My favorite Eagles songs

It’s the end of the week and I’m taking off early to have some fun. Here’s some music to end the day—at least for me.

The Eagles is one of those groups, like Fleetwood Mac, that I learned to appreciate only after they’d faded away. Some of their songs I like, and some I have no use for. For many years I didn’t listen to the Eagles simply because I couldn’t stand the lyrics of “Take it Easy”, which seemed pretentious; and I still hate “Hotel California.” But here are two songs I really like—both live performances.

The first is a gorgeous ballad with two great guitar solos.”I can’t tell you why” was written by Glenn Frey, Don Henley, and lead singer Timothy B. Schmit (how many rock stars used a middle initial?). It was recorded in 1978, released on their album The Long Run in 1978, and was the first Eagles song to have Schmit as the lead singer.  Sadly, while it made the top 10 in both the Billboard and Adult Contemporary charts, it didn’t get to #1 on either.

Wikipedia has some background:

Timothy B. Schmit came up with the song title and composed the nucleus of “I Can’t Tell You Why”, which he then presented to Glenn Frey and Don Henley and they completed the song together. Henley described the finished song as “straight Al Green”, and that Frey, an R&B fan as he came from Detroit and grew up with the music, was responsible for the R&B feel of the song. Frey said to Schmit: “You could sing like Smokey Robinson. Let’s not do a Richie Furay, Poco-sounding song. Let’s do an R&B song.”

Schmit describes the song as “loosely based on my own experiences”. Schmit said: “I had some writing sessions with Don and Glenn and I threw out a bunch of my ideas and that one [for “I Can’t Tell You Why”] stuck. I had [composed] a pretty good part of it, not a huge part but enough for them to think ‘That could be good’ and go with it. So Don, Glenn and I finished it over a few all night sessions.” “When it was being developed in the studio…I knew it was a great song. I [thought] ‘Yes! This is an amazing debut for me.’ When we finally mixed it, we had a little listening party at the studio. As people were hearing it, Don turned to me and said, ‘There’s your first hit.'”

Schmit sang the lead vocals on the song, with Frey and Henley singing counterpoint. Schmit also played the bass on the track, which has the distinctive bass riff believed by Schmit to have been devised by Frey. According to Henley, Frey came up with the counterpart on the song, and played the guitar solo on the song.

Be sure to enlarge this video.

Lyin’ Eyes” was written by Henley and Frey, and is my second favorite Eagles song, conjuring up a lot of old feelings. Recorded in 1975, it reached #2 on the Billboard charts. It’s a lovely song with a sad story, and I always picture the young guy, lying on a cot, waiting for his married inamorata to arrive. The live version below is from 1977; Schmit apparently hadn’t yet joined the band, and I don’t see Joe Walsh here, either.

More from Wikipedia:

The title and idea for the song came when Glenn Frey and Don Henley were in their favorite Los Angeles restaurant/bar Dan Tana’s which was frequented by many beautiful women, and they started talking about beautiful women who were cheating on their husbands. They saw a beautiful young woman with a fat and much older wealthy man, and Frey said: “She can’t even hide those lyin’ eyes.” According to Henley, Frey was the main writer of the song, although he had some input with the verses and the music. The song was written when Frey and Henley were sharing a house in Trousdale, Beverly Hills. Frey said of the writing of the song: “…the story had always been there. I don’t want to say it wrote itself, but once we started working on it, there were no sticking points. Lyrics just kept coming out, and that’s not always the way songs get written.” During the Eagles 2013 concert tour, Frey stated it was written in just two evenings.

“Lyin’ Eyes” is the only song in the One of These Nights album that Frey sang solo lead on (he shared lead vocals with Henley on “After the Thrill Is Gone”).

The Eagles, I hear, gave great live performances, and this is one of them (I never saw them, but I’m sure some readers have).

 

71 Comments

  1. mirandaga
    Posted February 2, 2018 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    “Desperado” and “Take it to the Limit,” in that order.

    • Claudia Baker
      Posted February 2, 2018 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      Two of my favourites also. That moment when Randy holds the high note towards the end of “Take it to the Limit” takes the breath away.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted February 2, 2018 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

        ‘Take it to the Limit’ is my favourite Eagles song. My #2 and #3 are Jerry’s #1 and #2 in the same order.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted February 2, 2018 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

          Oh, and how could I forget ‘Best of My Love’. The lyrics in that one are special to me.

