Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest James Poulos, author of The Art Of Being Free: How Tocqueville Can Save Us From Ourselves, contributor at American Affairs, and lead singer/songwriter for Vast Asteroid. Follow James on Twitter at @jamespoulos and buy his book on Amazon here.
James's Musical Pick: The Eagles
How did James get into them? James discusses the Eagles' consummate craftsmanship and demands that they be given their due. James identifies personally with the Eagles mythos as one who followed in the footsteps of Glenn Frey as a Detroit boy-gone-Los-Angeles, and suggests they are better understood as a nonpareil singles act rather than as the AOR band they normally get labeled as. James also goes on to praise the spaciousness of their instrumental mix--so unlike the wall of sound of today's modern dad-rock acts--and the concise nature of their songs. Jeff resolutely declares his Dude-like opposition to the Eagles, citing them as emblematic of the decay of the eclecticism of '60s SoCal rock scene into the '70s "El Lay" scene...while admitting that he does like several of their songs anyway.
(N.B. The terrible country-rock supergroup whose name Jeff can't remember is Stephen Stills' godawful 'Manassas.')
KEY SONGS: "Doolin' Dalton" (Desperado, 1973); "The Best Of My Love" (On The Border, 1974)
The Early Country-Rock Years
Jeff thinks this might be the best era of the Eagles, but then you might not want to trust him as an avowed non-fan. Eagles (1972) comes in for qualified praise: Jeff can't stand "Peaceful Easy Feeling" but likes most everything else, saluting its democratic approach to writing credits and the variety that results from that. Scot thinks the Gene Clark co-write "Train Leaves Here This Morning" may be the best song the record.
Jeff thinks the cover of Desperado (1973) is (inadvertently) one of the funniest damn relics of the entire Los Angeles soft/country-rock era (Bernie Leadon awkwardly cradling that shotgun is a particular delight), and thinks its title track's sole value is as a punchline in a classic Seinfeld episode. Scot can never hear it again without the skip that was on his parents' original vinyl version.
KEY SONGS: "Take It Easy" (Eagles, 1972); "Train Leaves Here This Morning" (Eagles, 1972); "Witchy Woman" (Eagles, 1972); "Peaceful Easy Feeling" (Eagles, 1972); "Desperado (Seinfeld version)" (Desperado, 1973); "Tequila Sunrise" (Desperado, 1973); "Bitter Creek" (Desperado, 1973)
The Hitmaking Era Begins with On The Border and One Of These Nights
Glyn Johns is out as a producer, and in comes Bill Szymczyk, with his peerlessly smooth Los Angeles studio sound. The middle era (golden era?) of the Eagles begins with On The Border (1974), which nobody in the gang likes that much except for Jeff . . . and, predictably, Jeff hates the #1 hit single that the record is most known for ("Best Of My Love"). Jeff also can't quite get past the way the Eagles saddled one of their best rock instrumental tracks ("James Dean") with one of their stupidest lyrics.
One Of These Nights (1975) is where Don ("Mr." to Don Henley) Felder joins the Eagles, where Bernie Leadon finally calls it quits, and where the band truly breaks out big, with the title track and the sappy-but-beloved "Take It To The Limit." Jeff is meh on it but Scot and James both love it. Jeff feels the need to point out that the Swedish hardcore Frank Frazetta-style album cover is hilariously out of place given the band's style, more "Eagles of Death Metal" than "Eagles." James salutes any song where Don Henley sings about the Devil be it implicitly or explicitly, and considers "One Of These Nights" to be one of those songs.
KEY SONGS: "Already Gone" (On The Border, 1974); "Midnight Flyer" (On The Border, 1974); "James Dean" (On The Border, 1974); "My Man" (On The Border, 1974); "Good Day In Hell" (On The Border, 1974); "One Of These Nights" (One Of These Nights, 1975); "Journey Of The Sorceror" (One Of These Nights, 1975); "Take It To The Limit" (One Of These Nights, 1975)
You can check out anytime you like . . . Hotel California
Jeff will never be mistaken for an Eagles fan, but not even is going to try to pretend that "Hotel California" isn't a great song, although he credits it more to Don Felder and Joe Walsh's guitar heroics than Don Henley's pretentious/portentous cod-Robbie Robertson lyrics. (That said, at least it's not as miserably bad as "The Last Resort.")
But the rest of the album is pretty great as well! The big difference this time of course is the addition of Joe Walsh, who flexes his muscles on "Life In The Fast Lane." But really this is a pretty consistent record all the way through. Scot speaks up for "Wasted Time," as a soulful ballad from Don Henley that rings true. James points out how Hotel California finds him finally acquiring a truly authentic writing voice, writing about how the fantasy of the band's fans was becoming their prison.
Since the gang is pretty sure they'll never get a chance to do an episode specifically devoted to Joe Walsh, they take some time to sing his praises -- not just as a musician, or as a guitarist, but as a personality. A hugely underrated '70s artist who might have only contributed to two classic-era Eagles albums, but was a force in his own right. People, listen to the amazing full-length version of "Life's Been Good."
KEY SONGS: "Hotel California" (Hotel California, 1976); "New Kid In Town" (Hotel California, 1976); "Wasted Time" (Hotel California,1976); "Life In The Fast Lane" (Hotel California, 1976); "The Last Resort" (Hotel California, 1976); "Life's Been Good" [Joe Walsh] (But Seriously, Folks..., 1978)
The Long Run, the Long Collapse, and the History Of The Eagles
Nobody can quite understand how the Eagles went from their greatest commercial triumph to a three-year layoff to The Long Run, a record universally regarded as a failure ("cocaine," James avers). Nobody has too much praise for it aside from the title track, which is an authentic mid-tempo classic, though Jeff has a weak spot for the Timothy B. Schmit number "I Can't Tell You Why" and James makes an impassioned plea to The Killers to cover "In The City" and redeem their recent, middling musical output.
Nobody has much other than eyerolls to offer for the Eagles' post-1994 reunion efforts ("Get Over It" comes in for some mockery), except for Scot's observation that it probably saved Joe Walsh's life. However, James, Scot and Jeff are united in their love of the remarkable documentary movie History Of The Eagles, done with the full participation of every member of the band, most of whom currently dislike one another and let it show to great effect. Jeff offers the highest praise possible to History Of The Eagles: "I don't even like this band, and it's one of my favorite music documentaries ever." It's available on Netflix so don't miss out. It's a hoot and a half.
KEY SONGS:"The Long Run" (The Long Run, 1979); "I Can't Tell You Why" (The Long Run, 1979); "In The City" (The Long Run, 1979); "Get Over It" (Hell Freezes Over, 1994)
James Scot and Jeff name their two key albums and five key songs from the Eagles.
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