Welcome back to Top “Ten” Tuesday. We are going to be a day early in celebrating Don Henley’s 73rd birthday with this list. Don Henley is an American musician, singer, songwriter, record producer, and founding member of The Eagles acting as the group’s drummer and co-lead vocalist.
The Eagles started in Los Angeles in 1971. Don Henley and Glenn Frey met in 1970 at The Troubadour in Los Angeles local and were recruited by manager John Boylan to back Linda Rondstadt’s band. That summer Linda Ronstadt brought on two more musicians to help promote her recently released Silk Purse album, released April 13. Those musicians were Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon. While on tour, Frey and Henley approached Ronstadt about their intention about creating their own group, which she supported. Frey credited Ronstadt with suggesting Leadon for the band. Then they pitched the idea to Meisner and brought him on board too and the founding lineup of The Eagles was formed. The four were signed in September of 1971 to Asylum Records. They haven’t created a name yet when they played their first show in October under the name Teen King and The Emergencies at a club called The Gallery in Aspen. There are debates on where the origin of The Eagles’ name. Don Felder, a guitarist who joined The Eagles on their third album On The Border credited Leadon with the name when he recalled reading about the Hopi’s reverence for the eagle. J.D. Souther, a friend of the band suggested the idea came when Frey shouted, “Eagles!” when they saw eagles flying above. Comedian Steve Martin said he suggested they should be referred to as “The Eagles” but Frey insists that the group’s name is simply “Eagles” dropping the “The” from the name, although I’m going to keep the “The” for grammar purposes.
The four founding musicians released their first album simply titled Eagles on June 1, 1972, yielding 3 Top-40 singles. Their second album was released on April 17, 1973. Henley and Frey co-wrote most of the album which started to change the sound of the album compared to their first album. The two also started to dominate in terms of leadership. While working on On the Border, producer Bill Szymczyk recalled Bernie Leadon’s childhood friend Don Felder. Felder became a fifth member of the band. This lineup continued through One of These Nights, released June 10, 1975. The album was the band’s commercial breakthrough, turning them into superstars. They went on a worldwide tour to promote the album. Sometime during the tour or before their next album, Bernie Leadon left the band and was replaced by James Gang singer Joe Walsh. This new addition changed the band’s sound as they created their legendary album, Hotel California. During the tour, Randy Meisner left the band. His song “Take It to the Limit” was an audience favorite and the audience enjoyed hearing Meisner hit the high notes of the song. Meisner felt he was incapable of doing so and after a long tour, an altercation backstage over Meisner’s refusal to sing the song for an encore Meisner left the band in September. He was replaced by Timothy B. Schmit who coincidentally replaced Meisner in his previous group, Poco. This lineup released one more album, The Long Run, released September 24, 1979. There was one more album released by The Eagles, Eagles Live, released on November 7, 1980. The band was already in the process of breaking up.
The band reunited in 1994 and released a mostly live album called Hell Freezes Over. The album features four new songs recorded in the studio before jumping into a bunch of Eagles classics performed live. The Eagles since released one more album. In 2007, they released Long Road Out of Eden on October 30, 2007. This is the band’s first album after the firing of Don Felder in 2001 as well as their final album with Glenn Frey, who passed away in 2016. The Eagles are still touring today. Their current lineup is Don Henley, Timothy B. Schmit, Joe Walsh, Deacon Frey (Glenn’s son), and Vince Gill.
With the intro out of the way, let’s get started. We are going to take a look at Eagles songs that feature Don Henley on lead vocals. If there is a song that features another singer along with Henley then the song will not be included, at least the best I can. I admit I had to break those rules on a couple. You’ll see what I mean when we go through the list. This is my Top 10 Don Henley Eagles Songs.
#10-Get Over It-Hell Freezes Over
This song opens the mostly live album released in 1994. It’s one of the four new songs recorded in the studio along with “Love Will Keep Us Alive” written by Schmit, “The Girl From Yesterday” written by Frey, and “Learn to Be Still” written by Henley. This song put the band back on the U.S. Top 40 after a fourteen-year absence and is also their last Top 40 hit in the U.S. It peaked at #31 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #4 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. The song is about Henley’s frustration and contempt for others blaming their failures, mental breakdowns, and financial problems on those he feels don’t deserve it, then believing that the world owes them a favor. It’s a great hard-rockin’ tune that is a powerful return for The Eagles and makes us excited to hear what they would make next.
#9-Busy Being Fabulous-Long Road Out of Eden
This is probably my favorite song on their final album. It was released as their second single from the album and was their third Top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. The song seems to be about a man frustrated about a female who spends all her time trying to get popular to the point that it’s hurting/destroying their relationship. This is the final music video to feature Glenn Frey before his death in 2016.
