Peaceful Easy Feeling
On the last question, I’ve always felt like Hotel California is too overripe, too manicured, and ultimately too calculated and soulless for my taste. The departure of Bernie Leadon took away much of the country rock element that made tunes like “My Man” from On The Border the tastiest genuine flavor in the band’s lightweight mix of genres. And then the ascendance of a singing drummer (always a spooky proposition) as the band’s leading voice and songwriter, which significantly reduced the songwriting role of Randy Meisner, made the band a pop act and little else. That arrangement quickly ran aground when the The Long Run, which appeared three years after Hotel California, and turned out to be Hotel California lite, marked the end of the band’s career at least until the two shoulda-stayed-retired duds, 1994’s greatest hits rehash, Hell Freezes Over and the available-only-at Walmart Long Road Out Of Eden. The band’s live record, 1980’s Eagles Live, which inexplicably contains tunes from Joe Walsh’s solo career and ignores most of the band’s pre-Hotel California hitsand yet does contain a great version of Steve Young’s “Seven Bridges Road” which the band had not recorded until thenis for the most part a half-hearted mess.
If you’re looking for the peak, it’s One Of These Nights. No, its sonics are no match for the recording quality present on Hotel California, no argument. But it’s the last band album as opposed to being what sounds like a mashup of Frey, Henley and Walsh solo projects. Produced by Bill Syzmczyk (who replaced Glyn Johns, who’d produced the first two albums and part of On The Border which would be my favorite Eagles record) and featuring a few key guests like David Sanborn and Jim Ed Norman, it’s also the answer to the question about how anyone who was alive during their heyday can still listen. The Steve Miller Band, which had a similar run of radio hits in the 1970s, suffers from the same problem.
The only possible joy left in listening to Fly Like an Eagle, One Of These Nights or Hotel California is to explore the inner, non-single cuts, the deep tracks in satellite radio lingo, that were not beaten into complete and utter annoyances by the radio. For me, the swirly banjo and fiddle (!) instrumental confection “Journey of the Sorcerer” and especially the pedal steel and string ballad, “Hollywood Waltz,” the back-to-back Bernie Leadon cuts on One of These Nights, are exactly that. Ditto Meisner’s “Try and Love Again” on Hotel California. Fame always has its price and for the Eagles, who admittedly took Gram Parson’s vision of country rock and diluted it beyond recognition for fame and profit, the cost was leaving a catalog of albums that became less listenable the more their fame grew. And let’s not even talk about the 29 times platinum Their Greatest Hits (19711975), the second largest-selling record album of all time, which plays like aural torture to anyone who lived through the '70s!