You listened to the very first track on their very first album and you knew you were hearing something special.
The four dudes making up the Eagles weren’t hellbent on worldwide musical domination in 1972; they just wanted to make the sounds of California cool again. All it took were some twangy guitar strums, some staccato upper register bass plucks, and a 1-2-3-4 percussive beat backing it all up.
And then the voice comes through—conversational, with the perfect combination of bravado and worldliness: “Well I’mma running down the road tryin’ to loosen my load / I got seven women on my mind…” The voice belonged to Glenn Frey, a lanky longhair with Michigan toughness who from the word go hoped to soar to the heights of greatness with his new band.
Frey was great on that track, “Take It Easy,” but really you could go even further back. Pull up Bob Seger’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” and you can hear the teenage Frey reaching into his upper register to make the chorus his own. He was great then too.
Coming across like the varsity athlete who always scored the safety touchdown, Frey knew how to write a winning song and convey its proper emotion. Singing with the Eagles (across the span of nine years) there was no shortage of winning songs. “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” “Tequila Sunrise,” “Lyin’ Eyes,” “Already Gone,” “James Dean,” “New Kid in Town,” “Heartache Tonight”—all of these remain in heavy rotation today, reminding us what kind of a rock ‘n’ roll buckaroo we offered our ears and turntables to.
Where musical counterpart Don Henley had the grit and the edge, Frey had the fun and the tenderness. Even after the Eagles’ internal fighting caused the feathers to fly and the band to disband for 14 years, he changed with the times and went his own way to even more success. Chopping his hair, shaving his mustache, and swapping the sports jerseys for a jacket and skinny tie, Frey melded into the 1980s with two gigantic Number Two hits, “The Heat is On,” and the always fantastic “You Belong to the City,” proving he could spread his own wings and still prevail.
Fortunately, Frey helped hell freeze over in his lifetime by resurrecting the Eagles. In death, we can only take solace in knowing rock ‘n’ roll heaven is welcoming a most talented addition.