One of These Nights
by The Eagles

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One of These Nights by The EaglesA very diverse record which proved to be The Eagles major breakthrough album, One of These Nights, presents the band at a junction between their country/rock past and pop/rock oriented future. The album is also the first to feature guitarist Don Felder, who permanently joined the four founding members to make The Eagles a quintet (which they would remain even through further lineup shifts). Further, this is the only release by the group to feature songwriting contributions and lead vocals by all of the five members.

Established as a country and folk/rock group, the group released their eponymous debut album in June, 1972, which spawned three Top 40 hits and instantly put the group on the map. This was quickly followed by the quasi-concept album, Desperado, with songs that made comparisons between modern (1970s era) rock stars and outlaws from the American West a century earlier. While less successful than the debut, this second album saw guitarist/vocalist Glen Frey and drummer/vocalist Don Henley collaborate as a songwriting team for most of the material. For The Eagles’ 1974 third album, On the Border, the band turned to producer Bill Szymczyk who brought in Felder for a couple tracks in order to give the group a slightly harder-edged sound. The album also spawned, “Best of My Love”, which became the Eagles’ first number one single and established them in the upper echelon of touring groups.

One of These Nights had a relatively long production span, with sessions taking place in both Miami and Los Angeles, as Szymczyk and the band wanted to fully capitalize on their heightened commercial success. The group worked hard to find the perfect arrangements, fine musicianship, and pitch perfect multi-part harmonies. They ultimately achieved the desired end result, as this would become the group’s first chart topping album.


One of These Nights by The Eagles
Released: June 10, 1975 (Asylum)
Produced by: Bill Szymczyk
Recorded: Criteria Studios, Miami, & Record Plant, Los Angeles, 1974-1975
Side One Side Two
One of These Nights
Too Many Hands
Hollywood Waltz
Journey of the Sorcerer
Lyin’ Eyes
Take It to the Limit
Visions
After the Thrill Is Gone
I Wish You Peace
Group Musicians
Glen Frey – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Bernie Leadon – Guitars, Banjo, Mandolin
Don Felder – Guitars, Vocals
Randy Meisner – Bass, Vocals
Don Henley – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

Built on the animated bass line of Randy Meisner along with Henley’s smooth lead vocals and disco drum beat, the opening title track shows the group in a pop music light not quite seen before. The chorus section features high-pitched vocal harmonies on this sexually charged song which was a far cry from the country/rock feel of The Eagles’ traditional songs to that point. Released as a single ahead of the LP, “One of These Nights” hit number one later in the summer of 1975. Meisner takes lead vocals on “Too Many Hands”, a song which he co-wrote with Felder and featuring a chorus of acoustic and electric guitars with strong bass beats to give the overall mix a consistent thump.

“Hollywood Waltz” is a true country waltz and acoustic ballad, co-written by Bernie Leadon who also adds mandolin and pedal steel to the mix. From the beginning, Leadon was the true heart of the group’s country sound and the side one ending instrumental, “Journey of the Sorcerer”, offers a full showcase for Leadon as he slowly works a banjo phrase before the piece reaches full arrangement with strings and rhythm for the main theme. This pattern repeats a few times as the arrangement dissolves to minor banjo picking a few times before coming back full again on this piece which became the theme music for Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio series.

The Eagles in 1975

The album’s second side begins with “Lyin’ Eyes”, featuring perfectly arranged instrumentation to back the story-telling vocals provided by by Frey (lead) and Henley (harmony). Leadon adds a beautiful country lead guitar throughout with thumping bass by Meisner and dual acoustic guitars. Released as the second single from One of These Nights, the song reached the Top 10 of both the US pop and Country charts and received a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Group.

One of the finest overall songs by The Eagles and a true highlight on this album, “Take It to the Limit” was a collaborative composition among Meisner, Henley, and Frey, with Meisner taking lead vocals. The song is musically fueled by a country waltz throughout with a heavy presence of orchestral strings and piano by guest Jim Ed Norman. The song, which became the group’s thir chart topper, ends with a climatic vocal outro where Meisner hits some tremendous sustained high notes. After a fine rock intro which features some bluesy lead guitars, “Visions” kicks in with the only recorded lead vocal by Felder, albeit slightly buried in the mix. Layered background vocals guide the upbeat rhythms moving along through the entire duration of this overall decent and entertaining track.

