With five number one singles and four number one albums, the Eagles were among the most successful recording artists of the 1970s; at the end of the 20th century, two of those albums, Eagles: Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 and Hotel California, ranked among the ten best-selling albums ever, according to the certifications of the Record Industry Association of America. Though most of its members came from outside California, the group was closely identified with a country- and folk-tinged sound that initially found favor in and around Los Angeles in the late ’60s, as played by such bands as the Flying Burrito Brothers and Poco, both of which contributed members to the Eagles. But the band also drew upon traditional rock & roll styles and, in their later work, helped define the broadly popular rock sound eventually referred to as classic rock. That helped the Eagles to achieve a perennial appeal among generations of music fans who continued to buy their records many years after they had split up, which inspired the reunion they mounted in the mid’90s.
The band was formed by four Los Angeles-based musicians who had come to the West Coast from other parts of the U.S. Singer/bassist Randy Meisner (born in Scottsbluff, NE, on March 8, 1946) moved to L.A. in 1964 as part of a band originally called the Soul Survivors (not to be confused with the East Coast-based Soul Survivors, who scored a Top Five hit with “Expressway to Your Heart” in 1967) and later renamed the Poor. In 1968, he was a founding member of Poco, but left the band prior to the release of its debut album, joining the Stone Canyon Band, the backup group for Rick Nelson.
Singer/guitarist/banjoist/mandolinist Bernie Leadon (born in Minneapolis, MN, on July 19, 1947) arrived in L.A. in 1967 as a member of Hearts and Flowers before joining Dillard and Clark and then the Flying Burrito Brothers. Singer/drummer Don Henley (born in Gilmer, TX, on July 22, 1947) moved to L.A. in June 1970 with his band Shiloh, which made one self-titled album for Amos Records before breaking up. Glenn Frey (born in Detroit, MI, on November 6, 1948) performed in his hometown and served as a backup musician to Bob Seger before moving to L.A. in the summer of 1968. He formed the duo Longbranch Pennywhistle with J.D. Souther, and they signed to Amos Records, which released their self-titled album in 1969.
In the spring of 1971, Frey and Henley were hired to play in Linda Ronstadt’s backup band. Meisner and Leadon also played backup to Ronstadt during her summer tour, though the four only did one gig together, at Disneyland in July. They did, however, all appear on Ronstadt’s next album, Linda Ronstadt, released in early 1972. In September 1971, Frey, Henley, Leadon, and Meisner signed with manager David Geffen, agreeing to record for his soon-to-be-launched label, Asylum Records; soon after, they adopted the name the Eagles. In February 1972, they flew to England and spent two weeks recording their debut album, Eagles, with producer Glyn Johns. It was released in June, reaching the Top 20 and going gold in a little over a year and a half, following the release of two Top Ten hits, “Take It Easy” and “Witchy Woman,” and one Top 20 hit, “Peaceful Easy Feeling.”
The Eagles toured as an opening act throughout 1972 and into early 1973, when they returned to England and Glyn Johns to record their second LP, Desperado, a concept album about outlaws. Released in April 1973, it reached the Top 40 and went gold in a little less than a year and a half, spawning the Top 40 single “Tequila Sunrise.” The title track, though never released as a single, became one of the band’s better-known songs and was included on its first hits collection.
After touring to support Desperado, the Eagles again convened a recording session with Glyn Johns for their third album. But their desire to make harder rock music clashed with Johns’ sense of them as a country-rock band, and they split from the producer after recording two tracks, “You Never Cry Like a Lover” and “The Best of My Love.” After an early 1974 tour opened by singer/guitarist Joe Walsh, they hired Walsh’s producer, Bill Szymczyk, who handled the rest of On the Border. Szymczyk brought in a session guitarist, Don Felder (born in Gainesville, FL, on September 21, 1947), an old friend of Bernie Leadon’s who so impressed the rest of the band that he was recruited to join the group. On the Border was released in March 1974. It went gold and reached the Top Ten in June, the Eagles’ fastest selling album yet. The first single, “Already Gone,” reached the Top 20 the same month. But the most successful song on the LP, the one that broke them through to a much larger audience, was “The Best of My Love,” released as a single in November. It hit number one on the easy listening charts in February 1975 and topped the pop charts a month later.
