The Eagles’ debut album released 45 years ago today.
It was never OK to like The Eagles. But I’m 152 years old now, cool people, and I don’t care what you think anymore. Well, not as much as I did, anyway.
I love Lyin’ Eyes. I love Take It Easy. I love Tequila Sunrise. I really love Desperado and The Last Resort. Always have done. There. Said it. The thing is, I’m not totally sure why I loved/love those songs. I was never what you’d call an Eagles fan; I felt nothing, really, when Glenn Frey died last year (I actually just had to look up which one of the band it was), except for that generic sadness when someone – anyone – who inhabited our childhood goes. I hate (the song) Hotel California – it’s like some kind of inescapable, awful, prog/country/sixth-form poetry monster. And I hate all that almost-rock stuff they do so unconvincingly. But… I’ve been listening to their early, countryish, stuff a lot here in Greenland since the local station played Lyin’ Eyes and loving it. And realising I’ve always loved it. And I’ve been squirming a little at what my attitude to The Eagles even now tells me about my own taste, my own need to belong, the awkward adolescent boy I still am.
When punk came along, it was often portrayed as a raging, proletarian counterblast to prog-rock, to the middle-class pretension of ELP and Yes and Pink Floyd. But it was also a macho mouthful of phlegm in the face of all those soppy, long-haired, insipid, hippy, white, American (that was the biggest sin, let’s be honest) ponces like The Eagles who lived in Beverley Hills mansions, snorted coke on sun-loungers and sang saccharine songs that girls liked. In other words, punk was a fourteen-year-old boy winding his twenty-five-year-old sister up. And I love it for that (I think we all needed it) and for the astonishing, angry punch of its music and its attitude and its clothes and its ability to show us things could be different – but I was never a punk, I could never be a punk. I was too… soppy, scared, hippyish, careful, romantic. My inner Eagle was too strong.
All of which suggests, of course, that we’re talking polar opposites here, irreconcilable differences. But we’re not: I’ve just realised we’re not, not really. Good music (I think) is about communicating the personal and touching the universal simultaneously. And there’s a sadness – a melancholy, an anomie, a sense of lands and people and dreams lost – in those early Eagles songs that chimes as much, has as much sincerity and cool, as any punk song. They’re no more or less white than punk, no more or less excluding of Black American musics, no more or less trying to get you to like it, but they’re also tied to the land, to the American myth, to Woody Guthrie and Steinbeck, they’re truly liberal and heart-on-sleeve and compassionate. And they’re gorgeous. There’s an empathic perfection to Desperado, for example, that – for me – makes it one of the great pop songs. Nearly all of the power and purity lies in the voices – in the lead vocals and in the harmonies – and there are acapella recordings online of some of their songs that are astonishing. But the good stuff – the exquisite stuff – that the Eagles did is as good as it is because the music embraces those voices while simultaneously giving them time and space to breathe. There’s a subtlety to the overall sound that’s not there in their crap stuff, not there in most popular music, a subtlety that springs out from blues and country and pushes the bombastic teenageiness of rock aside. And it’s that warm, sad kiss between sounds, rather than the words (which lurch from clunkily portentous to poetic, often in the same song) which is truly, heartbreakingly poignant.
So. It’s taken me thirty-something years to admit it but I feel good saying I love those songs. They’re beautiful – they make me feel, make me smile, make me feel connected. The Eagles did do all that coke/sun-lounger/groupie stuff as well, of course – but they’ve left us/me something really special. And no-one should apologise for that.