  2. paablo
    Posted February 2, 2018 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Walsh is wearing a bandana in the “Lyin’ Eyes” video.

  3. Joseph McClain
    Posted February 2, 2018 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    I saw the Eagles with Fleetwood Mac and Boz Scaggs in (I think) 1977 at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. I am pretty sure that it was the first live show with Joe Walsh in the band. They opened with “Take it Easy” and Glenn Frey cued Walsh for the first solo with a kind of a questioning “OK, Joe?” But Walsh nailed it. Very good show with great performances by all.

  4. Randall Schenck
    Posted February 2, 2018 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    I think when they came back and did the Hell Freezes Over record, that was some of their best. It all use to be on You Tube but they seem to remove move of their stuff. I always thought Henley was the better singer so –

    Learn to be Still
    Heart of the Matter
    Wasted Time
    One of these Nights

    The version of Hotel they did on the Hell Freezes Over album was the best to me.

  5. garman
    Posted February 2, 2018 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Their version of “Ol’ 55”. And they could rock even without Joe Walsh—Check out “Out of Control”

  6. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted February 2, 2018 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Theres a lot of music out there – don’t miss out on new discoveries of old music….

  7. Ken Pidcock
    Posted February 2, 2018 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    The Eagles is one of those groups, like Fleetwood Mac, that I learned to appreciate only after they’d faded away.

    For me, that’s Steely Dan. Had no interest when they were hip. Twenty years later I recognized the talent.

    • BJ
      Posted February 2, 2018 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

      The Dan is one of my absolute favorites. I’ve seen them several times, and they always have an amazing band with them. Of course, now that Walter has died, it will be only one half of Steely Dan 😦

      What are your top three favorite albums? Mine are Pretzel Logic, The Royal Scam, and Aja.

  8. Posted February 2, 2018 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Mojo Nixon had a song about the Eagles. Like all of his it was weird, demented, rocking and funny. I saw him with Skid Roper at Toad’s Place in New Haven and Done Henley was there! Henley joined him on stage for Mojo’s classic “Don Henley Must Die”. He was loving it.

    When they got to it, Henley solo’ed the line; “Don’t let him get back together with Glenn Frye”. I detected (possibly in error) that Henley was joking only a little.

  9. Dan Paslawski
    Posted February 2, 2018 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    I saw the Eagles twice. In 1977 and again on their History of the Eagles tour around 2013/2014. I was amazed at the quality of the later one (they’re old guys just like me). Both would be in the top 5 concerts I have ever seen.

    I preferred most of their earlier work, and, in general, I prefer Glenn Frey’s vocals to Don Henley. My favourites are Lyin’ Eyes, Take It To The Limit, Peaceful Easy Feeling, James Dean, Train Leaves Here This Morning, New Kid In Town, and The Last Resort.

    2016 saw a lot of major artists do the “Big Sleep” as Jerry might put it, but Glenn Frey’s death hit me the hardest by far. That was a big part of my youth.

    Dan

  10. mfdempsey1946
    Posted February 2, 2018 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    For me, “Hotel California” has always had a smarmy, self-glorifying cooler-than-thou” tone.

    But these many years later, one of its lyrics continues to resonate: “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.”

    • Posted February 2, 2018 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

      That nails it! Same vibe with “Take it easy”!

      • Doug
        Posted February 2, 2018 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

        I can’t help it–I like both songs. Plus “Lyin’ Eyes” and “One of These Nights.”

  11. Posted February 2, 2018 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Yep i’d include those two, New Kid in Town, One of these Nights and Take it to the Limit in my collection of Eagles songs.

  12. Steve Zeoli
    Posted February 2, 2018 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    Someone has probably already mentioned this, but in the Lyin’ Eyes video, it looks to me like Joe Walsh is the Eagle wearing the bandanna on his head.

  13. darrelle
    Posted February 2, 2018 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    I Can’t Tell You Why is one of my top picks for the Eagles as well. This video is very nice, hadn’t seen it before. The vocals in particular are very impressive. The guitar solos . . ., were lacking a bit for me.

    Desperado, Witchy Woman and their cover of Seven Bridges Road are some of my other favorites.

    I listened to the Hotel California album a lot when it came out. Too much. I don’t think I actively dislike those songs anymore, but I automatically reach for the skip button these days when one pops up on “shuffle.”

