Glenn Frey and the Eagles - the band that soared to new heights

Glenn Frey, who has died aged 67,  performing in Arizona. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso, File)Glenn Frey, who has died aged 67,  performing in Arizona. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso, File)
Glenn Frey, who has died aged 67, performing in Arizona. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso, File)
Following the death of the Eagles guitarist Glenn Frey, Chris Bond looks back at the band's heyday and what made them one of the biggest rock acts of all time.

THE Eagles were one of the biggest selling rock bands of all time, never mind the 1970s.

Their heady cocktail of breezy harmonies and easy-going lyrics introduced country-rock to a whole generation of music fans.

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But while songs like tracks like Take It Easy, Hotel California and Tequila Sunrise conjure images of pretty girls and endless blue skies, rock music publisher and journalist Chris Charlesworth says their first, eponymous, album had less glamorous beginnings.

“If you listen to Take It Easy which describes driving through Arizona you think it must have been recorded California, but actually it was recorded in Olympic Studios in rainy south London,” he says.

Charlesworth interviewed some of the biggest names in music as a rock journalist in the 70s, including Glenn Frey, who died yesterday at the age of 67, and fellow band member Don Henley.

Frey co-founded the Eagles in 1971 with Don Henley, Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner and Charlesworth says Frey and Henley were key figures in a band whose total album sales top the 100 million mark.

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“He and Don Henley were the principal members, they were the main singers and songwriters, they were like the Lennon and McCartney of the band.”

Charlesworth says the Eagles tapped into the West Coast sound that started back in the 60s. “There were very hard-working and became hugely popular. It’s since been eclipsed since but their first greatest hits album that came out in the mid-seventies was at one time the biggest selling LP ever,” he says.

Despite their success they weren’t always popular with the critics. “There was a feeling among some people that they took what The Byrds did and made into a commercial success,” he says.

Frey’s death comes just a week after that of David Bowie and a month after Lemmy, the Motorhead frontman, passed away.

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“Glenn was the one who started it all,” Don Henley wrote on hearing of his bandmate’s death.

Frey co-wrote Hotel California with Henley and Don Felder, and composed a number of the band’s biggest songs on his own, including Heartache Tonight and Lyin’ Eyes.

Charlesworth says the musician leaves behind a big gap in the band. “He was a pivotal member, he was as important to the success of the Eagles as Roger McGuinn was to The Byrds. They changed the line-up a few times over the years but Frey was the voice on quite a lot of their hits so he’s difficult to replace.”

Simon Warner, a music lecturer at Leeds University, says few bands come close to the level of popularity enjoyed by the Eagles. “They were one of the most phenomenally successful bands of the 70s and beyond, they were one of the biggest rock acts of the late 20th Century and in terms of sales they were unbeatable.

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“They came out of that extraordinary Californian music scene that emerged in the late 60s and early 70s and spawned Crosby, Stills and Nash, Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne, and they took that West Coast sound of the late 60s to another stratosphere.”

Not that it was all plain sailing. The band broke up in 1980, with Frey and Henley becoming estranged for a number of years. Henley had vowed the Eagles would reunite only when “hell freezes over”, which became the name of the 1994 album when they re-formed.

They remain one of the most successful rock bands ever and Warner puts their appeal down to a couple of key ingredients. “They brought together the harmonies of The Beach Boys with a more down and dirty rock guitar sound which was a powerful combination, and Glenn Frey was a central figure in all that.”

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