In Defense of the Eagles
Shitting on the Eagles is basically a national pastime for hard-core Americana fans. In fact, while there are several brilliant artists that alt-country loyalists are apt to bond over, dislike of the Eagles may be the single most prevalent and unifying force.
flickr/jeaneeem The Eagles
Yet while there is ample cause to loathe the Eagles (just this week a woman in South Carolina stabbed her roommate when he refused to stop listening to the band), the group's raw output leaves no doubt that they're among the most influential bands in Americana history, especially when taking into account some of the insurgent acts of today. Yes, Glenn Frey's an insufferable prick. But it's time to take it easy on the band as a whole.
In order to make a legitimate case for Eagles redemption without coming off like a troll, it's important to acknowledge--and, when appropriate, refute--the many reasons why people hate the band. And the number one reason is Frey, the Rahm Emmanuel to Don Henley's Obama, only a lot less lovable.
Frey, a native Michigander, got into music to become famous and reap the benefits that came with it. If playing chamber music were the most direct path to doing so at the time, he would have taken up lute. He moved to Los Angeles because it was the entertainment industry's nerve center, and wrote songs not out of creative necessity, but to land on the charts. Within the group, Frey consistently antagonized his bandmates, with former Flying Burrito Brother Bernie Leadon famously dumping a beer on Frey's head before quitting (for an oral history of this anecdote and more, haters and lovers alike will find The History of the Eagles, aired earlier this year on Showtime, to be indispensable).
But it was not until the Eagles broke up--temporarily, it would turn out--in 1980 that Frey's countrified posture would be proven irrefutably fraudulent. As a solo artist, his Miami Vice-inspired renderings were downright embarrassing, with "Smuggler's Blues," "The Heat Is On," "Sexy Girl" and "You Belong to the City" ranking among the very worst songs ever written and recorded by anyone. Don Henley could have never cut a single track during the band's 14-year hiatus, and it still would have been abundantly clear that he was the main talent in the band. That Henley's solo oeuvre is universally respected only makes the gap between the band's founding members all the more glaring.
Then there's Leadon, a former Gram Parsons collaborator and expert banjo player who came into the band with easily the best country chops of the original members. After dumping beer on Frey and walking out, he was replaced by Joe Walsh, a talented but buffoonish guitarist who epitomized '70s rock-star decadence. Anyone looking for an excuse to turn on the band were handed one on a powdery platter, with a straw to boot.
And, Jesus Christ, the disco tracks...