January 21, 2016
While driving home on Monday afternoon, I heard on the radio that Glenn Frey of the Eagles had passed away, and I'm still in a state of disbelief and deep sadness. Frey was my favorite Eagle, and I always figured I'd have a chance to see the group in concert again. (The last time was May 2008, in Charlottesville.) "The cause was complications from rheumatoid arthritis, acute ulcerative colitis and pneumonia..." according to the Eagles' Web site, which has a special tribute to Frey, signed by Frey's family members, and by band mates Don Henley, Joe Walsh, and Timothy B. Schmit, as well as former band mate Bernie Leadon and manager Irving Azoff. It also showed the lyrics to the Eagles' song "It's Your World Now," which has some haunting lines hinting of mortality.
Frey mostly played rhythm acoustic guitar, but also played piano on "Desperado," and perhaps other songs. His distinctive voice was clear, reaching fairly high notes with plenty of power. You could tell he still a bit of a Michigan accent (he was born in Detroit), with exaggerated r sounds. It all started when he moved to Los Angeles and met Texas-born Don Henley in 1971, becoming part of a music scene full of folk/country-rockers such as Jackson Browne. Soon they formed a backup group for Linda Ronstadt, and that was the origin of the Eagles. It would be hard to deny that the Eagles defined the dominant musical style of the 1970s, the later plague of disco notwithstanding. Frey's song-writing partnership with Don Henley produced some of the most creative music output since John Lennon and Paul McCartney. In both cases, there was a contrast in personalities that complemented each other perfectly for creative purposes, but which led to constant friction. Lennon and Henley were the serious ones with a Higher Moral Purpose, while McCartney and Frey were the fun-loving melody-smiths. What would the world be like if neither of those pairs of guys had ever met? That's a scary thought.
Tragically, Frey was scheduled to receive a special award at the Kennedy Center with the other Eagles in December, but his ill health made it impossible for the group to attend. Aside from his career as a musician, Frey was an actor in a few episodes of Miami Vice, and played a small role in Jerry Maguire, an excellent movie. For more, see the Washington Post. (I learned from that obituary that the phrase "warm smell of colitas" in the song "Hotel California" referred to the smoke from marijuana buds.)
Frey's death came barely a week after British glam-rocker David Bowie passed away after a bout with cancer. That was likewise a big shock, and reminds us baby boomers that life doesn't last forever, and must be cherished. The Eagles were fortunate that their often-hedonistic life style never had fatal consequences, as so often happens with rock groups. The iconic song "Life In the Fast Lane" may have been autobiographical in part, but they matured and became adults later in life.
I was vaguely aware of the Eagles' early hits at the time (I was in high school), recalling "Outlaw Man" in particular. I would say they became one of my favorite groups after "Already Gone" (from the album On the Border) came out in 1974. With the release of the album One of These Nights in 1975, they became a true super group. I vividly recall waiting for Hotel California to come out at the end of 1976; I bought the vinyl LP record immediately, and still have it! I confess that I was such a fan of the Eagles that I took the messages in their songs (especially "Take It Easy") to heart. In 2013 there was video documentary, "History of the Eagles," which I have seen in recorded form two or three times. It is excellent, an honest portrayal of the group's genius -- and their human foibles. It's a shame that they had to endure so many personality conflicts over the years. They split up in 1980 (which I recall bitterly), seeming so permanent that when the five of them (including former lead guitarist Don Felder) finally got back together for a reunion tour in 1994, the album was titled Hell Freezes Over. Unfortunately, Felder later parted ways and still remains estranged from the group. For more discography information on the Eagles (and other of my favorite groups), see my Music page.
I've seen a few lists of his (supposed) best songs on CNN, etc., but some of them feature Don Henley as lead vocalist. So, I went through all the Eagles songs I have, and came up with the following preliminary list:
I may reconsider some of those rankings later on. Today I bought Glenn Frey's album Solo Collection from Apple's iTunes Store, from which I came up with the following list:
I spent some time this afternoon learning to play "You Belong to the City" on my guitar, using the harmonica (G) in place of the saxophone. It's a "work in progress."
CNN ran an online poll to gauge people's opinions about which American rock band is the greatest. Can there be any doubt? The last I checked, the Eagles were in the lead with about 30% of the vote, which doesn't mean much, of course. I was surprised the Doobie Brothers were not on that list. It seems that some people just don't like the Eagles, but of course there's no accounting for taste. Unlike many other rock groups, there were never any negative vibes from the Eagles, just excellent tunes and good times.
Farewell and thank you, Glenn!
You gave us all quite a thrill!