s first Number One hit, “Best of My Love,” which also boasts some of the finest harmonies to ever grace an Eagles record. Not all the material works – “James Dean” is easily the band’s worst single – but the set of songs here is much more consistent than that on either of the first two albums, and the regular album cuts shouldn’t be overlooked, particularly the gritty R&B groove of the title track and the fine cover of Tom Waits’ “Ol ’55.”
One of These Nights (1975, Asylum)
The man is a gifted musician, to be sure, and his country influences really helped give the band an identifiable sound, but Bernie Leadon’s compositions (good though they can be, as “Bitter Creek” proves) have typically stuck out like sore thumbs on Eagles albums. Never has that been more apparent than it is on One of These Nights, which comes frustratingly close to being a near-perfect pop album but is undone by two Leadon cuts that not only do not fit the album but sound like the work of entirely different bands. (“Journey of the Sorcerer” is a seven-minute bluegrass instrumental with an overbearing string section, while the album-closing “I Wish You Peace” sounds like a Kenny Rankin record that got added to the disc by accident.) Fortunately, pretty much everything else here works like a charm. The lite disco-rock of the title track is one of the band’s finest singles, highlighted by Meisner’s slinky bass work, Henley’s surprisingly dramatic drumming, and Felder’s great lead guitar licks. The Meisner-sung waltz “Take it to the Limit” is easily the finest song he ever wrote for the band, while “Lyin’ Eyes” revisits the much-missed breezy country vibe of the band’s earliest singles with winning results. There are some excellent non-singles here as well, though, particularly “After the Thrill Is Gone,” “Too Many Hands,” and the lovely “Hollywood Waltz.”
Hotel California (1976, Asylum)
Bernie Leadon has left at this point and been replaced by former James Gang member Joe Walsh (best known at the time of this album for his solo hit “Rocky Mountain Way.”) Leadon’s departure results in the band shedding nearly all its remaining musical ties to country and going for a much more mainstream-rock approach. The best songs here have mostly been played to death by classic rock stations, and you could be forgiven for never wanting to hear them again, but they’re still excellent compositions. The J.D. Souther-co-written “New Kid in Town” remains one of Frey’s most endearing songs and still holds up well today. The iconic title cut, overexposed though it is, still impresses on its extended instrumental outro, and “Life in the Fast Lane” has an effective bite to its nasty disco-rock groove. The album tends to be somewhat overrated, though, for the reason that while all the subsequent tracks are perfectly fine, none of them are all that extremely catchy, either (to the extent that it’s obvious why Asylum didn’t capitalize on the album’s monstrous success by trying to milk a fourth or fifth single out of it). The album consequently ends up feeling especially front-loaded. Nonetheless, the album as a whole still stands as an ambitious and coherent artistic statement and is every bit as much an album piece and concept disc as Desperado.
The Long Run (1979, Asylum)
The band’s final studio album before breaking up in 1982, The Long Run is great on a sonic level, boasting a great engineering job and some nice contemporary production touches, but the album is undone by some dubious inclusions. On the plus side, “Heartache Tonight,” co-written with Bob Seger and J.D. Souther, packs a real rock and roll punch, and its pulsating, handclap-laden, near-acapella opening lines are particularly dynamic. “I Can’t Tell You Why” is a beautiful, chilling ballad sung by new member Timothy B. Schmit (who takes over from the newly-departed Randy Meisner, who Schmit also ironically replaced years earlier in the band Poco.) The album’s ‘60s-soul-flavored title cut, sung by Henley, is a real knockout, too. The album’s also got two of the catchiest non-singles in the band’s entire catalog in the Joe Walsh-penned “In the City” and the eerie, talkbox-laden “Those Shoes.” The album-closing ballad “The Sad Café” is also a real highlight as well. Unfortunately, “The Disco Strangler,” “The Greeks Don’t Want No Freaks,” and “Teenage Jail” are all so bad that it’s astounding to think these three tracks actually made the final cut on what was originally meant to be a double-disc set, and they end up really taking away substantially from what otherwise had the potential to be a first-rate album.
Long Road Out of Eden (2007, ERC)
It’s unfortunate in hindsight that the band stranded so many newly-recorded studio cuts (i.e. “Get Over It,” “Love Will Keep Us Alive,” “Learn to Be Still,” “Hole in the World”) on live albums, hits compilations, and non-LP singles since its reformation, since they might have been put to better use on this fairly good but mildly disappointing double-disc package. It sounds great when it’s on, and it definitely works as an album piece, but you can’t help but notice that Henley and Frey’s original material here is just not as catchy as their usual stuff (though there are a few exceptions, especially Frey’s lovely “No More Cloudy Days.”) Instead, this is the rare instance of an Eagles album where the most instantly memorable songs come via Joe Walsh, who steals the show with “Last Good Time in Town” and the Frankie Miller/Jerry Lynn Williams-penned “Guilty of the Crime.” Nothing here is bad, so it’s a more consistent album for the band to go out on than The Long Run, and it’s a fascinating listen, but the lack of hooks means there’s not a whole lot of noticeable highlights, either.