  14. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 2, 2018 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    The Dude rendered the ultimate critical judgment on The Eagles:

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted February 2, 2018 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

      And, I guess, the cab driver rendered the ultimate critical judgment on Eagles’ haters. 🙂

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted February 2, 2018 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

        Surprised he did run over him.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted February 2, 2018 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

          Only the Coens would have the Eagles fan be a black cab driver. 🙂

          Btw, didn’t you sample “Hotel California” in a comment a couple days ago?

    • Posted February 2, 2018 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

      A fine film.

  15. Flamadiddle
    Posted February 2, 2018 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Clifford T. Ward was a middle initialer, though perhaps the term “rock star’ does not quite suit. Home Thoughts from Abroad is one of my favourite songs – simply beautiful.

  16. Posted February 2, 2018 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    The whole Desperado album was my favorite Eagles work. They were always good after that but a bit too commercial for my tastes. On the other hand, Joe Walsh remains one of my favorite guitarists of all time.

  17. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 2, 2018 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Why the hate for “Hotel California,” boss?

    It’s never been a favorite of mine, either, though I really like Joe Walsh’s guitar playing on it. I also like the Spanish version of “Hotel California,” which in a Coen brothers’ in-joke, they also used in Big Lebowski, over the montage of “the Jesus” bowling.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted February 2, 2018 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

      I know some of you ci-devant hippies took exception to the line “we haven’t had that spirit here since ninety-sixty-nine.” I recall a Rolling Stone interview with David Crosby & Graham Nash where they were riding in a car when “Hotel California” came on the radio. The interviewer said they both gave the radio — and, by extension, the Eagles — the finger when that line came on. (Christ, the useless flotsam & jetsam I got bobbing around in long-term memory.)

    • Posted February 2, 2018 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

      The music itself in Hotel California is rather beautiful, if you ask me. A harmonically inventive, yet logically solid, variation on the Lament Bass.

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted February 2, 2018 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

        I just heard my Funny Valentine last night

        Did you follow the Taurus vs. Led Zeppelin case? Lots of good music came up in that defense. Dido’s Lament – shivers…

        • Posted February 2, 2018 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

          No, I wasn’t aware of the Taurus/Stairway battle. Although the harmonies are identical and the arpeggiation is very similar, I’d come down on the side of “not a rip-off”, too. A chromatic descent from tonic to dominant is a musical convention, like pants are a fashion convention. You can make the descent your own, just as you can design original pants, but you can’t copyright the descent any more than you can copyright the idea of pants.

          • ThyroidPlanet
            Posted February 3, 2018 at 8:26 am | Permalink

            IM innate think about this – if “Lament bass” is the same thing I’m thinking about, or if HC is just cycle of fifths …

            • ThyroidPlanet
              Posted February 3, 2018 at 8:26 am | Permalink

              I’m gonna, not IM innate

            • Posted February 3, 2018 at 8:43 am | Permalink

              Each step downward in HC takes an applied dominant, but the applied dominant doesn’t really have a relationship with the following harmony. You could describe it as a descending tetrachord with interpolated fifths, but the fundamental musical activity is the descending tetrachord (the lament bass).

              i – (V) – bVII – (V/bVII) – VI – (V/VI) – iv – V

              The pillar harmonies are not in parentheses.

              • ThyroidPlanet
                Posted February 3, 2018 at 10:20 am | Permalink

                (Wanting Music Memo output)

                Amin
                E7
                G7
                C
                F
                C
                Dmin
                E7

                Assuming that’s right (conjured it right now), I’m not getting the correspondence to the progression you wrote…

              • ThyroidPlanet
                Posted February 3, 2018 at 10:27 am | Permalink

                … for instance going from G7 to F … that’s a whole step … unless I don’t understand Lament Bass or anything I just wrote up there…

              • Posted February 3, 2018 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

                Your chords are correct. The lament bass can be written as four descending diatonic pitches or with chromatic half-steps inserted between them. The main thing is the descent from tonic to dominant.

              • Posted February 3, 2018 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

                Oops. Actually, your first C should be D.

              • ThyroidPlanet
                Posted February 4, 2018 at 8:35 am | Permalink

                Sunday morning activity :

                Begin putting music selections into playlist “passus duriusculus”

                … “Lament bass” appears to be more for operas – so I guess if there’s singing, its opera, somehow, so …

                Hotel California – The Opera
                Coming Soon….

