Pigs on the Wing

Sucking in the '70s with the Eagles.

The Eagles were a country-rock band from Southern California who released their debut album in 1972. They stopped speaking onstage after an incident in which Glenn Frey, their guitarist, vocalist, and co-leader, denounced the New York Dolls during a show. Frey had a point: After all, the Eagles had twice as many guitar players as the Dolls. (The Dolls had two; the Eagles, by their first end, had had four.) Perhaps the reason Frey drew attention to that fact was that he was the best guitarist out of all of them. But it was another of the band's guitarists, Joe Walsh, who invented the phrase "Party till you puke." In fact, the Eagles are still the only band to have used the word "barfing" in a song, "The Greeks Don't Want No Freaks," from The Long Run, sometimes also known as As Nasty as They Wanna Be Part 2.

Walsh joining the Eagles was really weird—the band's previous albums were "artistic," while Walsh practically made a living not giving a fuck. It was like Kid Rock joining Radiohead (who also have three guitarists). Or maybe it was more like Frey and drummer/singer/co-leader Don Henley were actually Martin and Lewis, since Henley, like Jerry Lewis, is the "genius," while Dean Martin was legendary for being lazy and Frey only played about two solos in the Eagles' entire career. Once Walsh joined the band, the Eagles basically turned into Pink Floyd. Their albums began looking similar: The cover of Animals (1977) looked like the cover of Hotel California (1976) turned upside down, while The Wall's white cover and The Long Run's black one were both strikingly totalitarian. The pairings break down other ways as well: Both Animals and Hotel California were social-comment albums, while their 1979 follow-ups, The Wall and The Long Run, were both fuck-being-a-star albums.

The Eagles' album covers and more are in the new, limited-to-20,000-copies Eagles Box (Rhino), which collects everything the band ever recorded. There's no solo stuff on it and one "rarity" not quite worth the $129.98 on its own, "FNY," aka "Funky New Year" ("The new man wants a hit, too"), which sounds like it was recorded at gunpoint at 9 a.m. on Jan. 1. There are no outtakes, either, which is just as well, since the Eagles' regular albums have more filler than anybody in their league ever got away with before or since—e.g., all of Randy Meisner's songs, all of Don Felder's songs, and at least one of Patti Davis Reagan's. (Irving Azoff, the Eagles' backstage muscle, wouldn't have put together a song that faded out for 20 years like Hotel California's "Try Love Again." Instead, he managed a band that disappeared for 13!) The records are packaged in shrunken-original-graphics cases, so the liner notes are really tiny, and there's a monitor-sized poster in the Eagles Live road-case gatefold. The dimensional distortions are like being on a "Journey of the Sorcerer"!

The Eagles took their name from Carlos Castaneda, a fact the band celebrated when original bassist Meisner admitted to reading books in "Earlybird," from their first album. (Or perhaps their avian name came from Frey's giant fuckin' beak.) Castaneda's books were totally druggy, and so were the Eagles' albums; the difference was that while Castaneda was steeped in psychedelics, the Eagles just did anything they could get their hands on. Frey had a Teflon nose (not a metaphor), while Walsh claimed to regulate the frequency of his on-tour vomiting by never brushing his teeth. (This hygienic approach inevitably led to his 1988 solo album, poignantly titled Got Any Gum?)

As that might indicate, Eagles Box was recorded in a more optimistic time by an extraordinarily privileged sector of society. They weren't very happy in the '70s, so imagine what they're like now. For example, back then gas prices were way lower than now, but people still complained about them. (See "Life in the Fast Lane" and "James Dean.") People also worried about Nixon banning porno flicks the way people now worry about legislators banning sexual intercourse. Henley replaced Castaneda with Thoreau, who advocated living in the woods, which led to North America's obsession with personal "space," thus populating itself as sparsely as possible, which led to the culture's complete dependence on the automobile, which is the reason said culture is fucked up beyond all redemption. If Joe Walsh's (or Johnny Ramone's) presidential bid had succeeded, things would not necessarily have been different than what they're like now.

Soon, the planet will consist of two distinct classes: those who own the entire Eagles catalog, and those who own no CDs at all. It's on the street, the heat is. But you don't need them all. You only need these songs: "Earlybird," which kind of sounds like Paul Simon's "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" but not !!!'s "Me and Giuliani Down by the School Yard (A True Story)"; "The Disco Strangler," which sounds like Rod Stewart aping Wire; "Good Day in Hell," which is basically the exact same song as "Don't Mean Nothin'" by Richard Marx; "King of Hollywood," which has one of the two incredible Glenn Frey guitar solos; and "I Can't Tell You Why," which has the other one. It's also on the radio every 10 seconds, just like all their other songs. They're just lucky they didn't let Azoff write any.

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