The Eagles were never cool. Right from the start, they were labeled as a middle-of-the-road, country rock band. And sometimes, they were. But this was a band that had more than one side. Look beyond the obvious hits, and you’ll find guttural rock and roll, sultry R&B, bluegrass, funk, and even disco. Their best albums were all thriller, no filler, with a consistency and strength that lesser bands would kill for. If you’re ready to expand your musical horizons with one of the best bands to emerge from the 1970s, these are the 20 best Eagles songs of all time.
20. James Dean
The Eagles always had a habit of drawing inspiration from real-life characters, and in 1974, they were up to their old tricks again with this tribute to James Dean. As cool as the man himself, the song didn’t make much of an impression on the charts (it reached a fairly dismal No. 77 on the U.S. pop singles chart) but it left enough of an impression on the band’s fans for it to become a firm favorite at live performances.
19. After the Thrill Is Gone
1975’s After the Thrill Is Gone is just as somber as its title applies. Written as a follow-up to the B.B. King classic The Thrill Is Gone, Don Henley described the inspiration behind the song as: “We wanted to explore the aftermath. We know that the thrill is gone – so, now what?” Atmospheric, moody, and almost semi-autobiographical in parts (by 1975, any excitement over their sudden rise to fame had well and truly worn off, begging the question of what really would come next), it’s well-deserving of a place on our list of the 20 best Eagles songs of all time.
When the Eagles decided to go with a western theme for 1973’s Desperado, they pulled out all the stops. Inspired by a 19th-century gang of train robbers, Doolin-Dalton has Wild West written all over it. The band even dressed up as members of the gang for the album cover. Even without the concept, it’s still a fabulous track, with some fine harmonizing between Henley and Glenn Frey and some equally delightful harmonic from Frey.
17. The Last Resort
The Eagles were never as mellow as they were made out to be. On The Last Resort, they proved it. An angry, biting swipe at big industry and environmental destruction, it showcased a very different side to the Eagles… and a very welcome one at that.
16. Seven Bridges Road
Originally recorded by Steve Young in 1969, Seven Bridges Road got the Eagles treatment over a decade later when they included it on their 1980 album Hell Freezes Over. The band regularly performed an a capella version of the song during their live performances, with each member of the group singing it into a single microphone.
15. Tequila Sunrise
According to smoothradio.com, Frey was lying around on the sofa playing guitar when he came up with a guitar riff he described as “kinda Roy Orbison, kinda Mexican”. He showed Henley the riff and said: “Maybe we should write something to this.” They did, and the result – the forlorn, countrified Tequila Sunrise – now ranks as one of the band’s best-ever efforts.
14. The Long Run
The title track of 1979’s The Long Run is a soulful, stylish track with an insistent groove and a ton of attitude. It came at a difficult point for the band, who, along with dealing with personal problems and internal conflicts, was also starting to become painfully aware that their brand of country-rock was starting to be seen as passe. Following the album’s release, the band went on hiatus, not to be heard of again for another 14 years. As goodbyes go, it was a great one.
13. Take It to the Limit
As randymeisnerretrospective.com says, Take It to the Limit was Randy Meisner’s masterpiece. Inspired to write it after coming up with the line ‘All alone at the end of the evening, and the bright lights have faded to blue,’” during an evening of sitting home alone in LA watching the night sky, it took the band to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became their first single to sell over 1 million copies.
12. Witchy Woman
Bernie Leadon was touring with his former band Flying Burrito Brothers when he came up with Witchy Woman’s legendary riff. After joining the Eagles, he took it to Henley, who built up a story about Zelda Fitgerald and the various woman he’d run into at LA clubs around it. It marked the beginning of Henley’s writing career and one of the band’s first forays into the Top Ten.
11. Heartache Tonight
According to Rolling Stone, it took the Eagles a long time to finish up Heartache Tonight. Frey and J.D. Souther began by working out the bones of the song, taking inspiration from old Sam Cooke recordings. Bob Seger was later enlisted to help flesh out some of the lyrics, and finally, Henley chipped in with the line ‘We can leave it in the parking lot/But either way there’s gonna be a heartache tonight!’ The sonic boom percussion, meanwhile, was achieved by Henley lying on the studio floor beating a marching-band-style drum strapped to his chest with a mallet, a process that according to bassist Timothy B Schmit “took a long time.” Fortunately, the effort was worth it.
11. One of These Nights
Don Henley once said, “We like to be a nice little country-rock band from Los Angeles … about half the time.” The rest of the time, they like to keep us on our toes with songs like One of These Nights. Taken from their fourth album of the same name, One of These Nights is a disco-infused number that’s been beefed up with some downright aggressive vocal harmonies and a muscular guitar riff. It may have taken the Eagles’ in a very different direction to the one their fans were used to, but it worked, strolling all the way to the top of the charts.
