Gimme Five: Songs where the Eagles, well, sucked

The Eagles have been rightly praised for their canny combining of Glenn Frey’s city-slicker R&B with Don Henley’s country-fried rockabilly. Fans responded by sending every one of their albums to platinum status, including the 16-times smash Hotel California in 1976 and its seven-times platinum follow ups The Long Run and Long Road Out of Eden, from 1979 and 2007 respectively.

That said, some of their work simply can’t be received with the best of our love. Over time, the Eagles seemed to settle into imitating their past successes, even as they slowly erased much of their rootsier early sound — not to mention Bernie Leadon. Then there was Henley’s growing voice in the band, if only because he’s always had a tendency toward pedantic, blissfully unaware fingerpointing.

Which compelled us to start a list of the five worst offenders.

WHEN GOOD BANDS DO BAD THINGS
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In doing this, we stayed away from 1973′s country-rock concept album Desperado (because, despite its rather dubious metaphor of filthy-rich-recording-artists-as-old-West-rebels and a skimpy song list that includes three different versions of “Doolin-Dalton,” we still appreciate the band’s early conceptual ambitions) as well as disasters recorded away from the main band itself like 1983′s “Johnny Can’t Read” from Henley (which cynically blamed the kids for illiteracy — not the teachers, parents or the system). After all, if we started including solo missteps, this thing would quickly fill up with junk like Timothy B. Schmit’s “Boys Night Out” and most anything off Joe Walsh’s 1987 bomb Got Any Gum? Put another way, we never want to hear the whorehouse sax on Frey’s “You Belong to the City” again, much less dissect that once-inescapable 1984 single in prose.

So, those are the rules. Can you go the distance? We’ll find out! …

“PRETTY MAIDS IN A ROW” (HOTEL CALIFORNIA, 1976): Here we have Joe Walsh, the inveterate party guy (and one of the only people, it seemed, who could lighten up this increasingly over-serious group) for some reason attempting to replicate Don Henley’s insufferable moralizing — or, at the very least, his dreary habit of indulging never-was nostalgia. Don’t come looking for “Life’s Been Good.” More like “Life’s Passed Me By.” And by completely bumming out Joe, “Pretty Maids” did more than the title track ever could to convey the coke-addled hellscape that Los Angeles had become for these guys. Walsh — Joe Walsh, for chrissakes! — had been reduced to a sentimental hand-wringer.

DISCO STRANGLER (THE LONG RUN, 1979): Co-credited to Glenn Frey, Henley and Don Felder, this one sounds all Henley — dour, almost biblically judgmental … only this time with a disco bass line! As Henley uses his gravelly tenor to once again skewer people who would dare go out to have a good time and maybe meet someone — even as he screwed everything that moved — this humorless, painfully obvious theme (a killer on the dance floor!) can only settle into an unmusical ever-revolving riff. “Disco Strangler,” I fear, would have driven Eagles fans’ to their own murderous deeds, if it had not mercifully begun to fade at about the 2:30 mark.

“I WISH YOU PEACE” (ONE OF THESE NIGHTS, 1975): Away from the Eagles, Bernie Leadon has been a member of Gram Parsons’ Flying Burrito Brothers and of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. So you might have expected one of his last moments with the Eagles to be representative of that history as a bluegrass-inflected multi-instrumentalist. Instead, however, we have Leadon sharing writing duties with his live-in girlfriend Patti Davis — whose dad, future president Ronald Reagan, had all but disowned her for co-habitating as an unmarried couple — on this slow-death dirge. With lyrics that were alternately mawkish and child-like in their obviousness (“I wish you hope when things are going bad, kind words when times are sad”), is it any surprise that this song ends with love “growing,” then “flowing” and then (yes) “glowing”? Henley, and he was being kind, once called this “smarmy cocktail music.” Unsurprisingly, One of These Days was the final Eagles album for the now thoroughly morose Leadon, who was the last to join the original band lineup and also the first to leave.