Time passes and you must march on, half the distance takes you twice as long, so you keep on singing for the sake of the song after the thrill is gone…”

“After the Thrill Is Gone” is a slow country ballad by Frey and Henley, who also share lead vocals through the track. This fine song features tremendous lead guitar and pedal steel by Felder and Leadon respectively and is one of the finest forgotten gems by the Eagles. The album ends with “I Wish You Peace”, co-written by Leaden and his then-girlfriend Patti Davis, daughter of future president Ronald Reagan. Leaden performs folky lead vocals in a song with electric piano, acoustic guitars, and a heavy presence of strings. A later lead guitar by Leadon offers what would turn out to be his swan song as he departed from the group shortly after the album’s release.

Leadon would eventually be replaced by Joe Walsh for the Eagles’ next studio album, Hotel California, which received even higher acclaim for the group. But before that, the group released the compilation, Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975, which included the three hits from the recently released One of These Nights and would go on the be the best overall selling album of the 20th century.

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1975 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

 

The Long Run by The Eagles

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The Long Run by The EaglesThe Eagles completed their torrent through the seventies with 1979’s The Long Run, the studio album which closed the decade as the number one album in the USA. This diverse album certainly has its share of variety, especially when it comes to the lead vocals where four of the five band members took their turn up front. On the flipside, this is not the most cohesive album as it jumps from style to style and mood to mood, kind of like it is The Eagles’ own radio station. Nonetheless, this sixth studio album by the band was another commercial smash which spent eight weeks on top of the charts and sold nearly eight million copies worldwide.

The tremendous success of 1976’s Hotel California made The Eagles one of the most successful bands in the world. They went on tour for much of 1977, but frictions arose between founding members Randy Meisner and Glen Frey leading to Meisner’s departure following the tour. Ironically, Meisner was replaced in the Eagles by the same man who replaced him in his previous band Poco, bassist and vocalist Timothy B. Schmit. With this new lineup in tow, the group entered the the recording studio in late 1977, originally intending to complete a double album. However, they were unable to write enough songs and the album was ultimately delayed for two years. In the interim the group recorded and released the holiday songs “Please Come Home for Christmas” and “Funky New Year”, released as a single in 1978, while guitarist Joe Walsh recorded and released, But Seriously Folks, that same year.

The album was produced by Bill Szymczyk, who had produced every Eagles studio album since On the Border in 1974. Vocalist and drummer Don Henley was a co-writer on nine of the ten album tracks, with each of the other band members (along with a few outside the band) contributing to the writing process. The Long Run is also notable for being the final studio album on the Asylum Records label.


The Long Run by The Eagles
Released: September 24, 1979 (Asylum)
Produced by: Bill Szymczyk
Recorded: Bayshore Recording Studios, Coconut Grove, FL & One Step Up, Love n’ Comfort, Britannia Recording and Record Plant Studios, Los Angeles, March 1978-September 1979
Side One Side Two
The Long Run
I Can’t Tell You Why
In the City
The Disco Strangler
King of Hollywood
Heartache Tonight
Those Shoes
Teenage Jail
The Greeks Don’t Want no Freaks
The Sad Cafe
Group Musicians
Glenn Frey – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Joe Walsh – Guitars, Vocals
Don Felder – Guitars, Vocals
Timothy B. Schmit – Bass. Vocals
Don Henley – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The album’s title song, “The Long Run”, kicks things off. Right from the jump, the group shows they are masters at refining the song and forging a sonic masterpiece with just enough of this, a bit of that, splashed in this standard pop/rock tune, including bluesy guitar riffs, horns, and vocal choruses. Released as a single, the song reached the Top Ten in America in early 1980. From here, the album takes an immediate left turn with the pure soul love song, “I Can’t Tell You Why”, featuring Schmit on lead vocals. An excellent track (albeit hard to believe this is the Eagles), the song’s coda contains a good, long guitar lead by Frey through the final fade-out.

“In the City” got its start as a Joe Walsh solo track, co-written by Barry De Vorzon which was used on the film The Warriors. The rest of the group heard it and decided to re-record it for the album, resulting in a beautiful and melodic tune that is a true classic about the plight of urban dwellers. On “The Disco Strangler” the group switches to methodical funk with almost stream-of-consciousness vocals by Henley and oddly timed rhythms led by the bass of Schmit, However, this track seems a tad incomplete as it quickly fades out after two verses. “King of Hollywood” is nearly a pure mood piece, almost too late seventies in style for its own good. Driven by story and lyrics of selling out for fame, the track stays on the same standard beat and rhythmic pattern until the Don Felder guitar solo over the bridge.

The album’s second side is more solid musically than the first. The brilliant “Heartache Tonight” drew some songwriting from Bob Seger and J.D. Souther. The infectious beat and cool country harmony are the most memorable aspects of this track. But beyond the surface, this is really a showcase for the band’s guitarists with the mixture of rock and blues styles by Walsh and Felder interwoven throughout this popular track, which reached #1 in the U.S. in November 1979, the group’s final chart-topping song.

