new strain of rock spread from Los Angeles in the early '70s. It grafted the instrumentation of country and bluegrass music onto the harmonies of California surfer rock, producing tender ballads and soft top-down pop about girls, cars and rock and roll. The nuclei of this genre were singer/songwriters, among them Jackson Browne, J. D. Souther and Warren Zevon, and their interpreters like Linda Ronstadt. But it was a single band whose name became synonymous with southern California country rock -- the Eagles.
Curiously, not one of the four founders was a Californian by birth. Glenn Frey (born November 6, 1948, in Detroit) escaped Michigan's cold winters and musically stultifying frat and bar scene, bringing with him an R&B heritage, a Jack Kerouac quest for life and a sports vocabulary.
Stringed instruments -- banjo, mandolin and pedal steel, as well as the simple guitar, intrigued Bernie Leadon (born July 19, 1947, in Minneapolis, Minnesota), whose passion for country and bluegrass shaped the band's early direction. A car and cycle buff, Randy Meisner (born March 8, 1946, in Scottsbluff, Nebraska) preferred spending time with his family to playing bass in a rock and roll band.
Play, though, he did -- as they all did -- in bands like Poco, Dillard and Clark, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Rick Nelson's Stone Canyon Band, Longbranch Pennywhistle and the Stone Poneys. Linda Ronstadt (see "You're No Good") was preparing for a 1971 tour when her then-manager, John Boylan, extracted Frey, Leadon and Meisner from their affiliations. They were short a drummer until Frey recalled someone he'd met in the bar of the Troubadour, a favorite haunt for unemployed musicians in Los Angeles. He phoned Henley. "I was broke and here was a chance for $200 a week," Don told Robert Hilburn in the Los Angeles Times. While rooming together during the two-month tour, Frey and Henley decided to form their own band. With Leadon and Meisner as their partners, they released their initial album, Eagles, filled with pure, innocent country rock. Their next LP, Desperado, made it clear these were no relocated Nashville pickers with pretty four-part harmonies. The album was themed on old west outlaws and introduced the group's penchant for conceptual songwriting. For a time it attracted the attention of film director Sam Peckinpah, who talked of turning the record into his next western, but discussions did not produce any celluloid results.
By the time the Eagles were ready to begin On the Border, a crisis of styles was beginning to brew. Glyn Johns, a producer chosen for his work with the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and the Who, tended to extract the lush, melodic side of the band's double-edged music. Instead, they were pulled by the tougher, gut rock they experienced while touring with Joe Walsh. On night, he played them part of The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get, his soon-to-be released album produced by Bill Szymczyk, a veteran of B. B. King and J. Geils Band recordings.
Szymczyk remembers the Eagles called him and said, "We want to rock." Though they had completed two-thirds of their sessions with Johns, including "Best of My Love," lock, stock and overdub moved to California to complete the LP under Szymczyk's guidance. To reinforce their new sound, they called in studio musician Don Felder, to add slide guitar to "Good Day in Hell." "He just blew us all away," enthused Frey. "It was about the best guitar work we'd ever heard." Two days later, Felder (born September 21, 1947, in Topanga, California) officially became the fifth Eagle.
Prior to "Best of My Love," only one of the seven Eagles' singles had made the top 10 ("Witchy Woman" peaked at nine in November, 1972). "Best of My Love" entered the Billboard Hot 100 at number 83 on November 30, 1974, and became the Eagles' first chart-topper 13 weeks later.
- Fred Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard, 1988.
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