THE EAGLES, ONE OF THESE NIGHTS, 1975
I'm sure to annoy some folks with this one-- some of you are thinking, "Awesome! I love The Eagles!" Some of you are thinking, "The Eagles? What the hell?" Allow me to explain...
In my experience, The Eagles are quite the polarizing band-- in the 80s, they were in the same category of guys like Jimmy Buffett. If you liked them, then you were probably a casual music fan who liked to sing along to music that didn't ask much of you: harmless music. Bands like The Eagles made music for the lawn at Merriweather Post Pavillion. They had also broken up, and were dinosaurs by 1981. They were the most uncool band on classic rock radio. The snobs wanted nothing to do with these guys. Guess which camp I fell in?
In my defense, it wasn't just about the band's blandness. If you grow up in a southern border state like Maryland, you have to make a decision quickly about how you feel about countryish stuff, so The Eagles weren't just another band. They were southern rock for white kids who wanted to dabble in the confederacy without going full-on Molly Hatchet redneck. That's never a harmless visitation. Your "yee-haw" factor could be a pretty quick marker for how you felt about race, class, and politics. It was a quick trip from "Yeah, I like The Eagles" to "Yeah, I like drag racing" to "We could have won the war if Lee had kept pushing into Pennsylvania after Gettysburg." As a result, I shied away from all that lazy, fake country stuff. To me, The Eagles sounded just like the rich racists hanging around the yacht club telling stupid jokes and waiting to go to Hampden-Sydney.
Moreover, the former members of the band were doing everything they could to tarnish their reputations with horrible 80s releases. I fully acknowledge the brilliance of Don Henley's "The Boys Of Summer" (written by Mike Campbell of the Heartbreakers, by the way) but let's not forget the drivel and pap that oozed from these guys in those years-- "Smuggler's Blues"? "Dirty Laundry"? There wasn't much for an Eagles fan to point to in defense of the band.
Now, here it is twenty years later, and I play in bands with young musicians who love The Eagles. Love them! I didn't believe them for years. "Really? We're going to listen to The Eagles? On purpose?" I've actually had to cover Eagles songs on stage without irony! I never thought that would happen.
But I'm an open-minded guy. This summer, I sat with the entire Eagles catalog (1972-1981) and listened to it. The hits, the album tracks, everything. And here's what I discovered:
It turns out I was wrong back in the day-- The Eagles weren't racist. Instead, they were intense, dark narcissists and easily the most self-congratulatory sexist writers of the decade (sorry, Billy Joel: you get the silver medal, and we'll get to you at some point). Do me a favor and peruse the track list of your Eagles Greatest HIts album (or whatever Eagles collection you bought in a moment of weakness). The first, classic version covering 1971-1975 features songs about (in order): picking up women on the road for one night stands, cheating women, lying women, leaving women in the morning to catch the tour bus, giving it to troubled, confused women, regretful hangovers, finding relief in the skilled physical talents of loose women, and regretting that you're too much of a self-obsessed fraud actually to love someone. Don't be fooled by the titles: EVERY SONG is about how a woman can't quite understand, comfort, satisfy, fulfill or live up to the expectations of the singer. THESE guys:
LOOK at these guys! Who the hell are these posers to be complaining about the inauthenticity of others? No wonder the women they meet are so worthless; these guys are looking for female versions of themselves. Narcissus' pond would tell these guys, "Enough, already! Focus on something besides yourselves! You make me sick!" For me, that's what makes the Eagles most insufferable. Not the flaccid music (of which there is a copious amount) but the flaccid personalities. They bore me in the truest, most perfect sense of the word. Yes, there are some good songs, but so many are turgid and syrupy and bereft of any rock and/or roll. They are the Matchbox 20 of the 1970s. The Eagles are perhaps the most overrated band in the world.
And yet... I love this song. In spite and because of everything ridiculous about it.
So let's get to this ditty, one of the half-dozen Eagles songs that doesn't make me groan. It has a terrific introduction-- the sliding bass figure and the sloppy guitar slide up to E that introduces the song sounds like the LA freeway at night, all slinky. It's a perfect intro for the first verse. I like the super-dramatic E minor at seventeen seconds as well-- it's everything that cheesy and mawkish about the band, but it works here. They were always more of a musical-style rock band anyway-- why hasn't there been a musical based on The Eagles yet? That would be a colossal hit-- all the songs already sound like "Rent" anyway.
The first verse is perfect-- the drums are open and loping, and there's tons of space in the groove. Nothing sounds quite like the 1970s to me as this song (except, perhaps, for "Baker Street"). It's the sound of rich men with nowhere they have to go, reflecting on the paradoxes of stardom, and getting ready to bed the next gal in the line of faceless, forgetful one night stands:
"One of these nights..." -- just what to you mean, boys? What kind of night?
"One of these crazy ol' nights" -- OH! Those crazy ol' nights! Got it.
"We're gonna find out, pretty mama, what turns on your lights." And there it is-- that leering, slimy sexism. First of all, "we're"? Yuk. Either he's already assuming that he's in there (and therefore the song is preening and over-confident) or the whole BAND is heading over, and that's just disconcerting.
"The full moon is calling, the fever is hot / and the wicked wind whispers and moans / You got your demons and you got desires but I got a few of my own." The hilarious imagery nothwithstanding, it's the last part of the verse that makes it an Eagles song. Yes, you have demons and problems, but SO DO I! What about ME?! LOOK AT ME!! LOVE ME!!
It feels as if we're headed to a big, rockin' chorus, but it's the Eagles, so instead, we go limp-soft for an Air Supply/ Seals & Crofts moment. (Enjoy that insanely final high note on the song's fadeout, too-- nothin' says Ladies Man like the High G.) We find out that this gal is good for that time "in between the dark and the light." But that's it. Otherwise, we're Already Gone and we have to Take It To The Limit for The Long Run and Take It Easy cause we're Desperados and I Can't Tell You Why you're a Witchy Woman with Lyin' Eyes who isn't worth The Best Of My Love so I'm livin' Life In The Fast Lane so soothe my Heartache Tonight because I'm a Victim Of Love. You get the picture.
So this song is absurd, but it holds up the best, sums up the band's achievements in five minutes, and has a killer guitar solo at 2:20 to boot.
And the final reason "One Of These Nights" is the pinnacle of The Eagles for me? About twelve years ago, I was in Honolulu walking down the main drag near the beach at around 1am. It's a really touristy, antiseptic street, full of big stores and burger spots. I believe I had just gotten ice cream in a crowded Haagen Dazs: that kind of street. It was packed with Japanese tourists and midwestern families enjoying the novelty of hot weather in the middle of the night. As I came to a crosswalk, I noticed two guys standing conspicuously on the corner. They were plastered and shirtless and giggly and had on cut-off jean short shorts and flip-flops. They were wearing sunglasses and had Sonny Crockett-style beards. One of them had a boom box, hit play, and out of it? "One Of These Nights." They walked into the street a little bit (it's a pedestrian mall, so no cars) and when the singing started, they looked at each other, said "Yeahhhhhhhh" quietly, and stripped. They were great at it, mesmerizing. Time and the surrounding crowd stood still. Right around the first chorus, after teasing us with the inevitable, Dude #1 reached in and yanked out his little Glenn Frey. That was when the mounties moved in-- four bored cops on horseback dismounted and took these guys out. As they were being cuffed, face and junk-down, in the street, The Eagles continued to remind us that anything can happen on these crazy ol' nights. It was the greatest music video never made.