“Those Shoes” is built off of a simple heartbeat pulse by Schmidt and Henley with some wild guitars by Felder, who subtly use a “talkbox” effect throughout. “Teenage Jail” contains a slow country swing with some extra dense guitars above  liberal use of stop/start rudiments during the new-age first part of the closing lead section. A more standard bluesy guitar lead finishes the song that is abruptly interrupted by the start of “The Greeks Don’t Want No Freaks”. This pure fun, party song would be right at home in a frat house or a barroom, especially with the ready made with closing chant which is, perhaps, the last bit of fun the Eagles had on a record.

The album ends with its finest song. “The Sad Café” is a somber ballad about the band’s beginnings at the legendary L.A. saloon The Troubadour. Driven by simple, electric, piano notes, strummed acoustic, rounded bass, and harmonized vocals, the group’s performance is topped off by the fine lead vocals by Henley. There is also some dynamic production, especially after the bridge where the song reaches a sonic climax before coming back down to its mellow core. The song ends with an extended saxophone lead by David Sanborn, concluding the last studio track by the Eagles for a decade and a half.

Just months after the release of The Long Run, tempers reached a fevered pitch within the group, leading to an imminent breakup. The band and Szymczyk did release a final live album in 1980, but reportedly mixed the album in separate studios to stay out of each other’s way. It would not be until 1994, with Hell Freezes Over that the group would perform together again.

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1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1979 albums.

 

The End of the Innocence by Don Henley

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The End of the Innocence by Don HenleyThe End of the Innocence was Don Henley‘s best selling solo album and his lone solo release in the 16 year span between 1984 and 2000. A pure pop effort, the album spawned seven singles with six of those reaching the Top Ten of the Mainstream Rock charts and the title song reaching the Top Ten on the Billboard pop chart. The End of the Innocence expands on Henley’s extraordinary talent for composing, which dates back to the Eagles debut album, and moves firmly into the adult contemporary realm. While the sound of the album has remnants of 1980s slick, Henley’s enlistment of six co-producers, gives The End of the Innocence enough diversity to make it interesting.

Taking five years to compose and refine material for a follow-up, Henley relished in the success of his blockbuster 1984 album Building the Perfect Beast. Taking this time also gave him the time to gather some compositional, performance, and production talent for his next effort.

Among his collaborators on the album are Mike Campbell and Stan Lynch of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, musical journeyman Bruce Hornsby, and Danny Kortchmar, part of California’s “mellow mafia”, who worked with Jackson Brown, Linda Ronstadt, and Warren Zevon among others. The result is an overall high quality album, albeit uneven. When the songs are good, they are very good, profound, rewarding, and indelible. On the flip side is the cheap eighties filler which, unfortunately, there is quite a bit of between the fine tracks. Still, there is little doubt that Henley was shooting for something big on this album to solidify his legacy in rock, and there is no doubt he achieved that goal.


The End of the Innocence by Don Henley
Released: June 27 1989 (Geffen)
Produced by: Don Henley, Mike Campbell, John Corey, Bruce Hornsby, Danny Kortchmar, Greg Ladanyi, & Stan Lynch
Recorded: 1988-1989
Track Listing Primary Musicians
The End of the Innocence
How Bad Do You Want It?
I Will Not Go Quietly
The Last Worthless Evening
New York Minute
Shangri-La
Little Tin God
Gimme What You Got
If Dirt Were Dollars
The Heart of the Matter
Don Henley – Lead Vocals, Drums
Mike Campbell – Guitars, Keyboards
Bob Glaub – Bass
Stanley Jordan – Guitars, Drums, VocalsThe End of the Innocence by Don Henley

 

The End of the Innocence is bookmarked by two of its finest tracks. “The Heart of the Matter” closes and solidifies the album with a perfect tone and tenor and great melody and hook. The wise and mature lyrics about “forgiveness” wash away the bitter taste of some earlier tracks. These lyrics are accompanied by fine musical motifs, from the opening twangy guitar riff through the many rooms of pleasant melody and sonic bliss. “The Heart of the Matter” was co-written by Campbell, and sometimes-Eagles contributor J.D. Souther and reached the Top 20 with significant airplay. The opening title track was co-written by Hornsby and features his deliberate, choppy piano style backing Henley’s melancholy driven melody. This is pure, calm, adult-oriented music with lyrics about the the shattering of childhood simplicity. with low-key yet tremendously effective vocals. “The End of the Innocence” also features an outstanding soprano sax lead by Wayne Shorter which adds to the overall mood of longing for redemption.

