Formed in L.A. in 1971, The Eagles developed into the standard-bearers for the country-rock sound. Over the decades, they became one of the most successful American bands in music history. Remarkably, despite ups and downs, departures and deaths, the band continues to operate today. Their self-titled debut album was released 50 years ago this week. In recognition of that lengthy history, here’s a breakdown of the band’s story by the numbers.
One Linda Rondstadt
Drummer Don Henley and guitarist Glenn Frey were invited to join Linda Rondstadt’s backing band in 1971. Bassist Randy Meisner and multi-instrumentalist Bernie Leadon also played in her back-up rotation, but the four men only played together at one show. When Henley and Frey decided to form their own group, they asked Meisner and Leadon to come along. By September of that year, the quartet signed to Asylum Records as The Eagles.
Six Decades of Glyn Johns
Legendary producer, engineer, and mixer Glyn Johns manned the boards for the band’s debut album. Johns is rock royalty, having worked with The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Steve Miller Band, Bob Dylan, The Who, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, The Clash, and David Bowie. Johns nearly passed on working with Eagles because he thought that the country and rock fusion wasn’t working. He changed his mind after hearing the four musicians harmonizing their vocals together; realizing that the harmonies were the key to their music, he took the job and helped create the sound of The Eagles across their first three albums.
Three Immediate Hit Singles
All four members contributed to the songwriting on the album; Jackson Browne, Gene Clark, and Jack Tempchin also wrote or co-wrote tunes. The vocals on the ten songs were spread between the four members; Frey and Meisner each handled three while Henley and Leadon took two. From the ten tunes, the three singles were “Take It Easy” (by Frey and Browne with vocals by Frey), “Witchy Woman” (by Henley and Leadon with vocals by Henley), and “Peaceful Easy Feeling” (by Tempchin with Frey’s vocals). “Take It Easy” went to #12, “Witchy Woman” cracked the Top Ten at #9, and “Peaceful Easy Feeling” reached #22.
#207 and One Million
Eagles has been certified as having sold one million copies in the U.S. In the 2020 revision of their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list, Rolling Stone places the band’s debut at #207.
Many of the singles released by The Eagles have become staples of rock radio. Five of the songs (“Best of My Love,” “One of the These Nights,” “New Kid in Town,” “Hotel California,” and “Heartache Tonight”) went to #1. Even songs that didn’t crack the Top 40, like “Tequila Sunrise” have become familiar due to their airplay popularity.
Over the course of the band’s career, they’ve released seven studio albums, three live albums, and a number of compilations. While they lack the output of similarly long-lived bands, part of that can be attributed to the 14-year hiatus the band undertook between 1980 and 1994.
Of those compilations, Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975), holds the distinction of being recognized as the best-selling album to be released in the United States in the Twentieth Century. It’s certified at sales exceeding 38 million copies. That puts it above even Michael Jackson’s Thriller; Thriller did overtake for several years after Jackson’s death, starting in 2009, but Hits surpassed it again as of 2018.
Their best-selling studio album remains 1976’s Hotel California, which has notched sales of 26 million to date. All told, the entirety of the band’s catalog accounts for over 200 million records sold worldwide. The song “Hotel California” is arguably their best-known; it hit #1, sold over three million singles, and won the Grammy for Record of the Year in 1978. The group has earned five other Grammys and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.
Nine Members and Scott
The line-up of The Eagles has changed many times over the years. Until the 1980 break, Henley and Frey were the only constant members. Don Felder joined as additional guitarist in 1974. Leadon was replaced by Joe Walsh in 1975, and Timothy B. Schmitt took over for Meisner in 1977. When the band returned in 1994, Henley, Frey, Walsh, Schmitt, and Felder were in the band; Felder was dismissed in 2001.
In 2007, the band released their first new album in years, Long Road Out of Eden. The band continued to tour and oversaw the release of the documentary History of the Eagles before Glenn Frey passed away in 2016. His son, Deacon, then joined the group, as did renowned country star Vince Gill. Deacon left to pursue a solo career in 2022; the current core of the band is Henley, Walsh, Schmitt, and Gill. Additionally, touring drummer Scott F. Crago has been playing with the band since 1994. The group’s other current backing players include guitarist Steurt Smith and keyboardists Michael Thompson and Will Hollis.
This year, the band continues to tour with several dates set for Europe in June. They are presently playing the entirety of Hotel California and an additional greatest hits set. One hiatus aside, it’s safe to assume that as long as the Eagles exists, they’re going to really (forgive this) take it easy.
Featured image: Don Henley, Glenn Frey, and Joe Walsh from the Eagles (Shutterstock)
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