// Album Recommendation

The Eagles

Desperado

(1973)

“On the highway I will run
In one hand I’ve a bible
In the other I’ve got a gun.”

Desperado by the Eagles

For their second album The Eagles came up with an interesting and intelligent concept: the analogy between Old West outlaws and modern Rock stars. Rich with Western/outlaw imagery, Desperado chronicles the rise and fall of the Dalton gang, while drawing subtle similarities to the crazy and chaotic lifestyles of Rock musicians, who are constantly on the road, partying and drinking heavily. As the story evolves, the main character experiences everything from adventure, excitement and freedom to loneliness – and in the end, his own inevitable demise.

A unique concept like Desperado’s called for an album cover of evocative pictures to match the music and lyrics. Thus the record company hired legendary rock photographer Henry Diltz and art director Gary Burden, who took the band to a Hollywood rental store called Western Costumes and had them dress up as outlaws. Then they bought 1.500 rounds of blank ammunition and headed out to the Paramount ranch in Malibu Canyon, where The Eagles staged and acted out various different scenes, as Diltz shot picture after picture. The black and white photo that ended up on the back cover perfectly captures 19th century photography and is quite chilling. Modelled on an old photograph from a book about the Old West, it pictures The Eagles and their compatriots tied up on the ground, dead at the hands of the lawmen. On one side of the band lies singer/songwriter Jackson Browne, co-writer of The Eagles debut single Take It Easy. On the other side lies singer/songwriter J.D. Souther, often referred to as “the fifth Eagle”, because he co-wrote several great Eagles songs (The Best Of My Love, New Kid In Town, Heartache Tonight and The Sad Café. Of course, what really matters, though, is the music, and Desperado marked the beginning of drummer Don Henley’s and guitarist/keyboard player Glenn Frey’s songwriting partnership, which would eventually turn them into America’s answer to Lennon/McCartney.

As befits an album paying tribute to Old West gunfighters and modern Rock stars alike, the music is a mixture of Country/Country Rock, Bluegrass and straight-out Rock ’n’ Roll. The opening chords to the first track Doolin-Dalton effectively set the stage with acoustic guitar and a mournful harmonica, instantly transporting you back to the Old West. Don Henley’s impressively soulful vocal sets in (he was just 26), upon which he and Glenn Frey soon swap lead vocals back and forth, while Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon join in on backing/harmony vocals. The lyrics tell the tale of the bank robbery that went awry in Coffeyville, Kansas, in 1892, where four members of the Dalton gang were killed, two of them Dalton brothers. Written by Bernie Leadon, Twenty-One is a spirited, banjo-driven bluegrass number, a music genre he thrives within (throughout the album he also plays guitar, mandolin, dobro and pedal steel guitar). This song introduces the main character, an unnamed gang member – an impatient young man, who wants to embark on an exiting life full of adventure (“They say a man should have a stock and trade / But me I'll find another way / I believe in gettin’ what you can / And there ain't no stoppin' this young man”). The aptly titled Out Of Control is – quite appropriately – the toughest rock song The Eagles ever recorded, given that it deals with letting out steam after months on the road (“And I ain't had a woman in so long  / I can't feed my starvin’ soul / C’mon, saddle up, boys, we're gonna ride into town / We're gonna get a little out of control”).

Come early morning, it’s time to get back on the road once again. Wishing that they could stay, they have to keep moving, leaving behind yet another town and new acquaintances. These sentiments are depicted in the wistful Country song Tequila Sunrise (“It's another tequila sunrise / Starin' slowly 'cross the sky, said goodbye”). Whether you’re an outlaw or a Rock star out on the road, it’s a lonely existence that makes it difficult to make real friends, whom you can trust (“Oh, and it's a hollow feelin' / When it comes down to dealin' friends / It never ends”). Co-written by Henley and Frey, and released as the album’s first single, it only peaked at a modest no. 64 on the Billboard Hot 100 – rather inexplicable considering the commercial success of their debut album (1972’s Eagles), which spawned all of three hit singles. Widely associated with the band, it’s long since become a fan favorite (and rightly so). This composition is a great example of the newfound Henley/Frey songwriting partnership. And so is the flawless title track. Desperado features Frey's pensive piano, Henley’s sublime lead vocal, and Jim Ed Norman's understated string arrangement. Although it was never released as a single (it should’ve been), you’d be excused for thinking that it was once a no. 1 hit. However, songs of such high quality do not go unnoticed, and it was soon covered by numerous artists, including Linda Ronstadt, The Carpenters, Johnny Cash and Kenny Rogers. The story now sees the main character – outlaw or Rock star – struggling with feelings of self-doubt and re-evaluating the life he’s chosen (“Desperado, why don't you come to your senses? / You been out ridin' fences for so long now”). Does he continue living a rootless life on the road with casual relationships, or does he settle down with just one woman? The answer to the question rings loud and clear with the haunting line "You better let somebody love you, before it's too late" – but we sense that it already is.