The original first side of the album includes a few pure eighties rockers that could be mistaken for cheesy movie soundtracks. After a strong percussion intro, “How Bad Do You Want It” is driven by a sax riff with synth decor and simple rhythms. The straight-forward melody and catchy hook is accompanied by background vocals by many including Sheryl Crow. “I Will Not Go Quietly” has some blues-based guitar riffing but is mainly rock-oriented with simple, hard rock drum beats up front. This song also kind of awkwardly features Axl Rose on backing vocals.

The middle of the album contains a couple more fine tracks. “The Last Worthless Evening” has acoustic with electric overtones reminiscent of Eagles. This stellar – musical mix and production to compliment Henley’s excellent vocals, perhaps his best on the album. The harmonized hook in the bridge brings this song , co-written by John Corey, to the next level. Like a classic movie score with high strings and a club piano out front, “New York Minute” arrives as the album’s most unique and interesting track. The song proper features a fine electric piano by Toto member David Paich along with another great sax solo by Shorter.

The remainder of the album contains songs of lesser quality which have not held up over time. “Shangri-La” starts with a semi-interesting percussive intro before it breaks into a lame attempt at a dance song. “Little Tin God” contains a reggae beat and is a little better than the rest of the filler, due to the great middle high-pitch bend synth solo. “Gimme What You Got” features a pleasant melody and good guitar textures but quickly gets old as it progresses. “If Dirt Were Dollars” has a good bluesy acoustic by Campbell throughout, but the lyrics and delivery are cheap (“as dirt”) as it is trite, preachy, and hard to get through. It is tracks like these that keep The End of the Innocence from being an absolute classic.

Still, the album sold over 6 million copies in the United States alone and won Henley his second Grammy award for Best male Vocalist in 1990. With various Eagles reunions through the 1990s. it would be another 11 years until Henley released his next solo album, Inside Job in 2000.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1989 albums.

1989 Images

 

The Eagles

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The Eagles debut albumThe Eagles produced an impressive, diverse, and sonically superior debut album in 1972, launching a successful elevation throughout the rest of the decade. The album was produced in London by Glyn Johns and was an immediate commercial and critical success. The album is extraordinarily balanced with all four band members writing and singing lead vocals on several tracks, with a mixture of rock, folk, and country, throughout musically. The sound was forged from the budding country-rock scene in Los Angeles, led by groups such as Poco, adding instruments like banjo and pedal steel guitar to the basic rock arrangement. Leading the way in forging this sound was guitarist Bernie Leadon.

Prior to forming the group, the band members all acted as backup players for singer Linda Ronstadt and all four played on her eponymous album, released in 1972. Leadon, along with bassist Randy Meisner, guitarist Glen Frey, and drummer Don Henley, decided to break off and start their band and were soon signed to the new label Asylum Records. The band’s name was allegedly suggested by Leadon during a peyote trip in the Mohave desert.

Despite their rapid formation and quick recording of this debut, it is amazingly polished and has a remarkable level of pop sensibility. The Eagles spawned three top 40 hit singles, all which remain very popular to this day, while much of the rest of the album contains well-constructed songs with incredible vocal harmonies by all four band members.


The Eagles by The Eagles
Released: June 17, 1972 (Asylum)
Produced by: Glyn Johns
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London, February 1972
Side One Side Two
Take It Easy
Witchy Woman
Chug All Night
Most Of Us Are sad
Nightingale
Train Leaves Here This Morning
Take the Devil
Early Bird
Peaceful Easy Feeling
Tryin’
Band Musicians
Glen Frey – Guitars, Keys, Vocals
Bernie Leadon – Guitars, Banjo, Vocals
Randy Meisner – Bass, Guitar, Vocals
Don Henley – Drums, Vocals

The album begins with the popular “Take It Easy”, a song written by Frey and fellow L.A. songwriter Jackson Browne. A relatively simple anthem with memorable and clever lyrics, the song possesses a definitive country/rock arrangement accented by Leadon’s frantic banjo in the second half of the tune. There are rich harmonies throughout, establishing another later trademark of the band’s on this first single which peaked at #12 on the charts.

The moody and mysterious “Witchy Woman” follows in great contrast to the opening song. Henley took over vocals on this tune he co-wrote with Leadon, and showcases his fantastic vocal talents for the only time on this album. Leadon adds to the mood with his great guitar on this tune that he began while a member of the band Flying Burrito Brothers at the beginning of the 1970s. The song’s protagonist was inspired by Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of author F. Scott Fitzgerald, and inspiration for many of his female literary characters.

