Even today, the Eagles are considered one of the best American bands of all time. Their first self-titled album came out in 1971 and it was an almost instant success. From that point forward, they became the subject of rock royalty. Throughout the 1970s, The Eagles had several number one singles, among them a song called “Witchy Woman.” This is a song that is still popular today, frequently showing up in all forms of pop culture. Perhaps the only thing that is more interesting than the song itself is the way that it was written.
Before we get into the way that the song was written, it’s important to know a little bit of background about the band responsible for it. Throughout their career, the Eagles had six number one albums, five songs that went to number one on the charts and have been the recipient of numerous Grammy Awards. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They truly achieved a level of success that very few people ever manage to achieve, even in their wildest dreams. The fact that “Witchy Woman” was on their very first album says a great deal about the band’s ability to perform and about lead vocalist Don Henley’s ability to write songs that would ultimately become hits. The reality of the situation is that this particular song launched his songwriting career. Once people heard it, they knew that he was the real deal and it was time to start taking him (and his band) seriously.
The Song That Cemented a Career
The way this particular song came into existence is definitely one for the record books. The band had written the music for it some time before Henley ever wrote the lyrics. In fact, It was the band’s guitarist, Bernie Leadon, who wrote the music for it. However, the band just could not come up with lyrics to fit. The song had a lot of notes in the minor key and everybody agreed that this gave it a somewhat spooky vibe, but the lyrics just weren’t forthcoming. All of that changed when Don Henley came down with the flu. It wasn’t too long after Leadon had shown him the music he’d written that Henley got sick. This was not just your typical run-of-the-mill case of the flu, either. It was quite a severe case that left him extremely weak, even to the point of being somewhat delirious. Somewhere in the midst of all of that, the lyrics for the song started coming to him.
Were there other factors that also influenced Henley’s lyrics? Surely it couldn’t have all been due to a severe bout of the flu. As it turns out, there were a couple of other things that probably influenced the way he wrote the song. At the time that he got sick, he was reading a biography about Zelda Fitzgerald, the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who had spent a great deal of her life institutionalized because of schizophrenia. At the time that she lived her life, there weren’t really any medications that were believed to successfully treat schizophrenia. As such, almost everyone who suffered from it spent their life in an institution. She decided to tell her story and it was something that Henley had been reading at the time he came down with the flu.
Even while he was sick, he would thumb through a few pages whenever he was able. He would then become weak, get delirious, and have the most wicked dreams that he repeatedly said were heavily influenced by the things he read from her story. It’s also possible that popular culture from that particular time period influenced his lyrics, as people started to become more interested in magic and witchcraft during that time. Although Henley never commented directly on that particular influence, he did say that the things he read from Zelda Fitzgerald’s biography heavily influenced the dreams that he had during the time that he was fighting the flu. Those dreams eventually found their way onto paper as the lyrics for the song.
This song might have been the start of Henley’s songwriting career, but it certainly wasn’t the end of it. It’s almost ironic that a song written in the midst of a handful of delirious dreams cemented his songwriting career, but that is exactly what happened. Perhaps he needed a boost of confidence that came from having that first hit, one written entirely on his own. Maybe he simply needed the music industry to take him seriously as a songwriter in order to gain the attention he needed to write future songs. Whatever the case might be, this was the song that started it all. From that point forward, he was considered a serious songwriter by almost everyone in the industry. More importantly, he considered himself a serious songwriter. This gave him inspiration to continue to write a number of songs after that, many of which became hits in their own right.
It’s interesting to think that a single song can have such an impact on someone’s career, but Henley isn’t the first individual to experience this. Many songwriters and performers have had their careers made or destroyed by just one song that either made it big or completely flopped. In this particular case, things worked in his favor and both he and his band continued to write some of the most influential songs of an entire decade. The fact that their music is still so popular today speaks volumes about the quality of their music. The song “Witchy Woman” is just one example of the type of material that they were capable of turning out with their level of talent. It’s one that still gets more than its fair share of airtime. In fact, it’s widely recognized by people who were born years after the band was formed and who scarcely even know who the Eagles are. That says a lot about this song that is still so widely featured in popular culture.