              • ThyroidPlanet
                Posted February 3, 2018 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

                (From way down thread):
                “C should be a D”

                AHHHH yes.., (still haven’t listened to HC since this post)…

                Now before the last E7, I can elaborate the Dmin to a a B7#9 …. for that sort of sound…. and the descending bass could land on E-flat… yes it would…

        • Posted February 2, 2018 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

          Hah. I had to log back in to WP to post the above comment and WP gave me the option to remain logged in on this device by asking “remember me?”

          I think they should offer a second option: “forget my fate”.

    • Posted February 2, 2018 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

      Botched html. Link:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lament_bass

  18. Posted February 2, 2018 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Love both songs. Have tortured my family many, many times on long car trips singing along with The Eagles. I like to imagine that I’m harmonizing with them…. Good stuff.

  19. Claudia Baker
    Posted February 2, 2018 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    Couple of Eagles antidotes:

    In the early 70s, I lived in L.A. and one of my best friends was a cousin of Randy Meisner. At the time, the Eagles had just recorded “Desperado” but it hadn’t been released yet. Randy came over one afternoon with “Desperado” on a reel-to-reel and as it played, he gave a running commentary.

    We, of course, went to the concert in L.A. to see them perform “Desperado”. At one point through the lead song, a scrim lifted in back of the stage, behind the group, and the whole L.A. orchestra joined in with the music. It fairly blew my mind at the time. At the end of the concert, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt and a couple of other well-knowns joined them on stage and did a few numbers.

    Another time, Randy was describing what it was like to be on tour in Japan, and how the girls were freaking out over him and the other guys in the group. I think it was quite heady for him, a simple farm boy from Scott’s Bluff, Nebraska.

    I never got to hang with the band or anything, but I did get to know Randy, and heard a lot of fun and interesting stories.

  20. Posted February 2, 2018 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    “Those Shoes” for me.

    I’m a late Gen-Xer, so actually was first exposed to this through a Beastie Boys song that was basically “Those Shoes” with rap lyrics overlaid.

    When I heard the Eagles original, I loved the dark lyrics about the lonely woman trying to navigate her way through the club scene. One of those songs that really screams “70s!”.

  21. Posted February 2, 2018 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Those of us who don’t really care for The Eagles can still appreciate The Journey of the Sorcerer from the album One of These Nights, which is of course the theme music to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

  22. Posted February 2, 2018 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Great choices; I particularly like Lyin’ Eyes – a great phrase for a song lyric.

    I’ve been enjoying their Hell Freezes Over live album, which has lovely versions of two of my favourites: The Last Resort and Pretty Maids All in a Row (with the unusual songwriting credit, for the Eagles, of Walsh/Vitale).

  23. BJ
    Posted February 2, 2018 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    I can’t stand Hotel California. I’ve never been a big Eagles fan. I enjoy some of their songs, but have never made a habit of listening to them.

    Jerry, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen you mention Steely Dan before, beyond quoting My Old School when something shameful goes down at William & Mary. Are you a fan?

    • Posted February 2, 2018 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

      I seem to recall numerous Steely Dan posts, including notes from commenters who knew them. The one that sticks in my mind was a lunch or dinner with Steely Dan and they left him (the commenter) with the bill.

      • BJ
        Posted February 2, 2018 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

        Huh, I guess I must have missed them! Thanks for letting me know. I’ll do a search.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted February 2, 2018 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

          If you run “Steely Dan” in the search function on the site, I’m sure it’ll come back with posts and discussions had here over the years. I specifically recall posts on “Bad Sneakers” and “Doctor Wu” and “My Old School” (sans any mention of William & Mary).

          Jerry’s a bona fide Dan fan.

    • Posted February 2, 2018 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

      Am I a fan? Does the Pope poop in the Vatican?

      • BJ
        Posted February 2, 2018 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

        The Pope doesn’t poop. He is too holy.

        • boggy
          Posted February 3, 2018 at 5:13 am | Permalink

          Holey,as in arse (ass US).

  24. Posted February 2, 2018 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    As a (retired) acoustic guitarist, my all-time favourite is the Eagles’ acoustic rendition of Hotel California in which one can appreciate just how fantastic guitarists they are (were?). Brilliant!