The remainder of the first side contains the only real weak spots on the album. Frey’s “Chug All Night” is pretty much a throwaway song, the worst on the album. The country-waltz “Most of Us Are Sad” was also written by Frey, but sang by Meisner, while “Nightingale” is more upbeat country / folk. This last song on side one is the second contribution by Jackson Browne and has the quintessential early 1970s California sound with more great harmonies during choruses.

Side two is much more interesting. It starts with “Train Leaves Here This Morning”, co-written by Leaden and former Byrd Gene Clark. This is a great, laid back tune, much like Neil Young’s title song to Harvest, but with the added bonus of very rich vocals. The subtle acoustic is accented by calm electric slow riffs, which shows the definite Byrds influence. “Take the Devil” was composed and sang by Meisner and is almost like a dark twin to “Witchy Woman”, although it is clear that Meisner does not have the vocal range of Henley. “Earlybird” gets off to a very unique start with odd percussion and bird whistles. This Leadon tune has a heavy banjo presence throughout (almost as an arpeggio replacement for the bass) along with the inclusion of some wild guitars over top.

“Peaceful Easy Feeling” is a calm acoustic love song composed by L.A, singer/songwriter Jack Tempchin and delivered masterfully by Frey. The country-flavored ballad set in the desert (an image the Eagles ran with on their earliest material) became the third top 40 hit off the album, peaking at #22. The album concludes with Meisner’s upbeat “Tryin” which returns to the genre established on the first side that would one day be deemed “outlaw country”.

The three “hits” from The Eagles album comprised about a third of the 1976 compilation Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975, which became the top-selling album of the 20th century. Although this is a fantastic feat, it conversely dampened sales of the Eagles first four studio albums, the best of which was this 1972 debut.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1972 albums.

 

The Movie Soundtrack

Fast Times at Ridgemont High, 1982The movie soundtrack has become a great source for discovering music. Many dramatic scenes are fully augmented by appropriate audio, which in turn drives sales of the songs themselves. It is a nice cross-marketing scheme, but as far as top quality works of new original music by various artists. there are surprisingly few of these albums that actually hold up well over time.

We’ve decided to this feature while our regular reviews look at the year 1982, because that was the year when, in our opinion, the best of these movie soundtracks was released, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The soundtrack features songs of many of the eras quintessential rock artists, most of which were not released elsewhere on conventional artist album. Both this movie and album soundtrack ushered in a heyday for such movie soundtracks (as well as copycat movies) through the early and mid 1980s. But before we delve into the merits of this particular soundtrack, let’s look at some other important soundtracks throughout the years.

Easy Rider soundtrack, 1969A significant early soundtrack is that for the 1969 cult film Easy Rider, a film often remembered for its late 1960’s rock music. The album was a surprise chart hit, peaking at #6 on the Billboard album charts, and is most associate with a sub-genre known as “biker music”. Steppenwolf is featured most prominently, as “Born To Be Wild” is played during the opening scene and another song, “The Pusher” leads off the soundtrack itself. Other songs featured on Easy Rider include The Byrd‘s “Wasn’t Born to Follow”, “Don’t Bogart Me” by Fraternity of Man and If 6 Was 9″ by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The producers of this soundtrack also utilized a practice which is prominent to this day. When they encountered problems in licensing the original recording of “The Weight” by The Band, they commissioned the artist Smith to record a cover version for the soundtrack. A couple more covers of Bob Dylan were recorded by Roger McGuinn for the album.

Heavy Metal soundtrack, 1981Heavy Metal was a 1981 rotoscoping-animated film, which employs various science fiction and fantasy stories adapted from Heavy Metal magazine. Due to many legal wranglings involving the copyrights of some of the music, the film and soundtrack were unavailable, except through underground, pirated copies. It was finally released on CD and videocassette (along with a simultaneous re-release in theaters) in 1996. Although the film is called “heavy metal”, the music itself includes original music from various rock genres. This includes songs by Sammy Hagar, Blue Öyster Cult, Cheap Trick, Devo, Donald Fagen, Journey, Grand Funk Railroad, Cheap Trick, Don Felder, and Stevie Nicks. Probably the only true “heavy metal” band represented is Black Sabbath, whose song “The Mob Rules” is featured.

Vision Quest soundtrack, 1985The 1985 soundtrack to the movie Vision Quest includes a nice mixture of pop and rock tunes and featured some high charting hits. These include the Madonna ballad “Crazy for You” and the song “Only the Young” by Journey, the last release by that band’s classic lineup. Other highlights from this soundtrack are “Change” by John Waite, “Hungry for Heaven” by Dio, “Lunatic Fringe” by Red Rider and “I’ll Fall in Love Again” by Sammy Hagar, one his last solo releases before joining up with Van Halen.

