(Pictured: the Eagles on stage, 1979.)
The Eagles disintegrated in ugly fashion in 1980, brawling after a concert, and then releasing Eagles Live, a two-disc set memorable for “Seven Bridges Road,” and for being the least spontaneous live album in history, reported to have been doctored extensively in the studio after the fact.
Two years later, with pop music on the brink of massive change thanks to MTV and Michael Jackson, the Eagles released Eagles Greatest Hits, Volume 2. Here’s a ranking of the album’s 10 tracks.
10. “After the Thrill Is Gone.” The only pre-Hotel California track on the album. “Please Come Home for Christmas,” a substantial Hot 100 hit in 1978, would have been a far better choice, but it wouldn’t see an official re-release until 2000.
9. “I Can’t Tell You Why.” Timothy B. Schmit’s moment in the sun does not sound very Eagle-ish, except for the guitar solos.
8. “Seven Bridges Road.” This song had been in the Eagles’ repertoire from the beginning, so there must be bootlegs of it performed with Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner in the band. I haven’t found one yet, however, and I would like to.
7. “The Long Run.” When the Eagles played this live, they referred to it as a tribute to the sound of Memphis. Not much of that sound gets onto the studio version, although the version on Eagles Live brings it.
6. “Life in the Fast Lane.” If you’re looking for a document of the coked-up 70s, you can scarcely do better. I liked it better in the hard-rockin’ summer of 1977 than I do now.
5. “Victim of Love.” Had the Eagles chosen to go more than three singles deep on Hotel California, “Victim of Love” would have made an excellent fourth. This is the sort of thing they never did before Joe Walsh came along.
4. “Heartache Tonight.” You’d probably have to go back to the Beatles to find a release that was as eagerly anticipated as this one in the fall of 1979.
3. “Hotel California.” This has become a polarizing record over four decades; to some people it signifies everything that’s wrong with classic rock as a radio format and dad rock as a genre. But as a creative accomplishment, it’s outdone by very little in the post-Beatles era. I know every note and nuance by heart, but I still dig it every time I hear it.
2. “The Sad Café.” This is a song I’ve written about before, as perfect a capper to the Eagles’ recorded career as side 2 of Abbey Road was for the Beatles. Anyone who has ever loved something, lost it, and wished they could have it back for just a little while, can relate to “The Sad Café”—so that’s everybody.
(If you are keeping score, that’s three straight comparisons of the Eagles to the Beatles. I regret nothing.)
1. “New Kid in Town.” Critic Stephen Erlewine wrote about Glenn Frey’s solo work and made a point about “New Kid in Town” that never really occurred to me before: as a concept album, Hotel California is more effective without it. “New Kid in Town” is a wistful song about winners and losers, while the rest of the album is all cocaine fog. Frey never sang better than he does on the bridge and the last verse, especially:
There’s talk on the street, it’s there to remind you
It doesn’t really matter which side you’re on
You’re walking away and they’re talking behind you
They will never forget you til somebody new comes along
Eagles Greatest Hits, Volume 2 reached only #52 on the Billboard 200. It and its gazillion-selling predecessor have been replaced, first by the sketchy Selected Works: 1972-1999, then by The Very Best of the Eagles, which was released in 2001 and updated in 2003. (Both Greatest Hits albums remain in print, however.)
(I brand Selected Works sketchy because each of its four discs runs about 60 minutes, so there’s room for more. It covers the band’s career from Eagles to Hell Freezes Over and includes a handful of previously unreleased tracks, two of which are cobbled-together bits of outtakes and not worth much. The fourth disc is from a show in Los Angeles on December 31, 1999, notable for a version of “Funky New Year” and “Take It to the Limit” sung by Frey.)
For most artists, an album that sells 11 million copies would not be a disappointment. Eagles Greatest Hits, Volume 2, did that many, yet it probably was.