Vinyl Confessions: Clipping Eagle Wings

The Eagles by James Glader
The Eagles by James Glader

Let me get this off my chest right off the bat – I hate the song “Hotel California.”

You can try explaining to me why it’s regarded as one of the greatest tunes of all time. For me, it’s an endless abyss of annoyance that’s too loud, too preachy and altogether too whiny. I made this very clear to my in-laws upon meeting them for the first time and hearing the song play in the car. My father-in-law’s response was classic: he bought me a Hotel California T-shirt for Christmas.

Whew. OK, that’s out of my system (for now). Here’s where I stand on the band itself.

I recently learned that the Kennedy Center is not including several core members of the Eagles in its honoring of the group during this year’s ceremony. While institutions like these like to nit-pick and leave a cog out of the overall production machine here and there, this is simply unacceptable, given the core members excluded from the honor are too core to be simply overlooked!

The lineup being honored includes the late Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Timothy B. Schmit and Joe Walsh. That’s it. No Bernie Leadon. No Randy Meisner. No Don Felder.

No dice.

The Kennedy Center has determined the top four members “carried the torch” of the group and should therefore be the ones recognized. The truth is, there never should have been a torch in the first place. The fire that fueled the band to the pinnacle of success was fully extinguished in 1980 (anyone remember the near-physical dust-up between Frey and Felder during that infamous Long Beach concert?). Considering the animosity, the torch should have never been re-lit. Let the band go out with dignity, for crying out loud, after six strong albums and five number one hits.

But of course that didn’t happen.

So given the situation, let’s start with the obvious as to why this decree makes no sense. Before the band first broke up, Walsh had only played on two albums. Schmit, one. Leadon (a Flying Burrito Brother) and Meisner (a Poco-ite) were with the band from its beginnings, adding rich harmony and instrumental layers to the songwriting talents of Frey and Henley. Felder later gave them greater edge when the band hovered on the border of full-out commercial success. Walsh and Schmit, meanwhile, are featured on the more schlocky Eagles songs – “Life in the Fast Lane,” “The Long Run,” and “I Can’t Tell You Why” included. These pale in comparison to a “Take It Easy,” “Desperado” or “One of These Nights.”

I mean, if nothing else, at least include Meisner in the roster. After all, he put forth two of the greatest (perhaps the best) contributions to the Eagles catalogue – the rolling, funky bass notes that open “One of These Nights,” and the powerful tenor vocals of what I consider to be the Eagles’ best song, “Take It To The Limit.”

Bad blood all but destroyed the brotherhood for nearly 15 years. Then Hell froze over, and at least Felder came back into the fold. After that the Eagles were relegated to quartet status – the way they began, but embodying a whole different ballgame style-wise. Long Road Out of Eden (2007) screamed adult contemporary.

Maybe I’m indifferent to this band incarnation, because Walsh and Schmit entered at a fractious time and things only got worse from there. Really, Walsh– between his James Gang work and solo output– never needed to be in the Eagles to begin with. I’m not saying he and Schmit shouldn’t be part of the recognized roster– of course they should. But what I can’t stand to see here is how some of the Eagles get preferred treatment by a supposed higher entity, while others – arguably the greatest members – get kicked out of the nest entirely.

That’s why the pecking order, in this case, sucks.

-Ira Kantor


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