Pretty In Pink soundtrack, 1986The 1980s were, by far, the heyday for soundtracks, many more then we could possibly cover here. A series of teen-oriented movies by director John Hughes including The Breakfast Club, and Pretty In Pink. The music from these focused primarily on new wave artists such as Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Simple Minds, The Psychedelic Furs, New Order, Echo & the Bunnymen, and The Smiths. Several other 1980s soundtracks includes the songs by Kenny Loggins, a seventies folk singer who basically made a career out of movie soundtrack songs in the 1980s. Loggins wrote and performed “I’m Alright” from Caddyshack, the title song from Footloose, and “Danger Zone” from Top Gun, all of which were the most prominent songs from those respective films.

We’ve decided to use a rather narrow definition of this category which we’re focusing on for this profile. Basically, the main criteria is original music, recently produced, by various artists. Since this excludes, many fine soundtracks, we’ll look at some of the better which fall outside our criteria.

Artist Centric Soundtracks

Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour promoMovies which were built around the music of a specific artist have been around almost as long as there have been movies and recorded music. During the classic rock era, this was made most prominent by The Beatles, who made four movies with accompanying soundtracks of their original music. Of these, Magical Mystery Tour is the most interesting, primarily because the music is so excellent while the film itself is so terrible (later this year, we will do a regular review of this album).

Following in the Beatles footsteps were scores of these types of soundtracks for films at all different levels of production from major Hollywood worldwide productions to documentaries. Some of the best of these include David Bowie‘s 1973 Ziggy Stardust movie, Led Zeppelin 1976 rendition of The Song Remains the Same (something we’ve touched on during a previous special feature on The Live Album), The Bee Gees-centric soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever, Prince‘s 1984 blockbuster Purple Rain, and U2‘s 1988 Rattle and Hum, another one where the music is far superior to the film.

Of course, tribute movies to specific artists will also fall in this category (as well as the next), and there have been several standouts here, from Oliver Stone’s The Doors to the Johnny Cash bio Walk the Line to the bio on Ray Charles. There are hundreds more of these films, television series, and documentaries.

A unique type of these are those films that feature fictional bands but still produce interesting music. Prominent among this category are Eddie and the Cruisers from the 1980s and Tom Hanks’ That Thing You Do! from the 1990s, both of which focus on the early to mid 1960s era.

Soundtracks of Music from the Distant Past

Almost Famous, 2000Along with some of those mentioned above, there have also been some great movie soundtracks that include past music using various artists, usually due to the story itself being set sometime in the past. The best of these include Goodfellas, Forrest Gump, and Almost Famous. The latter is a film by Cameron Crowe and it profiles his own start as a rock journalist while he was still a teenager. In Crowe’s later life writing screenplays for films, music plays a strong role and the soundtracks are all all interesting. Other Crowe movies include 1989’s Say Anything, Singles, Jerry Maguire, and his 1982 debut film Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which brings us back to the focus of this article.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High soundtrack, 1982Several of the movie’s songs became hit singles, including Jackson Browne‘s “Somebody’s Baby”, which reached #7 on the Billboard chart. But the excellence of this album lies in the number of great songs by top-notch artists which (a the time) were not available anywhere else. Despite the comedic genre of the film and its suggestive title, many of these songs are great ballads such as “Love Rules” by Don Henley, “Love Is the Reason” by Graham Nash, and “Sleeping Angel” by Stevie Nicks. Other standouts were the title track by Sammy Hagar, “I Don’t Know (Spicoli’s Theme)” by Jimmy Buffett, “So Much in Love” by Timothy B. Schmit, “Never Surrender” by Don Felder, and “Waffle Stomp” by Joe Walsh (for those of you keeping score, that is four of the five members of The Eagles when they broke up a year earlier).

As this movie was oozing with rock n roll, several songs in the film itself, were not even included on the soundtrack. These include “We Got the Beat” by The Go Go’s, “Moving in Stereo” by The Cars, “American Girl” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”, which plays after dialogue about “the second side of Zeppelin 4” (which does not include “Kashmir”). There is further dialogue in the film that talked about Pat Benatar, Cheap Trick, Earth Wind & Fire, and Debbie Harry of Blondie and, during the school dance scene, the band plays covers of “Life in the Fast Lane” and “Wooly Bully”. There may never again be movie which is not primarily about music, that contains so much great music.

