Songs Of The Day 9/22/2015: The Eagles – “Pretty Maids All in a Row” + “Try and Love Again”

Stopped Clock Week – Giving my answer to the question “Say, why don’t you like the Eagles?” is an activity that might sound redundant and a little mundane to friends of mine who’ve known me for more than ten years. But this blog, believe it or not, is intended for a general audience, so I have every practical excuse at my disposal to explain why Mssrs. Henley & Frey chaffed me the wrong way.

First of all: Was there ever a more stand-offish superstar band in rock and roll? The Eagles were so remote that until Don Henley finally had a solo hit, I don’t think anybody even knew what the Eagles looked like. They were like Goddard, the anonymous rock star anti-hero in Jerzy Kosinski’s Pinball. Their distinguishing facial mark was a twang. They were pissed off at everyone (especially women) yet never conveyed a shred of vulnerability that didn’t come straight from a night with tequila. And even then, their biggest self-admission was, “Whoa… cool sunrise, bro.” Ambivalence was their main line of defense. They deflected emotions when they threatened to compromise their Marlboro Manliness. And they released the biggest-selling album in U.S. history. Just the Greatest Hits, if you please, none of the deep tracks. There’s something beautiful and depressing about that.

Second of all, the Eagles had a perfectly valid platform which could have made them artistically viable: They mythologized the California scene of the ’70s even as they pointed out everything that was wrong with it. This is exactly what Warren Zevon did. But why was Warren great while the Eagles were grating? Humor. Zevon worked the James Thurber and Mark Twain angles, while the Eagles went the Hemingway and Jacqueline Susann routes. You could hear them tsk-tsking at the excesses other people (especially women) were indulging in off the mirrors at the time, but also got the sneaking suspicion they had private vials of their own in their vest pockets. You know, so they could do it all later, in private, dignified-like. Whereas Warren also, for better or worse, grew up in public with the people he sang about in “The French Inhaler.”

It was the moralizing that ticked me off about the Eagles. “Life in the Fast Lane.” “You can’t hide yer lyin’ eyes.” “You’ll have to eat your lunch all by yourself.” “You can spend all your time makin’ lovin‘, or alternately, according to this flow chart, you can spend all your love makin’ time.” The goddamn moralizing. They had utter, blasé confidence about their moral authority. I think their fans felt their own moral authority reinforced in the snotty moral authority of the Eagles. Once that symbiosis happens between band and audience, once it launches from mere musical appreciation and becomes a holier-then-they-fest, it’s over.

The Eagles weren’t eagles. They were wolves. They moved in packs. They crawled into the Rainbow Room sniffing for truffles. Wait, that's not wolves, that's pigs. The Eagles weren't pigs. God forbid. Let's say they sniffed around for corpses. Do wolves do that? They nose-breathed. I don’t know about you, but when I hear an Eagles record, I can hear sinuses at work for you. They were Easy Rider for people who really knew damn well where they could find America but wanted to get their rocks off first, and since the Stones had every suite in the Chateau Marmont booked up, they were stuck with the Eagles.

Even with all that, there are a few Eagles songs I think are good, and much as I hate to admit it, they’re on Hotel California. One of them is “New Kid in Town,” the only Eagles hit single I’d call truly great, and haw-haw, it’s one of Glenn Frey’s. It stops just short of judgment mode. The other two, which are featured today, came from usual Eagles background players. One is Joe Walsh, who had more rock and roll in his pinky knuckle than Don & Glenn had in all their extremities, and the other is Randy Meisner, who I completely forgot was in the group. It happens. “Pretty Maids All in a Row” is Walsh’s attempt to temper his gonzo-rock viewpoint to fit Henley & Frey’s Wall Of Seriousness, and it turns out a bitterly sweet, vulnerable testament of our loneliness.

Meisner’s “Try and Love Again” brings the temporary hope that at least one of the Eagles, at some point, heard Chris Bell’s songs on Big Star’s #1 Record, but it’s probably a fluke. It too is lovely, flowing and unguarded. I can hear Don snickering as they played it back in the control room. "Goddamn it, Meisner! We're the Eagles! We're not the Sitting Ducks! We soar over Sunset Boulevard with beauty and grace, then shit on supermodels! Then, when we come back down to earth, we try and get the supermodels to go out with us! This sensitive shit ain't gonna fly with the Eagles, Meisner! You hear me? Aww... fuck it, leave it on the record, it's due at the mastering plant in half an hour. But this is your last warning, Meisner. We're the goddamn Eagles!" Meisner left the band after Hotel California.

(Note: Further discussion on The Eagles' Hotel California album took place a little over two years ago on this blog in a feature called "The Miss-Out," which I should really consider bringing back once I have a minute.)

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