“FRAIL GRASP ON THE BIG PICTURE” (LONG ROAD OUT OF EDEN, 2007): I know the length of time it took the Eagles to follow up Hell Freezes Over with this long-awaited studio release almost matches the band’s initial layoff between 1980-94, but did they have to sound so dated on the second disc? While the first side neatly repurposed their initial sound, the Eagles — now a four piece, with Don Felder having been jettisoned, too — mucked it all up later by stirring in many of the best-forgotten elements (OK, let’s just say it: synths) from their respective 1980s-era solo careers. Here, they add to that a dreary second rate-Steely Dan groove and this heaping helping of Henley’s world-weary condescension. “Frail Grasp” could have been straight out of a lost session, or a parody, of any of his solo projects — with sleek keyboards from Building the Perfect Beast and a media-hating lyric from I Can’t Stand Still. If there was any lingering doubt that Henley’s completely taken over the band — noting, of course, that Frey only had two solo lead vocals on the Eagles’ final pair of 1970s recordings — then this tune was the definitive proof.

TEENAGE JAIL (THE LONG RUN, 1979): Another dud from an album that took nearly two years to complete, though tracks like this leave you wondering how in the world that could be so. Irritating musically, unfocused lyrically, and featuring a squiggly synthesizer solo (!) from Glenn Frey, this somehow ended up as the B-side to his galloping charttopper “Heartache Tonight” — which is the definition of Eagles yin and Eagles yang. It’s still difficult to believe that J.D. Souther — the country-rock legend who’d helped compose signature previous songs like “Best of My Love,” “Victim of Love,” “Heartache Tonight” and “New Kid in Town” for the band — was involved with this ploddingly flaccid throwaway. Unfortunately, as noted, it wasn’t the only one on The Long Run. Even Henley copped to it, admitting once: “At that point, we were just saying the hell with it. We were so miserable making that album that it actually got to be funny at one point.” This was not that point.

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Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.

10 Comments

  1. Vince Brooks says:

    What’s the point of this? How about laying out five of your worst articles? (Besides this one)

  2. Mark Saleski says:

    in the queue: Gimme Five – Dumbest reader comments.

  3. Vince Brooks says:

    Gimme five of the most meaningless careers starting with rock critic.

  4. Boy, they’ll give a column to anyone these days.

  5. Mark Saleski says:

    starting with rock critic, most certainly. then there’s troll at a rock critic website. then proctologist of the troll at the rock critic website. oh, the possibilities are endless….certainly far beyond just five.

  6. Actually it’d be a lot harder to come up with 5 songs in which the Eagles DIDN’T suck. Most. Boring. Band. Ever.

  7. I’m curious to find out whether any of these commenters actually listened to the examples posted by Nick.
    If anybody can get through the 3 minutes and 45 seconds of Teenage Jail without wincing they should be awarded a guarantee to never have to sit through Hotel California again in this lifetime.

  8. Hehehe – gotta love music critics. Give them a forum and they all think their “opinions” are “facts” and that they are right while people who like said songs are full of crap.

  9. Frank Martin says:

    Maybe the Eagles were boring but so were Pink Floyd and The Beatles and a hundred other popular bands but that doesn’t mean that I don’t like them.

    Here are some that are either lame offerings that kind of bring down the record they are from or they suck:

    1) Learn To Be Still
    2) The Girl From Yesterday
    3) I Wish You Peace
    4) Pretty Maids
    5) Journey Of The Sorcerer
    6) What Do I Do With My Heart

  10. You seems to be going out of your way to find fault and nitpick over trivial things.Where are your Grammy winning albums?Can you do better? I will just say I disagree.While Teenage Jail and Disco Strangler didn’t wow me either,your whole attitude seems to be well these weren’t as awesome as those ergo they suck!! Come on,that is really being judgmental. I am not certain about Pretty Maids… bit I had thought it had to do with his daughter,maybe I’m wrong.But if Joe never did anything “meaningful” you’d just call him shallow. As for You Belong to the City well,that just proves to me this is all your opinion and not some in depth analysis. I respect your opinion but I strongly disagree.

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