The Eagles’ fourth album, One of These Nights, was an out-of-the-box smash. Released in June 1975, it went gold the same month and hit number one in July. It featured three singles that hit the Top Five: the chart-topping title song, “Lyin’ Eyes,” and “Take It to the Limit.” “Lyin’ Eyes” won the 1975 Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group, or Chorus, and the Eagles also earned Grammy nominations for Album of the Year (One of These Nights) and Record of the Year (“Lyin’ Eyes”). The group went on a headlining world tour, beginning with the U.S. and Europe. But on December 20, 1975, it was announced that Bernie Leadon had quit the band. Joe Walsh (born in Wichita, KS, on November 20, 1947) was brought in as his replacement. He immediately joined the tour, which continued to the Far East in early 1976.
The Eagles’ extensive touring kept them out of the studio, and with no immediate plans for a new album, they agreed to the release of a compilation, Eagles: Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975, in February 1976. The first album certified platinum for sales of one million copies, it topped the charts and became a phenomenal success, eventually selling upwards of 25,000,000 copies and dueling with Michael Jackson’s Thriller for the title of the best-selling album of all time in the U.S.
It took the Eagles 18 months to follow One of These Nights with their fifth album, Hotel California. Released in December 1976, it was certified platinum in one week, hit number one in January 1977, and eventually sold over 10,000,000 copies. The singles “New Kid in Town” and “Hotel California” hit number one, and “Life in the Fast Lane” made the Top 20. “Hotel California” won the 1977 Grammy for Record of the Year and was nominated for Song of the Year; the album was nominated for Album of the Year and for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group, or Chorus. The Eagles embarked on a world tour in March 1977 that began with a month in the U.S., followed by a month in Europe and the Far East, then returned to the U.S. in May for stadium dates. At the end of the tour in September, Randy Meisner left the band; he was replaced by Timothy B. Schmit (born in Sacramento, CA, November 20, 1947), formerly of Poco, in which he also had replaced Meisner.
The Eagles began working on a new album in March 1978 and took nearly a year and a half to complete it. The Long Run was released in September 1979. It hit number one and was certified platinum after four months, eventually earning multi-platinum certifications. “Heartache Tonight,” its lead-off single, hit number one, and “I Can’t Tell You Why” and “The Long Run” became Top Ten hits. “Heartache Tonight” won the 1979 Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. The Eagles toured the U.S. in 1980, and at a week-long series of shows at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, they recorded Eagles Live. (Also included were some tracks recorded in 1976.) Released in November 1980, the double-LP (since reissued as a single CD) reached the Top Five and went multi-platinum, with the single “Seven Bridges Road” reaching the Top 40.
The Eagles were inactive after the end of their 1980 tour, but their breakup was not officially announced until May 1982. All five released solo recordings. (Walsh, of course, maintained a solo career before, during, and after the Eagles.) During the rest of the 1980s, the bandmembers received several lucrative offers to reunite, but they declined. In 1990, Frey and Henley began writing together again, and they performed along with Schmit and Walsh at benefit concerts that spring. A full-scale reunion was rumored, but did not take place. Four years later, however, the Eagles did reunite. In the spring of 1994, they taped an MTV concert special and then launched a tour that ended up running through August 1996. The MTV show aired in October, followed in November by an audio version of it, the album Hell Freezes Over, which topped the charts and became a multi-million seller, spawning the Top 40 pop hit “Get Over It” and the number one adult contemporary hit “Love Will Keep Us Alive.”
The Eagles next appeared together in January 1998 for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, when the five present members performed alongside past members Leadon and Meisner. On December 31, 1999, they played a millennium concert at the Staples Center in Los Angeles that was recorded and included on the box-set retrospective Selected Works 1972-1999 in November 2000.
— William Ruhlmann