The Eagles FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About Classic Rock’s Superstars by Andrew Vaughan is now available!
Check out this excerpt from the book’s introduction!
The Eagles are the most popular American band in rock-and-roll history. No band before them had sold over ten million copies of two different albums, as the Eagles did with Hotel California and The Eagles—Their Greatest Hits 1971–1975. Indeed, the latter album is now certified twenty-nine-times platinum by the RIAA, which means twenty-nine million copies sold in the United States, a figure equaled only by Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
The Eagles have scored twenty-one Billboard Hot 100 hits between 1972, when their debut cut “Take It Easy” climbed to #12, and 2003, when “Hole in the World” made the chart. Ten Eagles singles have made the Top 10, with five of those becoming #1 hits. On top of that, when it comes to their individual careers, the members of the Eagles have chalked up an impressive forty solo hits between them. Don Henley, not surprisingly, leads the pack with fifteen. The statistics go on and on. The Eagles have had seven #1 albums, and since their 1994 comeback, they have topped touring gross lists every year they’ve been on the road.
In 2008, they grossed over seventy million dollars in the U.S. alone, beaten only by Madonna and Celine Dion. Their most recent album, Long Road Out of Eden, sold exclusively through Walmart and went straight to #1 on its release in 2007. Looking at the Eagles’ album sales in total, the band are in the Top 5 of the best-selling artists of all time in the U.S., right behind the Beatles, Elvis, Garth Brooks, and Led Zeppelin.
The Eagles surfaced from the folkie, hippie scene of the late ’60s in L.A. and turned their mellow, country-rock sound into a worldwide brand, culminating in the international epic “Hotel California.”
Don’t be fooled by the outlaw/cowboy image. The Eagles, especially Don Henley and Glenn Frey, were part of a savvy new breed of rock-and-roller who understood the business side of music and demanded a fair share of the financial action. Teaming up with David Geffen, one of the toughest of all the ’70s music execs, gave the band a degree of power and leverage unknown in popular music.
The story of the Eagles is also the story of most artists of their time. The drugs, the music, the excesses, the piles of cash—it affected them all. But the Eagles took it to the limit. And in Henley and Frey, they had two songwriters who intuitively understood and accurately portrayed the changing America they were living in. They perfected the California sound, shifted the power from record company to artist, and pioneered the FM sound. Eagles songs of the period are incredibly memorable, while their most popular album, Hotel California, is a timeless record of the decadence of the ’70s.
So popular were the Eagles in the ’70s—and on their own terms, too—that many in the American music press and media gave them short shrift. Critics at the time failed to acknowledge Henley and Frey’s social commentary, and they refused to give the band their due. Eventually, the sheer power of the music won out, and the Eagles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.
Not that success didn’t bring problems of its own. Eagles tours were outrageous fiestas of sex, drugs, and rock and matched only by the Who and Led Zeppelin for outrage and expense. Money and drugs, lawyers and accountants got in the way of the music, and some couldn’t cope. Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner called it quits early on, leaving Henley and Frey in charge of the beast. Things got so bad that individual Eagles stayed in separate hotels on tour. The Eagles became poster boys for bands that hated each other. Frey and Henley famously didn’t speak near the end, and things got so bad that a longtime band member, guitarist Don Felder, was booted from the organization. As with all good rock-and-roll fables, an outside source—in this case a country-music tribute album—brought some harmony back to our divided band of brothers, and the Eagles had what Frey always refers to as a “resumption” (rather than a comeback) in their sometimes rocky career.
The country-music tribute album, Common Thread, catalyzed the reunion that produced the 1994 LP Hell Freezes Over, which sold more than ten million copies in a few months. But the old animosities resurfaced, and in 2001 Felder was fired, never to return.
The remaining members carried on, and in 2007 the Eagles released their first proper new album in almost thirty years, Long Road Out of Eden, which debuted at #1 on the Billboard chart and set the stage for more sellout world tours.
With their lasting success, the Eagles proved themselves to be one of the few early-’70s bands still current and relevant. Honoring the band’s legacy, over forty years after the release of their first album, was the documentary movie History of the Eagles, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013 and was screened by Showtime in two parts, and featured more than three cool hours of footage and interviews. The documentary has brought renewed interest in the group’s incredible story.
Eagles albums still sell in platinum numbers, and Eagles tours out-gross those of most of their contemporaries. Their story is one of individuals, and of an era—an era that still fascinates and shapes the present day. This book looks at the whole career of the Eagles—their achievements and successes as well as their low points and disasters—and draws on interviews with fellow artists and contemporaries who watched the crazy tale unfold.