Eagles' Influences & Inspirations
by Justin Farrar | October 15, 2014
Rhapsody has officially declared it Classic Rock-tober! That means it's time to crank things up to 11, as we travel back in time to salute the finest in classic rock. Stay tuned each day of October for a new reason to rock out.
One of the recurring themes in the utterly engrossing History of the Eagles: The Story of an American Band is Glenn Frey and Don Henley's adamant belief that they were far more than a mere country rock act. In numerous interview clips, the two make the point all too clear that they aspired to be that rare group capable of appropriating just about any style, from hard rock and pure pop to progressive rock and disco funk. Contrary to their always amped-up detractors, who shrilly dismiss the Eagles as denim-clad charlatans who ripped off The Byrds (and their extended family), there's a lot of truth in Henley and Frey's assertions. I mean, sure, the band definitely was influenced by The Byrds, Gram Parsons and Gene Clark, as well as the rest of the California country rock scene: Poco, Rick Nelson, Linda Ronstadt (with whom Frey and Henley toured and recorded), Neil Young, Michael Nesmith and one Iain Matthews. A former member of Fairport Convention who relocated from England to Los Angeles in the early '70s, Matthews is notable for his 1973 arrangement of the Steve Young composition "Seven Bridges Road." It's the very same arrangement the Eagles used for their version, released as a single seven years later.
But as any hardcore Eagles fan can tell you, these country rock influences had largely faded away by the time the band recorded 1975's One of These Nights. The title track, one of pop's earliest examples of rock-disco hybridization, suggests that Frey and Henley (who both obviously possessed voracious appetites when checking out new music) were grooving to a lot of Philly soul and Barry White. Then there's the mighty Hotel California, unleashed the following year; its iconic title cut is such a masterful blend of ideas that after all these years it still blows me away. First off, the underpinning reggae groove, originally conceived by Don Felder, probably means the guitarist was a fan of Bob Marley (who by 1973 had made significant inroads in the pop marketplace). Meanwhile, Joe Walsh and Felder's pristinely intertwining guitars strongly echo the quasi-classical fretwork of Queen's Brian May. Also worth pointing out is the song's wonderfully slow-motion grandiosity. For six and a half glorious minutes it unfolds like a titanic thunderhead lurching across the open sky. I've always been of the opinion that this striking quality is, on some level, inspired by Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon, which really did pioneer the whole dreamy-meets-bigger-than-life thing ubiquitous in mid-'70s rock.
Lastly, let's touch on venomous rockers like "Life in the Fast Lane" and "The Disco Strangler." These, in my very humble opinion, prove that Frey and Henley brought Walsh into the fold in late 1975 not only to beef up their sound, but also because they were actual fans of the hard rocker's music both as a solo artist and as a member of James Gang. After all, the funky strut motoring the aforementioned jams is something Walsh had honed as early as 1970.
Needless to say, the game I'm playing here could be pushed to ridiculous ends. For example, I easily could devote an entire paragraph to how the Eagles' concept album Desperado was profoundly inspired by Mason Proffit, a little known folk rock group that also dressed up as cowboys and sang about Wild West outlaws, only they did it several years before Frey and Henley even joined forces. But hey, I'm sure you get the point of my playlist. Enjoy all the killer music. Hopefully, it will inspire you to explore more deeply some of the artists mentioned in this post.