vulture lists

32 Reasons Why the Eagles Are the Best Band in the Universe

The Eagles L-R: Glenn Frey, Bernie Leadon, Don Henley, Randy Meisner c. Early 1970s. Photo: Gems/Redferns

This post originally ran in May 2007. We are rerunning it with the news of Glenn Frey’s death.

1. No band is more deeply misunderstood, particularly by people who believe art should be pious.

2. It’s true that the hedonistic seventies California they’ve come to symbolize was where the let’s-levitate-the-Pentagon spirit of the sixties went to die. But they didn’t kill it — they just performed the autopsy, over the course of six albums that play like one long opera about American counterculture in freefall. Like all good writers, they wrote what they knew.

3. Like all good California singer-songwriters, they looked great, too — no other band has pulled off the awake-for-three-days-on-peyote-buttons, stumbling-off-a-Lear-jet-dressed-like-a-cowboy thing with as much style.

4. “Take It Easy” — classic song, classic bumper sticker.

5. The poster included with 1974’s On the Border, in which Don Henley is wearing the manliest peasant blouse in rock history.

6. Don Henley’s fro.

7. The career arc of Glenn Frey, from “Chug All Night” — a song from the first Eagles album, about wanting to be “high on a pleasure wheel” — to “Smuggler’s Blues,” a nuanced critique of U.S. drug policy (seriously!) that inspired a really good Miami Vice episode.

8. The moment in “Already Gone” when Glenn tells somebody “You’ll have to eat your lunch all by yourself,” like he’s disciplining a fourth-grader.

9. The excellent pro-sloth anthem “Earlybird,” a banjo-led number about how the whole catching-the-worm thing is for suckers.

10. “Desperado” — their version, and the children’s-choir cover version by the Langley Schools Music Project — which is one of the most heartrending pieces of music ever committed to tape.

11. The band photo on Desperado, where they dressed up like banditos headed to a sit-down with Al Swearengen down at the Gem Saloon.

12. On the Border’s liner-note shout-out to “the fire gods Nido and Wotan.”

13. They recorded the majestically sentimental “Ol’ 55,” written by a young, semi-destitute singer-songwriter named Tom Waits, who probably collected enough royalties to buy 900 packs of cigarettes and a new porkpie hat.

14. Glenn Frey and Don Henley sang backup on the first Warren Zevon album. The first Warren Zevon album is fantastic. Coincidence?

15. The scene in The Big Lebowski where the Dude (Jeff Bridges) gets thrown out of a taxicab for dissing the Eagles.

16. The scene in The Big Lebowski where Jesus (John Turturro) polishes his bowling ball while the Gipsy Kings’ floridly romantic version of “Hotel California” plays on the soundtrack.

17. “Hotel California” itself, which is both an over-the-top metaphor for drugs or Charles Manson or something and one of the strangest, darkest pop hits ever, a Left Coast Masque of the Red Death that holds up “mirrors on the ceiling” and “pink Champagne on ice” as signifiers of moral decay.

18. The deeply underrated One of these Nights, which extrapolates the druggy paranoia and innocence-lost desperation of “Hotel California” to album length.

19. The bizarre One of These Nights track “Journey of the Sorcerer,” a six-minute instrumental arranged for orchestra and banjo.

20. The image of guitarist/banjoist Bernie Leadon pitching the idea for “Journey of the Sorcerer” to his bandmates, perhaps using flip charts.

21. The cover of the 1978 holiday single “Please Come Home for Christmas” backed with “Funky New Year,” which depicts the shirtless Eagles celebrating the birth of Christ by sipping Mai Tais poolside in the company of women who look as bored as they are, if not more.

22. “Funky New Year,” the best song ever written about Don Henley waking up with a hangover and thinking to himself, Whose shoes are these?

23. The fact that even their enervated late-period records contained spectacular soft-soul ballads like “I Can’t Tell You Why,” sung by new member Timothy B. Schmidt in Hall and Oates–worthy falsetto.

24. Their decision to hire an unsung rock genius like Joe Walsh (whose post-Eagles solo catalog includes awesomely titled albums like The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get and Got Any Gum?) as an auxiliary guitarist.

25. Deeply cynical numbers like the Henley-penned “Life in the Fast Lane,” about a man who’s “brutally handsome” meeting a woman who’s “terminally pretty.” “They had one thing in common / They were good in bed,” Henley explains, neatly encapsulating all L.A. social life past and present in twelve words.

26. The Long Run’s “Those Shoes,” a creepy L.A.-noir fable about how the wrong footwear can lead you to the dark side.

27. The Dust Brothers built “High Plains Drifter,” a track they produced for the Beastie Boys’ 1989 classic Paul’s Boutique, out of a sample of the first few bars of “Those Shoes.”

28. The use of the “talk box” guitar sound — think Peter Frampton — on “Those Shoes.” Walsh’s solo sounds like a duck trying to speak with its mouth full of rubber cement and chewable Quaaludes.

29. The fact that in 1978, they attempted to cash in on the disco craze by writing “The Disco Strangler,” a song about a murderer who loves the nightlife.

30. “The Disco Strangler”’s lacerating guitar lick.

31. The moment on Eagles Live — a victory lap recorded at a Santa Monica concert in 1980 — when Glenn introduces “the next President of the United States — MR. JOE WALSH!,” and then Joe plays his solo hit “Life’s Been Good,” an irresistible faux-reggae ode to rock-star perks like Maseratis and gold records.

32. Their well-developed and underdiscussed sense of irony. In a vintage Rolling Stone profile, Glenn Frey told cub reporter Cameron Crowe that “the only difference between boring and laid-back is a million dollars.”

32 Reasons Why the Eagles Are the Best Band