This morning on my way to work, I was saddened to hear about the passing of Glenn Frey, bandleader of seminal country-rock band the Eagles. I got to my desk and dug into the news, looking for a meaningful retrospective to share with our social media followers, to help enlighten aspiring musicians on the legacy and impact of one of the most successful bands of all time.
When suddenly, with a single click, all that heavy-hearted, nostalgic rumination dissolved into a profound and fiery rage. I should have known better than to click the link, but one of the first results on Google News came from the New York Daily News. Their article on Glenn’s passing, which I refuse to link to here, is so horrifically tone-deaf and downright cruel that the only plausible explanation I can come up with is that the article’s author, Gersh Kuntzman, was personally wronged by Glenn Frey. Did Gersh walk in on his wife cheating on him with Glenn while Don Henley sat in the corner playing “Love Will Keep Us Alive”? Perhaps “Kuntzman” is not Gersh’s natural-born last name, but rather a derivation of a lewd childhood nickname given to him by schoolyard bully, Glenn Frey. Did the name become so widely known that The Kuntz had no choice but to, as Theon Greyjoy before him, accept and internalize the violence perpetrated against him by building a new identity around his tormenter’s savage moniker? We may never know. What we do know is that Kuntzman began his eulogy thusly:
“No disrespect to Glenn Frey — whose death this week is a cause for genuine mourning — but the Eagles were, quite simply, the worst rock and roll band.”
You read that correctly. He started by saying “no disrespect” and then — WITHIN THE SAME SENTENCE — said literally the most disrespectful thing one can say when considering a man’s public legacy. Please take my word that the “tribute” does not get any better from there.
But what really got this article stuck in our craw, beyond its flippancy to the man’s family and friends who may also be searching Google for kind words about their loved one’s life, is that we love the Eagles. Yes, I like them because my mom likes them. But guess what? So does your mom. They’re a mom band. And that shouldn’t be a bad thing. Eventually I might be a mom, and that fact won’t make the Arcade Fire “the worst rock and roll band of all time.” The Eagles burned themselves into the collective consciousness of a generation SO DEEPLY that through some magical genetic osmosis it became engrained in the collective consciousness of the NEXT generation. And that means something huge. Like it or not, and clearly there are many nots, the Eagles are not going anywhere.
So I went around the office and asked Team Soundfly to help come up with a list of our favorite Eagles songs. Thank you for the music, Glenn Frey. And Kuntzman — take it easy.
Ian Temple: “Take It to the Limit”
“I have no idea what this song is about. I don’t know when it was written. I don’t know what key it’s in. What I do know is that for the past 25 years, every time I was about to do something completely unreasonable, scary, and epic, this song was the anthem that popped into my head, almost unbidden, as if I was born with it burned into my subconscious. I’m still not sure if Randy Meisner, Glenn Frey, and Don Henley actually wrote it or if my brain writes it from scratch every time I’m about to do something I can’t believe I’m doing. The repeated chorus at the end is perfect for people like me who can’t remember lyrics, while the slow, lilting romanticism gives purpose to even the most senseless acts of risk-taking foolishness. And you know what? I don’t think I’ve ever regretted a single one of them. Thanks, Glenn.” – Ian
“Yeah, but don’t you think the fact that they also have a song called ‘Take It Easy’ nullifies the point they’re trying to get across?” – Jeremy
Jeremy Young: “I Can’t Tell You Why”
“I Can’t Tell You Why” was the third single to be released off of the Eagles’ last album of the ’70s, The Long Run (1979). Its smooth backup vocals, bathwater organ, and slowly stewing bass patterns recall the best of the BeeGees, Chicago, and Barry White, and must have been just oozing from the car radios of millions of teens making out at sunset in 1980. Even though “Heartache Tonight” won a Grammy and made it all the way to #1 on the Billboards, while this song never made it past #8, “I Can’t Tell You Why” is one of their most memorable early-career jams. It signals to me a band in the arc of their career where they might start slowing things down. They have nothing to prove, but they still want to evoke just as intense a feeling in their listeners’ hearts as their more upbeat hits. Even Ringo Starr wanted to do a version of it! I listen to this song and think about all the ladies shimmying through the isles at Food Emporium, lost in a hopeless Studio 54 fantasy.
Lastly, if “I Can’t Tell You Why” was the Eagles’ understated, soft slow jam hit of their career, then the song they released along with it on the B-side of its 7″ single must’ve been a sign to their fans not to worry they were going all mushy and serious. That song was none other than “The Greeks Don’t Want No Freaks”, one of their wackiest bar-anthems of all time, and it started with this verse:
There was beer all over the dance floor / and the band was playin’ rhythm and blues
You got down and did the gator, and half an hour later, you were barfin’ all over your
John Hull: “Random Victims Part 3”
“Random Victims Part 3” is unlike “Random Victims Part 1” and “Random Victims Part 2” in that it actually exists.
In the song’s nine-minute-and-forty-two-second nonsensical odyssey, you hear brief snippets of the band goofing off and having fun while tape continues to roll for the awkward silences of set up, level checks, and other crazy ravings. The gibberish, accents, and strange moments that follow are certain to remind those that have ever been in the studio why recording with friends is so much fun. They’re some of the least productive most wonderful moments a band can ever share.
Mahea Lee: “Desperado”
To me, the mark of a truly great work of art is that it can become just as personal to the viewer or listener as it was to the artist at its conception. Whether it’s being performed by Karen Carpenter, Linda Ronstadt, your college classmate, some guy at the local coffee shop, my parents on a road trip, or the Eagles themselves, “Desperado” consistently manages to bring tears to my eyes and a smile to my lips.
Its lyrics are a potent, bittersweet blend of aspiration and loneliness, and while their meaning may shift a bit depending on who you are and where you are in life, we can all identify with it in some way. At times, we have each been a desperado, while at others, we have loved one. It is incredible that Don Henley and Glenn Frey were able to use words and music to articulate the complexity of the oh-so-human balance of hope and fragility in a song that seems so simple on its surface.
Nick Lerman: “Hotel California”
Appreciation often comes from unexpected places. Frank Ocean actually led me to sit down and listen again to the Eagles (and “Hotel California”), and eventually admire them. This is despite the fact that Don Henley said the following about Frank Ocean:
“You don’t go into a museum and paint a mustache on somebody else’s painting.” – Don Henley
Well, this is sorta true in terms of what Frank Ocean did. However, without directly addressing the fact that the history of American music is littered with examples of people adding their mustache to other peoples’ paintings… Did Don Henley and the Eagles honestly never borrow a chord progression from someone else?
To add insult to injury, in 2012 when Ocean used the Eagles hit as background music to sing his own lyrics on top of, Henley refused to grant a license to the song, telling the Daily Telegraph:
“I was not impressed [with it]… He needs to come up with his own ideas and stop stealing stuff from already established works.”
“Hotel California” is often said to be a poignant comment on the excesses of the ’70s and the curdling of the American Dream, so how did Henley not pick up on Frank Ocean’s updating of those themes? In any case, Frank and I both see the lasting relevance of the song’s themes.
Arthur Lewis: “Already Gone”
Seriously, when did we decide that aggression and alienation were the only things worth singing about? Or that the quality of music was determined solely by where it fell on the soft-edgy scale?
The chorus of “Already Gone” is this perfect moment of freedom. Maybe things weren’t so good for a while. We’re not sure we know why; we’re not sure we even care. Cause today, we’re sitting outside on a Sunday afternoon, a couple friends, a couple beers, and we’re all singing our goddamn hearts out, because today… life is good. “Woo-hoo-hoo-oo!“