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Ric Albano

Hotel California by The Eagles

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Hotel California by the EaglesWhether it was done intentionally or not, Hotel California came pretty close to being a true concept album by The Eagles. The songs each loosely share the themes of paradise lost or squandered and the album is bookmarked by geographical locations of such. As the band’s fifth album, it was transitional in several ways including music and personnel wise. Guitarist Bernie Leadon, a strong influence on the band’s country sound of the early years was replaced by funk-rock guitarist Joe Walsh, who had previously fronted the groups James Gang and Barnstorm. As a result, the band’s sound got a bit heavier while never abandoning its mainstream pop sensibilities.

The album was produced by Bill Szymczyk, who had produced the Eagles previous two albums as well as several albums by Joe Walsh and the James Gang. Szymczyk was noted for laboriously experimenting until he found the right “sound” in each artist, as the producer possessed no musical talent or training, just extraordinary listening skills. The band took 18 months between releases of their previous album One of These Night and Hotel California, with eight of those months in the studio recording.

Thematically, members of the Eagles have described the album as a metaphor for the perceived decline of America. The band’s lead singer, songwriter, and drummer Don Henley said that because it was the bicentennial year and the “Eagle” is the symbol of our country, they felt obliged to make some kind of artistic statement. He explained how they used California as a microcosm of the whole United States, with comments on the nature of success and the attraction of excess, and an extremely pessimistic history of America.

 

Don Henley – Drums, Vocals


Hotel California by The Eagles
Released: December 8, 1976 (Asylum)
Produced by: Bill Szymczyk
Recorded: Criteria Studios, Miami & Record Plant, L.A., March-October 1976
Side One Side Two
Hotel California
New Kid In Town
Life In the Fast Lane
Wasted Time
Wasted Time (Reprise)
Victim of Love
Pretty Maids All In the Row
Try and Love Again
The Last Resort
Band Musicians
Glenn Frey – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Joe Walsh – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Don Felder – Guitars, Vocals
Randy Meisner – Bass, Guitarron, Vocals

 

While the lyrical content of the album is up for debate, the true beauty of Hotel California is the sound, much of which was unlike anything the Eagles had done before. The opening theme song starts with long acoustic/electric intro, which was originally introduced to the band by lead guitarist Don Felder as an instrumental piece. This acts as a dramatic overture before the song kicks in with a quasi-Caribbean rhythm and beat with the first verse and the cryptic, yet intriguing, storytelling lyrics. However, the real treat that makes this song a bonafide classic are the dual electric guitars by Walsh and Felder, which float above the lyric stinging electric melodies throughout the verse and chorus, and take center stage with the long, dual guitar lead to close the song.

To this day, many of the unique terms and phases used in the song’s lyric are debated as to their exact meaning or intent. These include “colitas”, “this could be Heaven or this could be Hell”, “wine” referred to as a “spirit” (which it is not), “steely knives”, and the key phase of the song – “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”.

After this unique artistic masterpiece, the band serves up a couple of songs which both went on to be big hits, one in the country-rock style of the past, and one in the heavier rock style of the future. “New Kid In Town” is probably the greatest country rock song ever (if there ever really was such a genre) It has some great chord structure, a beautiful mix of instrumentation, and more great guitar by Don Felder, although much less subtle than on the title song. Co-written by J.D. Souther and sung by Glenn Frey, the song ascends keys in the third verse and then finds a smooth passage back before the outtro, in a piece of musical mastery. “Life In the Fast Lane” features a heavy guitar riff and lead by Joe Walsh, with lyrics that are a bit edgy. It uses the driving analogy for a drug and danger fueled lifestyle and contains a great hook with an almost-disco beat. The nice flanged section after last chorus gives the song an edgy, new-wave feel that makes the sound quite advanced for 1976.

Eagles in 1976

The first side ends with “Wasted Time”, a song that may be the perfect barroom ballad speaking of broken relationships. The song is very slow and measured, with great vocals by Henley. However, the orchestral reprise of the song which opens up the second side of the album is, in fact, “wasted time” as it adds absolutely nothing to the album. This short foray is mercifully disrupted by the hard rocker “Victim of Love”, a song which proves that the Eagles can do more with two chords than any other band ever. This song was recorded live in the studio and contains a great descend into a slide solo by Joe Walsh.

Walsh’s only songwriting and lead vocal effort is “Pretty Maids All In a Row”, which is not a very strong representation of his talents. It is a piano ballad, surprising by Walsh with Felder playing the lead guitar role. “Try and Love Again” was written and sung by bassist Randy Meisner, who has that strange kind of voice which gives songs a cool edge, such on his “Take It To the Limit” on the previous album. Hotel California would be Meisner’s last album with the band, as he decided to return to his native Nebraska in order to be with his family.