9. I Can’t Tell You Why
I Can’t Tell You Why was bassist Timothy B. Schmit’s first songwriting credit. As debuts go, it was a great one, with the insightful, semi-autobiographical lyrics helped nicely along by a smooth, soulful arrangement and an electrifying performance from Joe Walsh on organ. When Schmit left the band, he took the song with him, regularly performing it at gigs with Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band.
8. Peaceful Easy Feeling
Released as the third single from their self titled debut album in 1972, Peaceful Easy Feeling was written by Jack Tempchin, who wrote the song after a gig at a small coffee shop in El Centro, California. Recalling his inspiration for the song, he says, “It was my first time in the desert, and the view of the stars was amazing. I was attracted to a waitress there, but unfortunately, she didn’t feel the same way about me because she went home – without me. I wound up sleeping on the floor in the club with my guitar instead of the girl. It was then that I started writing ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling.’ ” When Glenn Frey heard Tempchin play the song to Jackson Browne, he took it to the Eagles, who added some soft guitars, gentle harmonies, and created a song that’s just as peaceful and easy at the title implies.
7. Already Gone
After impressing them with Peaceful Easy Feeling, Jack Tempchin continued to collaborate with the band. In 1974, he wrote Already Gone, a tough, fuel-injected rocker dripping in commercial appeal. Released as the first single of the band’s first chart-topping album, On the Border, it peaked at No. 32 on the Billboard Hot 100.
6. Life in the Fast Lane
The story goes that Life in the Fast Lane got its start one balmy LA evening as Frey and his drug dealer buddy “the Count” sped down the highway en route to a poker game. When the Count moved over to the left lane and hit his foot to the accelerator, Frey asked him to slow down. The Count responded with, ‘Hey, man, it’s life in the fast lane.’ When Frey recounted the story to the rest of the band. new addition Joe Walsh added some blazing guitar, Henley chipped in with some lyrics, and thus, one of the Eagles’ most anthemic songs was born.
5. Lyin’ Eyes
During an episode of her 1976 television show, ”Dolly!,” Dolly Parton sang a cover of Lyin’ Eyes, a song she introduced with the words “Here’s a song that I wish I had written.” She didn’t, of course, Don Henley and Glenn Frey did, and for that, music lovers should be extremely thankful. Helping Henley and Frey’s exquisite storytelling along is some fabulous acoustic guitar work from Randy Meisner and some equally sublime mandolin from Don Felder. As hisisdig.com writes, the song became their first crossover hit, reaching No.8 on the country charts.
4. New Kid in Town
When J.D. Souther played the band a sample of a song he’d been working on, the band instantly knew it had the makings of a hit. They were right. Frey added some lyrics built around the fleeting nature of fame (by that point, the band were all in their 30s and being nipped hard on the heels by the next generation of hungry young artists), Randy Meisner introduced some acoustic bass, and the end result was an exquisite, melancholic dream of a song that eventually landed the band a Grammy for Best Vocal Arrangement.
A year after releasing their self-titled debut album, the Eagles returned with the country-inflected Desperado. Don Henley originally intended the titular track to have a Southern Gothic vibe, but after Glenn Frey jumped on board, the pair reworked it into western. It was the first time they’d written together, but the results are masterful, as is Frey’s moody piano intro and Jim Ed Norman’s subtle strings. In the years since its release, it’s become a country-rock standard, covered by everyone from Neil Diamond to Miranda Lambert. The only person who’s come close to topping the original, however, is Johnny Cash.
2. Take It Easy
Take It Easy might be the most Eagles of Eagle’s songs, but it was actually written by singer-songwriter Jackson Browne. He wrote it during a road trip through Utah and Arizona; after sensing it had legs, he showed it to his neighbor, Glenn Frey, who immediately recognized its potential. After he took it to the rest of the band, they did the same. “The song has this momentum to it – it’s cruising,” guitarist Bernie Leadon says. “We all went, ‘Yeah!’ and started playing along.” Released in 1972 as the band’s first single, it quickly became their signature tune.
1. Hotel California
No matter how impressive Desperado is or how anthemic Take it Easy is, there’s only one real contender for the title of best Eagles song – Hotel California, a song that began with the intention of portraying the LA high life and ended by becoming a damning indictment of the American dream. A lot of it doesn’t make sense, but it doesn’t have to. It’s less of a song and more of a movie, a movie soundtracked with an epic guitar battle that took Don Felder and Joe Walsh a full three days to perfect. If you thought the Eagles never veered away from the middle of the road, one listen of this will put you right.