Certain Kind Of Fool is bassist Randy Meisner’s sole lead vocal on the album and as always his distinctive and captivating singing voice commands your attention. Glenn Frey plays a lovely, crunchy electric guitar solo on this mid-tempo Rock track. The lyrics chart the history of the main character, and we learn that he was always destined for fame and notoriety, one way or the other (“He was a poor boy, raised in a small family / He kinda had a craving for somethin’ no one else could see / They say that he was crazy…”). In the beginning all he wanted was respect, and for people to mention his name, but before he knew it, he was caught up in a lifestyle that – for various reasons – he could never leave ("It wasn't for the money / At least it didn't start that way / It wasn't for the running / But now he's running every day").

Then follows a short instrumental consisting of just banjo and acoustic guitar, which segues into Outlaw Man, the only song on the album not written by The Eagles (it was composed by singer/songwriter David Blue). With a slightly different arrangement from the original and a heavier production, it’s a powerful Rock song that brings to mind dusty roads and vast, blue skies (“I am an outlaw, I was born an outlaw’s son / The highway is my legacy / On the highway I will run / In one hand I’ve a bible / In the other I’ve got a gun”). Producer Glyn Johns’ mix highlights each band member’s strengths to great effect – from Glenn Frey’s ominous lead vocal, Don Henley’s energetic drums and cymbals, and Bernie Leadon’s evocative electric guitar solo, to Meisner’s runaway bass lines, as the tempo picks up towards the end of the track. By now the main character has fully accepted the fact that there’s no going back, and that it’s only a question of time before he reaches the end of the road (“Woman don’t try to love me / Don’t try to understand / A life upon the road is the life of an outlaw man”).

The Waltz-like, mandolin-adorned Saturday Night reminisces about a time, when life was simple and full of hopes and dreams for the future – but the past is now long gone, irrevocably so (“The years brought the railroad / It ran by my door / Now there’s boards on the windows / And dust on the floor”). The instrumental arrangement is as exquisite as Henley’s and Meisner’s wistful lead vocals. Bernie Leadon’s atmospheric, acoustic guitar-based Bitter Creek creates an uneasy sense of foreboding. The outlaw gang is about to reunite for one last robbery with the purpose of being able to retire comfortably. In the context of the rock band, it alludes to going on one last tour before disbanding:"We’re gonna hit the road for one last time / We can walk right in and steal 'em blind / All that money / No more running". With references in the lyrics to being strung out on peyote, it’s a suitably slow and stoned track, though vibrant in its execution by virtue of guitar techniques such as hammer-ons and pull-offs to slides and string bends.

Doolin-Dalton/Desperado (Reprise) serves as the album’s epilogue, a rousing finale. We picture the outlaw gang galloping into town in swirls of dust, like a hazy slow-motion sequence in a Western movie, and we sense that the end is imminent (“You sealed your fate a long time ago / Now there's no time left to borrow”). Along the way the outlaw gang in question – like a group of rock musicians – have come to realize that fame/public adoration isn’t all it’s cracked up to be (“The queen of diamonds let you down / She was just an empty fable / The queen of hearts you say you never met”). This composition doesn’t just replicate and combine these two earlier album tracks. The musicianship, the instrumental arrangement, the harmonies and Henleys’ superior lead vocal all add up to a gorgeous song in its own right – perhaps even one of the album’s strongest efforts. Desperado was an impressive leap forward from their debut album, 1972’s Eagles. As young as they were, they were already accomplished craftsmen. Though it only peaked at a fairly modest no. 41 on the Billboard chart, the Desperado album went on to sell all of 2 million copies, and is now considered by many to be one of the greatest Country Rock albums of all-time (along with The ByrdsSweetheart of The Rodeo, Graham ParsonsG.P., and The Flying Burrito BrothersThe Gilded Palace Of sin).

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