The album concludes with Henley’s “The Last Resort”, which bookends the “Hotel California” theme nicely on one hand, but is kind of the anti-Hotel California on another hand. Where that classic song is poetic and leaves much room for interpretation, this one is preachy with lyrics that are a bit bigoted, racist, elitist, and yet self-loathing, taking away from the otherwise beautiful melody and score. All that being said, the song does include some profound lyrics;

There is no more new frontier, we have got to make it here
You call something paradise, kiss it goodbye…”

 
Hotel California would be the absolute pinnacle of the The Eagles’ career, selling more than any other of their multiple successes and being considered high up on several “all time” lists. The band went on to record one more studio album, The Long Run, which took even longer to create. Although that album was also a smash hit, it contributed greatly to the tensions that ultimately broke up the band in 1980.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1976 albums.

 

Bella Donna by Stevie Nicks

Bella Donna by Stevie NicksAfter three albums with Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks was doubtlessly the most recognizable figure in that popular and talented band. However, her actual participation as far as songwriting and lead vocals had never eclipsed 50% on any of those albums. So prior to her debut solo effort in 1981, there was uncertainty about how a full album of her music would pan out. One serious listen to Bella Donna would set all doubt aside. This debut solo album went on to achieve critical and commercial success, topping the U.S. album charts and spawning four Top 40 hit singles, while reaching the Top 20 in six other nations.

The album contains ten songs composed by Nicks on piano over several years while on tour with Fleetwood Mac in the late seventies. These songs were then enhanced by producer Jimmy Iovine and a posse of talent, ranging from headline acts like Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Don Henley, formerly of The Eagles, to top-notch session musicians such as Donald “Duck” Dunn from the famed Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama. The result is an interesting and pleasant listen which contains some timeless works that flirt with pop, country, and folk while remaining distinctive and original.
 


Bella Donna by Stevie Nicks
Released: July 27, 1981 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Jimmy Iovine and Tom Petty
Recorded: Studio 55, Los Angeles, Autumn 1980 – Spring 1981
Side One Side Two
 Bella Donna
 Kind of Woman
 Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around
 Think About It
 After the Glitter Fades
Edge of Seventeen
How Still My Love
Leather and Lace
Outside the Rain
The Highwayman
Primary Musicians
Stevie Nicks – Lead Vocals, Piano
Tom Petty – Guitars, Vocals
Don Henley – Drums, Vocals
Lori Perry & Sharon Celani – Backing Vocals
Waddy Wachtel – Guitars
Roy Bittan – Piano
Dan Dugmore – Pedal Steel
Bob Glaub – Bass
Russ Kunkel – Drums

 

…and we fight for the northern star”

While Bella Donna‘s opening title song is definitely Fleetwood Mac-esque in it’s calm approach and long sustained guitar drones, it also contains a more ceremonious or ritualistic feel, like some kind of mass, as it vacillates between beatless sound scape and rhythmic drive. It is followed by “Kind of Woman”, another very calm, almost melancholy song, with a waltz-like beat an excellent guitar lead.

The album then abruptly takes a radical turn with “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”, one of two songs by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers on the album, along with the entertaining “Outside the Rain” on the second side. That band didn’t use these songs for themselves (and their current album, Hard Promises really could’ve used these), and the resultant Nicks-led recordings add a completely new dimension to Bella Donna.
 

 
“Leather and Lace” is a true duet with Henley, resulting in a moody and romantic ballad which has a sparse acoustic arrangement that really showcases the vocal talents of both. On the other end of the pop spectrum, “Edge of Seventeen” offered a rhythmic dance beat with a near rap in between the oft-repeated chorus about the “white winged dove”. Rumor has it that the title was coined by Tom Petty’s wife, who replied “age of seventeen” when asked by Nicks how old they were when they first met. But Stevie mis-heard this as “edge of seventeen” and was instantly taken by the concept.

Perhaps the most enjoyable song on the album, “After the Glitter Fades” is a pure country song, reminiscent to some of Olivia Newton John’s early stuff, with dynamic vocals nicely complimenting to rich arrangement, which contains virtuoso piano by Roy Bittan and masterful pedal steel by Dan Dugmore.

Stevie Nicks would continue on with Fleetwood Mac as well as produce more solo albums with much success in both throughout the rest of the 1980s and well into the 1990s. But artistically, she would not again reach the heights of Bella Donna in either side of her musical career.

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1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1981 albums.