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted February 2, 2018 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

      I mentioned this above. Thanks, a very good tune. For those who do not like, don’t listen – no one cares…

      • Posted February 2, 2018 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

        I was commenting from the perspective of a guitarist when playing with fellow guitarists, playing songs and tunes we are all familiar with. Playing it unrehearsed, spontaneously and beautifully. It creates in us a level of consciousness which the following words barely describe:

        trance, high, moment of maximum creativity, meditative trance, parallel awareness, altered state of consciousness, a kind of ecstasy that all the participants share while playing (and sometimes singing) together

        Listening to this particular performance by the Eagles, especially during the instrumental break, awakens in me that very state which I tried to describe above, and fills me with energy and joy. That’s why I love it and why it is my favourite Eagles performance.

        🙂

        • Claudia Baker
          Posted February 3, 2018 at 10:34 am | Permalink

          Wow, that was nice to listen to. Thanks for posting it.

  25. Hempenstein
    Posted February 2, 2018 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    Chacun à son… but I love the imagery conjured up by the line about the girl in the flatbed Ford (which, in my mind, is a ’49/50 like this.

  26. Tom MacPherson
    Posted February 2, 2018 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    Hotel California is a great song, but is suffering from overexposure in my view. I usually change the channel when it comes on. My favourite is “One of these nights”. That one I always turn up.

  27. Mark R.
    Posted February 2, 2018 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    I love many of their songs, including the 2 highlighted here. My favorite lick from them is off “Victim of Love” (Don Felder lead w/ Walsh on slide). From the beginning, it just throws the listener right into a rockin’ mood. What an intro!

  28. Posted February 2, 2018 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    My experience is the opposite, I listened to and bought albums by both the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac when they were current but no longer have much interest in them.

  29. Vaal
    Posted February 2, 2018 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    What a pleasure to hear/see great songs played so well live!

    It remind me of something I miss in music as an old fogey: Guitar solos! They used to be almost mandatory in music with guitars (or at least the type I tended to listen to), but are almost unheard of now, even in guitar based music.

    Oh, and damn it, I still really like Hotel California. Great chord changes, great solos, great mood.

  30. Frank
    Posted February 3, 2018 at 4:48 am | Permalink

    Eagles have always been ripe for a pastiche and in 1980 the HeeBeeGeeBees nailed it with Dead Cicada….

  31. Posted February 3, 2018 at 5:55 am | Permalink

    That’s a blast from the past – thanks Jerry Coyne – or Gearóid Ó Cadhain as it should relly be spelled in its pre-anglicised form.

  32. Scotty
    Posted February 3, 2018 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a little puzzle in verse 3 in “Lyin’ Eyes” that I tumbled to several years back —
    1] Verse #1 — Her husband sees her lyin eyes.
    2] Verse #2 — Her lover sees her lyin eyes.
    3] Verse #3 — Whose lyin eyes are present here?

    Hints —
    1] She is all alone.
    2] It’s nighttime.
    3] Does she see the stars when she looks out the window?
    4] Why does she pull the shades?
    5] Why does she hang her head to cry?
    6] What has she seen that causes the wave of remorse that plays out in the rest of the song?
    7] What rule of physics tells us what she saw — instead of the stars?

  33. mirandaga
    Posted February 3, 2018 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    “Lyin’ Eyes” is not my favorite Eagles song, but it’s one that, as someone who’s written verse, I most admire. The verses are in iambic pentameter and rhyme abab, but with a feminine ending (accent on the second-to-last syllable) in the first and third lines:

    She wonders how it ever got this crazy.
    She thinks about a boy she knew in school.
    Did she get tired or did she just get lazy?
    She’s so far gone she feels just like a fool.

    My oh my, you sure know how to arrange things.
    You set it up so well, so carefully.
    Ain’t it funny how your new life didn’t change things?
    You’re still the same old girl you used to be.

    Anyone who’s tried to write verse knows the difficulty of using multiple-syllable rhymes and making it sound natural—this because such rhymes (e.g., “arrange things” and “change things”) call so much attention to themselves. The song has six of these verses that come off as totally natural and colloquial, including lines that are little gems in themselves (“I guess every form of refuge has its price” and “Did she get tired or did she just get lazy?”).

    Song lyrics seldom stand on their own as solid pieces of verse, but these do.

  34. Posted February 3, 2018 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Late to this party, but must add – the Eagles harmonies are quite good, and being partial to a capella, I really like Seven Bridges Road.

  35. Posted February 5, 2018 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    I love The Eagles. Witchy Woman and Heartache Tonight are two of my all-time favorites. Leather and Lace, Don Henley with Stevie Nicks is another favorite.

  36. Andrea Kenner
    Posted February 5, 2018 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    I saw them live, and it was one of the best concerts I ever saw.


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