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Pop CultureMarch 23, 2017

The Eagles: The third worst band ever


Don Henley, drummer/singer/songwriter of the Eagles, one of the most loved and loathed bands ever, plays in Auckland on Thursday. So, it must be asked, are the Eagles good or are they bad? Greg Pritchard argues the latter.

These days, a lot of energy is devoted to how Baby Boomers are the worst generation ever. It’s not a hard argument to make. They’ve shagged the environment, hijacked the property market, and claim that most of the health and education advantages they were given are now too expensive for subsequent generations to have.

These are all valid points. But I think the Boomer sin most often overlooked is that awful bands from the ’60s and ’70s can keep coming back and touring with the same musical meconium after 40 or 50 years and filling venues at $200 a ticket. So here we are in March 2017 and Don Henley, hopefully the last surviving member of the Eagles, is coming to our shores again.

I approve of fleecing people with more money than brains. So, in that sense, I approve of this tour, but he’s then taking that money overseas, so I feel it’s my patriotic duty to publicly state what many are afraid to say – the Eagles are the third worst band of all time. Of course, when it comes to music there is no right and wrong, only feelings and impulses, but seeing as Dan Harmon and the Eagles’ main impulse seems to be cashing in, I figure they’re fair game.

When I say that the Eagles are the third worst band of all time, people think I’m joking. But I’m pretty sure I’m right. The worst, of course, is Coldplay. Second, you can decide for yourself, but I’d say it’d be either Chris Brown or the Bee Gees. And that leaves the Eagles, whose music is distinctly vapid, forgettable and utterly without conviction.

The best music either opens up a new world to you or opens you up to the world. In 2016, we lost artists such as David Bowie, Prince, and George Michael. These were guys who spent their careers pushing and stretching the fabric of society and musicianship. Leonard Cohen too. Lemmy, Maurice White, Merle Haggard. These are people who really lived and breathed and fought for music that made people want to dance and cry, fight and fuck. Glen Frey from the Eagles died last year too, and I’m sure that was a sad thing for his friends and family, but you’d hard-pressed to make the argument that this news moved anyone else.

The Eagles, with Tim Henman on drums, started out as the backing band for Linda Ronstadt in 1971. I think that’s a pretty good level for them. They basically put out a handful of records, two of which were compilations, and have somehow sold over 150 million records. Numbers like that suggest that maybe these guys are actually good songwriters, but that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that this group of mustachioed millionaires, the way they chose to record and tour and generally hang around like cultural crop dusting, are among the worst of all time.

The early-’70s was an important time for popular music. Recording technology was making great advances and musicians were making albums that embraced those opportunities and we got albums like What’s Goin’ On from Marvin Gaye, Dark Side of the Moon from Pink Floyd, and Alladin Sane from David Bowie. This is the era where all the Eagles’ hits came from, probably. I’m not actually sure because if I look it up I might fall into a coma. While Gaye and Bowie and Floyd were re-imagining the medium, Jim Henson and the Eagles had figured out a way to make an audio recording of an all-beige painting of a yawn.

I’m sure that if I were to look it up, I’d be shocked and dismayed at just how many hit singles they’ve had. As I sit here, though, I try to think of these songs and how they go and it’s just bland soup. The only one I can accurately remember is ‘Hotel California’ and I’ll make this my main example. I know ‘Hotel California’ because it was that song, covered by the Gypsy Kings and popularised in The Big Lebowski, that led me down this path. Listening to Gypsy Kings cover I realised that the Eagles lacked the soul and fire that makes music great. The Gypsy Kings give that song a passion and even a geographic grounding it was lacking. Most of the Eagles’ and Jim Hicky’s songs, if covered by someone who actually cared, could be just as great.

And that’s the problem with the Eagles. They’ve spent 40 years within reach of having an impact and just decided not to. They seem happy to just cash in on those songs they wrote way back then, pull out into the middle of the road and just ride that peaceful easy feeling off into the sunset. I’m sure there are many fine people who have many fine reasons for loving the Eagles, and they’re entirely welcome to that because there is nothing more subjective than music. Listen back through their hits, as much as you can before passing out – listen to the drifty lyrics with their faux-spiritualism, convenient harmonies and lazy guitar riffs, and you’ll hear what I do – the third worst band of all time.

Read Madeline Chapman’s retort here.

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