originally posted on Wednesday, 28 August 2013
It’s the last week of summer. As it saddens me, I look back on it, and I’m sure many do, as a terrific summer full of memories. I’m going to take this opportunity to write about a classic rock album for the first time, something I’ve wanted to do since starting this website. The problem is, there are just so many albums to choose from. But I thought about this, and if there is one album that has defined my summer, one album that I listened to the most out of any album is The Eagles 1973 sophomore album Desperado.
I can’t think of a specific reason why it made such an impact on my summer. It did escalate my interest in the band to unseen new heights. (Take my advice, if you’re a fan, watch the new documentary on the band, and for the readers out there, read Don Felder’s autobiography Heaven and Hell, My Life in the Eagles).
Now one of the biggest selling acts of all time, including the best selling artists of the 70’s and the 20thcentury, in 1973, the band was a far cry from such a feat. After their debut album fared well with three well received hits, Take It Easy, Witchy Woman and Peaceful Easy Feeling, the band was under pressure, as every band to ever record a debut album is, to up themselves. The bands main men Don Henley and Glenn Frey along with friends Jackson Browne and J.D. Souther had gained attention towards the true story of the Dalton gang, real life outlaws from the American Old West.
Already being established as a country/rock band, the band decided to make a concept album loosely based on the story of Bill Doolin and William Dalton. The albums first track donned the names of the two outlaws. Doolin-Dalton starts the album off almost completely with the feeling that it could belong to the soundtrack to an old western movie. The sound of acoustic and acoustic guitar and harmonica make you feel like you’re sitting at a campfire, trying to keep warm from the coming cold night, unable to go home because you’re a wanted man. Eventually all instruments chime in, including Don and Glennsharing and harmonizing vocals, but it doesn’t lose the feeling of a cold night sitting in front of a fire.
The album second track, Twenty-One, changes things a bit by adding a complete country twang sound to the album. Written and sung by lead guitarist Bernie Leadon, back when the band was a four-piece and everyone have exceptionally equal say in the bands direction. Bernie is also featured to be playing most of the guitars on the song and banjo. The song has a fun feel to it, but is not a rock song, rather a country song. It does, however, lead right in to the albums hard rocker track, appropriately titled Out of Control. The songs got a Chuck Berry riff to it and speeds things up even more from where Twenty-One left off. These two songs show the clashing interests between Bernie and Glenn.
The two hits from the album, undoubtedly two of the bands best known songs to this day, are Tequila Sunrise and the title track Desperado (which means outlaw). Tequila Sunrise is another song that is more of a country song than it is a rock song. Acoustic guitar driven, just like any good Glenn Frey sung ballad, it’s the sound of Bernie’s Mandolin that make this song an inescapable country hit. This is then immediately followed by the piano driven Desperado. While not actually released as a single at the time, the song has become to welcome by fans that the band has ended practically every show with this song in the encore. Before Don Henley was the voice of the band that he is now, having only sung one of the bands hits from the first album, Witchy Woman, this song made him an even more credible singer for the band, which would eventually lead to the bands management insist that Don sing more songs than Glenn. But at this point, the bands vocals were still mostly evenly split up.
Side two of the album (this is the first time I’ve ever really been able to say “side two” and mean it) starts off with bassist Randy Meisner’s main lead vocal contribution to the album, Certain Kind of Fool. The song goes back and forth between acoustic and electric guitars, making it not quite a soft rock song, but not a hard rock song either. Randy’s voice, as many Eagles fans know from his 1975 hit with the band Take It To The Limit, has a very soothing sound. Not really suitable for anything hard but perfect for any softer songs the band may have written. The song furthers the album in to its cowboy story line, telling the story of a regular boys journey to becoming an outlaw.
My favourite moment on the album would be theDoolin-Dalton Instrumental, which leads in to my favourite track on the album Outlaw Man. The instrumental wasn’t even credited on the back of the original record cover for the album, it just served as an untitled intro to Outlaw Man, but it takes the album in to new heights in terms of being a country rock album. It has very heavy use of Bernie’s signature banjo playing skills with acoustic guitars accompanying it playing the tune to the albums opening track. Outlaw Man, however, is the polar opposite to the instrumental. It is dark, undoubtedly the darkest song the band has ever recorded. Originally written and recorded by a man named David Blue, the Eagles borrowed the song and turned it in to the albums second single. While at the time it got airplay, it unfortunately became a much forgotten song by the band.
The album goes back to its soft rock sound with Saturday Night. This song is still played live every now and then by the band for the bright eyed fan that misses this era of the band. It features Don on lead vocals, with Randy chiming in with a secondary lead vocal. This is followed by Bernie Leadon’s second lead vocal song from the album, Bitter Creek, a slow, soft and somewhat dark sounding track, written after George “Bitter Creek” Newcomb, a member of the gang that this album is written about. This is then followed by the albums concluding track, Doolin-Dalton/Desperado, a reprise on two of the albums greatest moments, merely playing both songs in a melee of 4 minutes and 51 seconds, adding different lyrics to the same rhythm of both songs.
At the time, it turned out that this album was the worst possible thing the band could have done. Record companies, and fans alike, did not want a “cowboy” album, which is what forced Glenn to take even more charge of the band to take them to a more rock sound, even eventually going as far as firing legendary producer Glyn Johns who produced the first two and a half albums by the band. This transition also slowly pushed Bernie out of the band. If Bernie had his way, the band would be a country band, but he was willing to compromise and meet the band in the middle if they were willing to do the same, which was the case for the band’s debut album and this one as well, but less so for the next two albums, which would be Bernie’s last two albums with the band. Fortunately he has recently rejoined the band as a guest on their current tour, in which they play songs from the early albums that haven’t been played in years.
The album has since made its way back in to fans hearts, after the success of later albums. It shows an era of the band that was still very fresh but showed maturity beyond their years. As mentioned, it features two of the bands biggest hits, and some songs that the band has even brought ban in their set for their current tour, which has been hinted may be their past.
“Saturday Night” – I know what you’re thinking, why not Tequila Sunrise or Desperado? Simple, while this is a “cowboy” album, those two songs are probably the two least “cowboy”-esque songs on the album (which is probably why they ended up being the biggest songs at the time). Saturday Night has every bit of heart and feeling to it as those two tracks, but at the same time it keeps an old west feeling to the album. I would say this song would give a first time listener a better idea of the albums sound over the two hits from the album.
9 (Out of 10)
- “Doolin-Dalton” – 3:26
- “Twenty-One” – 2:11
- “Out of Control”– 3:04
- “Tequila Sunrise”– 2:52
- “Desperado”– 3:36
- “Certain Kind of Fool”– 3:02
- “Doolin-Dalton (Instrumental)” – 0:48
- “Outlaw Man”– 3:34
- “Saturday Night”– 3:20
- “Bitter Creek” – 5:00
- “Doolin-Dalton / Desperado (Reprise)” – 4:50