The “Outlaw” Eagles!
It’s hard to believe, but the second Eagles album bombed when it was released – but is now considered a seminal part of the band’s history!
For a time in the 70’s, rock’n’roll bands were the new “Wild West Outlaws.” For The Eagles, that inspired them to create an album that tied life in a rock band to life in the “wild west” – an ode to the “outlaw” in all of us – and when it was released, “Desperado” bombed!
The “Desperado” Debacle!
Here is the setup to the release of “Desperado” in 1973. The Eagles had released their debut album a year earlier, and it was an immediate success for the new band, hitting No. 22 on the charts.
Their debut album included three hit singles: “Peaceful Easy Feeling” – which reached #22, “Take It Easy” just missed the top ten at No. 12, and “Witchy Woman” was a #9 hit – and the band was credited for the emergence of the “Southern California sound.”
The future looked bright for Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner!
The Making Of “Desperado!”
The Eagles entered the studio with an idea: they would write a concept album based on the themes of the Old West. The band members are featured on the album’s cover dressed like an outlaw gang, and the songs touched on the concept of rockers as “outlaws”, always on the run.
Desperado remains the only Eagles album where the band members appear on the front cover! Here is a look at the criminally overlooked Eagles album, “Desperado”:
The album starts with “Doolin’ Dalton” – setting the scene for the album…
“They were duelin’, Doolin-Dalton
High or low, it was the same
Easy money and faithless women
Red-eye whiskey for the pain
Go down, Bill Dalton, it must be God’s will,
Two brothers lyin’ dead in Coffeyville
Two voices call to you from where they stood
Lay down your law books now
They’re no damn good
Better keep on movin’, Doolin-Dalton
‘Til your shadow sets you free
If you’re fast, and if you’re lucky
You will never see that hangin’ tree”
Here is a beautiful live version, which begins with Glenn Frey playing a wailing harmonica…this clip also includes the finale of the album as well…
“Twenty One” is next, an ode to youth and freedom…
“Twenty-one and strong as I can be
I know what freedom means to me
And I can’t give the reason why
I should ever want to die”
“Out Of Control”
This is the hardest-edged rocker on the album – the story of a band of outlaws riding into town and looking for trouble……
“Oh my, don’t the sky look spacious
With the stars all shinin’ down
Well, I can hear the night wind howlin’
It’s a high and lonesome sound
And I ain’t had a woman in so long
I can’t feed my starvin soul
Come on, saddle up, boys, we’re gonna ride into town
We’re gonna get a little out of control”
Next up is one of the most well-known songs the band ever recorded…
Here is a beautiful live version:
Shockingly, this song wasn’t a hit! In fact, it only got to #64 on the charts! It’s hard to understand how this classic Eagles song didn’t became a huge hit single when it was released!
“Desperado” was next, the title track on the album…and one of their most beautiful songs ever:
“Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses?
You been out ridin’ fences for so long now
Oh, you’re a hard one
I know that you got your reasons
These things that are pleasin’ you
Can hurt you somehow”
While this is one of their most recognizable songs, it wasn’t even released as a single!
Here they are performing this live – from their farewell tour in 2013:
“Certain Kind Of Fool”
Side two begins with “Certain Kind Of Fool”, and here is a live version from that era, which begins with Glenn Frey discussing their “outlaw album”, and how they needed a song explaining how they became outlaws….here you go:
As you can see from this vintage billboard, the band was selling this album as their ode to the wild west, and the next song played it up big:
Here are the opening lyrics to the song:
“I am an Outlaw, I was born an Outlaw’s son
The highway is my legacy
On the highway I will run
In one hand I’ve a Bible
In the other I’ve got a gun
Well, don’ you know me, I’m the man who won
Woman don’t try to love me
Don’t try to understand
A life upon the road
Is the life of an outlaw man”
Here is a terrific live version from 1976:
As you can see in the photo, the life of an outlaw doesn’t last long – and that is Jackson Brown to the far left on the ground as well…the songs on “Desperado” told a story, and were terrific. “Outlaw Man’ was just the kind of hard-edged rock that Frey was pushing the band toward…but there is another, softer side to the album as well…
“Whatever Happened To Saturday Night?”
The next song on the album makes use of the band’s terrific harmonies. When the band went on their “History Of The Eagles” tour, Frey and Henley started the show sitting alone on stools at the front of the stage, singing the gorgeous song “Saturday Night”.
Here is a terrific live version from 1973:
Thanks to “Meisnettes – Randy Meisner Fans” on YouTube for posting this and the “Certain Kind Of Fool” and “Outlaw Man” clips…follow them for a lot of great Meisner moments!
I loved seeing Henly and Frey harmonize on “Saturday Night”, then joined onstage by Bernie Leadon! Here is my review of the “History” tour, with clips from several of their live performances:
Up next on the album was “Bitter Creek”, written and sung by Bernie Leadon:
Leadon wrote about a band of outlaws looking for one last score…because there is always “all that money, no more running'”…
“We’re gonna hit the road for one last time
We can walk right in and steal ’em blind
All that money
No more runnin’
I can’t wait to see the old man’s face
When I win the race
The album ends with a reprise of “Doolin’ Dalton” that segues into an encore of “Desperado”…
Here is a great live version by the band…appears to be around the time of the “Hell Freezes Over” tour…
So, with a hot young band, great songs like “Tequila Sunrise” and “Desperado”, and the popularity of the southern california sound, why didn’t fans buy the album? It took more than a year for “Desperado” to be certified gold, and a full decade to go platinum!
What went wrong? Concept albums are notoriously difficult to market – perhaps the band focused too much on the “outlaw” concept…and did they need a bigger hit single out of the gate?
Maybe these guys didn’t look as accessible as they did on the first album…or the music was too soft, without a big pop hit like “Witchy Woman” or “Take It Easy”…it’s easy to have 20/20 hindsight, but there was some reason the music didn’t catch on at the time…for whatever reason, the album was a bomb, and the band needed to come up with a new plan!
Goodbye Glyn, Hello Don!
And a new plan it was – out with Producer Glyn Johns and in with new Eagles Guitarist Don Felder! Glenn Freiy wanted a sound that had more “rock and roll” to it. And that they got! Read all about the smash hit “On The Border” here!
Leave me a message – let me know why you think “Desperado” didn’t connect with fans at the time!