Who Is Gonna Make It

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(Pictured: Joe Walsh onstage in a Long Run T-shirt, 1979.)

I can still remember the day, 40 years ago, late in September or early in October, when the Eagles’ album The Long Run came in the mail to the campus radio station. I was on the air that afternoon. We took it out of the package and put it straight on a turntable to play . . . not the lead single, “Heartache Tonight,” but what we had been told album-rock radio was pushing: “The Disco Strangler.” I front- and back-announced it with what I felt to be the appropriate degree of hype, considering it was the followup release to one of the most popular albums of the 70s by a massively successful band. We tracked the whole thing later that night, and I remember listening on my radio in the dorm.

The Long Run became fairly significant in the lives of The Mrs. and me. We saw the Eagles on their tour to promote it; we played it constantly, on the air and off; it’s her all-time favorite album. I burned out on most of it in the relatively distant past, but here’s a ranking of the tracks on The Long Run after coming back to it for the first time in a while.

(Do I need to link to any of these tracks? You know them all, right?)

10. “Teenage Jail.” A big riff, but that’s about it.

9. “The Disco Strangler.” Don Henley and Don Felder viewed this as a topical, anti-disco song, which marked it as an artifact of 1979. And for that reason, little else in the Eagles catalog sounds so dated.

8. “The Greeks Don’t Want No Freaks.” One of the things Eagle-haters hate about the Eagles is that they took themselves so damned seriously. The very fact that “The Greeks Don’t Want No Freaks” exists marks it as a placeholder. Given their self-image, it’s doubtful they would have kept a such a goof on the album if they had anything else to put in its place.

(There exists a series called Soul Pole, studio outtakes and other weirdness compiled by producer Bill Szymczyk for distribution amongst the band members and crew. What I’ve heard of it is more silly or stupid than funny, and it confirms for me that apart from Joe Walsh, the Eagles lack the humor gene.)

7. “King of Hollywood.” Man, there’s a lot of filler on this album. And a certain irony in Henley singing a song about a Hollywood high-roller taking advantage of eager young women.

6. “In the City.” Not only is there a lot of filler on The Long Run, two of the songs came from outside the band. Walsh had recorded “In the City” for the movie The Warriors in 1978, and his original is better.

5. “The Long Run.” “Who is gonna make it? We’ll find out in the long run.” The Eagles’ success and legacy were secure by 1979, but Henley wouldn’t miss the chance to boast about it one more time.

4. “Heartache Tonight.” There was never a doubt that this would go to #1. It showed up on surveys at ARSA the same week it was released in September 1979. It debuted on the Hot 100 on October 6 at #52 and went to #15 the next week. It recorded its first local #1s that same week, and went 9-7-2 and finally to #1 on the Hot 100 on November 10, 1979. But it lasted only as single week at the top.

3.  “Those Shoes.” Time and again, not just in the studio but onstage too, the Eagles didn’t seem to play the songs as much as they played the parts and then bolted the parts into place. “Those Shoes” doesn’t feel spontaneous, either, but the big thump and talkbox make it a unique item in their catalog.

2. “I Can’t Tell You Why.” Timothy B. Schmit brought the germ of this song with him when he joined the band, and it was the first thing on The Long Run that got finished, in March 1978. It has one of my favorite guitar solos in the Eagles’ catalog, played by Glenn Frey. Joe Walsh is the keyboard player.

1. “The Sad Cafe.” I have said this a couple of times before: even if the Eagles hated each other by 1979, they must have loved each other once, because if they hadn’t, they could not have made “The Sad Cafe.” It’s five minutes and 35 seconds of perfection, the best thing in their catalog, and a perfect farewell. As it was in the beginning, they’re a band again at the end.

(Coming Thursday: another ranking of another ubiquitous 70s album.)

9 responses

  1. A couple of random thoughts about the Eagles/this era/this album:

    1.) For a group that always relied rather heavily on the input of outside writers, that reliance is quite pronounced on this album. Side 2 is essentially a J.D. Souther album (not a bad thing!). Really shows that the group was hurting for material during this time. I can’t believe this was initially conceived as a double album, as there’s essentially enough for one side of strong material and another 5 filler tracks (as you note).

    2.) The Beastie Boys used “Those Shoes” to great effect as the backing for their song “High-Plains Drifter” on their 1989 classic, “Paul’s Boutique.” That’s probably the funkiest the Eagles ever got. If cocaine was a sound, it would be this song (and “Life in the Fast Lane,” and “Victim of Love”).

    3.) I’ve always thought that their cover of Steve Young’s “Seven Bridges Road” on their subsequent “live” album as the perfect send-off. It encapsulates the best aspects of the band for me.

    4.) “History of the Eagles” might be my favorite music documentary of all time, and not necessarily for the music. Its jam-packed with unabashed narcissism and asshole behavior, and is profoundly entertaining.

    5.) You know how people try to reconstruct early/mid-1970s Beatles albums based on the output of the foursome after their demise? I’ve tried that with the 1980s/early 1990s Eagles. Doesn’t work nearly as well.

  2. …..and, as always, a cosmic message from Bill Szymczyk written on the inner groove.

  3. I’ve always liked, “King of Hollywood” with its spooky instrumentation and vivid description of the seedy side of Tinsel-town. I guess when you need a song about a creepy jerk, get a creepy jerk like Don Henley to sing it.

  4. I feel the same way about the Eagles as I do the Grateful Dead: the band is dull but the songs are good. (Except for Joe Walsh, who is always great). The Eagles needed a more swinging drummer.

  5. Eagles’ “Disco Strangler,” the Who’s “Sister Disco,” Jackson Browne’s “Disco Apocalypse” … did *any* white rock n’ roller ever record a genuinely good song that alluded to disco?
    (The answer reflects on the rock n’ rollers, not on disco.)

    I find it interesting that the entirety of your comment on “Heartache Tonight” is chart numbers. Have you already said your piece on the song elsewhere, or is there just nothing to be said about it?

  6. “Heartache Tonight” is fine. It sounded great on the radio in 1979 and it was fun to play it on the air. (Still is, on those rare occasions when I do.) I don’t consider it a favorite, but I don’t hate it.

  7. Further evidence that a beer (on me) is in order. In 1979, programming an AC station, I needed to play the Eagles, but couldn’t quite play “Heartache Tonight”. I played “The Sad Cafe'” as though it were the single instead. And it did very, very nicely. In fact, upon its release, “I Can’t Tell You Why” felt like a bit of a letdown on the air.

  8. Thank you for reminding me about Those Shoes and In The City. I used to have them on my hard drive and I’ve now re-added them.

  9. I also worked at an A/C station in 1979-1980. I think we played The Long Run at night and didn’t play another track again until 1980 with I Can’t Tell You Why.

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