#8-The Long Run-The Long Run
This is the opening track to their 1979 album. It starts with a catchy drum beat and bass riff. It was the second of three singles from the album and was backed with “The Disco Strangler” also sang by Henley. It reached #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 on November 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. Don Henley said the song was written in response to a press article that said they were “passé” as disco was what was hit as well as the emerging punk rock sound. He said that’s what the line “Who is gonna make it/We’ll find out in the long run” was about. He also wanted to point out the irony of the inspiration of the song was about longevity and posterity while the group “was breaking apart, imploding under the pressure of trying to deliver a worthy follow-up to Hotel California”.
#7-Doolin Dalton/Desperado (Reprise)-Desperado
I’m going to include both the opening track “Doolin-Dalton” as well as their closing track “Doolin-Dalton/Desperado (Reprise)” for this #7 spot. The opening track tells the story of The Dalton Gang. It was a gang that consisted of train robbers in the Oklahoma territory in 1888. It’s a great acoustic song that not only fills us in on a real piece of American history, but it also sets up the 1973 concept album where all the songs describe an aspect of the cowboy/outlaw life.
The second track I mentioned is the album’s closing track. It’s a reprise of both the album’s opening track as well as returning to the album’s title track. The title track “Desperado” has been interpreted to possibly be about a young man who discovers guitars, joins a band, pays his dues and suffers for his art. It also could be a cowboy who has fallen in love with the wrong woman, the “Queen of Diamonds”. The Reprise continues with the themes set up in the two respective songs acting as both a sequel to them as well as closing the album.
#6-Victim of Love-Hotel California
This is a great rocker. There is a sad story behind the making of the song, however. Don Felder brought this song to Henley and Frey and was excited to make this his vocal spot on the album. Henley doesn’t remember promising this. He said the song was simply a record progression Felder brought in with no vocals and wasn’t even a complete song. Their manager Irving Azoff took Felder out to lunch or dinner one day allowing Henley enough time to record his own vocals for the song. The band felt Henley would be the better singer. While this hurt Felder’s feelings, it’s hard to compete with Henley’s vocals or the final product of the song. The song was mostly recorded live. All the instruments were recorded live and the only thing overdubbed later were Henley’s vocals and the harmony on the choruses. This was a decision from the band after being accused of being stale and lifeless in the studio, so they decided to play live in the studio and then let people know they did it. Engraved on the record itself says, “V.O.L. IS FIVE PIECE LIVE”.
#5-The Last Resort-Hotel California
This is a beautiful song giving the illusion of an orchestra backing the band, although it’s just a synthesizer. The song was written by both Henley and Frey but Frey gives Henley the credit because it was the first time that Don, on his own, took it upon himself to write an epic story. In a 1978 interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, Henley said, “‘The Last Resort’, on Hotel California, is still one of my favorite songs…That’s because I care more about the environment than about writing songs about drugs or love affairs or excess of any kind. The gist of the song was that when we find something good, we destroy it by our presence-by the very fact that man is the only animal on earth is capable of destroying his environment. The environment is the reason I got into politics: to try to do something about what I saw as the complete destruction of most of the resources that we have left. We have mortgaged our future for gain and greed.” The lyrics describe manifest destiny and as Americans traveled west, they killed the Native Americans, and the more west America goes, the more commercial it gets. The song was released as the B-side to “Life in the Fast Lane” on May 3, 1977.
#4-On the Border-On the Border
This is a song that is predominantly Henley but also features Frey, Meisner, and Leadon backing him on vocals. It’s a great hard rock song. The guitar riff is catchy while the rest of the band “howls?” while Henley sings each the line of the chorus. The song was inspired by the Watergate scandal and fears of the government overstepping its bounds and infringing on people’s privacy. At the end of the song, if you pay very close attention, Glenn Frey says “Says Goodnight, Dick” referring to Richard Nixon’s eventual resignation. Nixon resigned five months after the release of this album. Henley said the song was a “clumsy, incoherent attempt” as they were still learning how to write songs. It was supposed to be an R&B inspired song.
This may have been the first Eagles song I ever heard. It has a catchy guitar riff with the rest of the band backing Henley on the chorus. It was their second single from the debut album. It reached #9 on the Billboard pop singles chart and it is the only single from the album to feature Henley on lead vocals. The other singles were “Take It Easy” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling” which feature Frey on lead vocals. Bernie Leadon first started writing “Witchy Woman” while he was still with The Flying Burrito Brothers. When Leadon joined Eagles, he and Henley finished the song together. This would make the only song on their debut album that features Henley with a writing credit.
#2-One of These Nights-One of These Nights
The song starts with a great bass riff before the drums and guitars kick in. The song was written in an attempt to write something different from a country-rock and ballad-type song. Henley said, “We like to be a nice little country-rock band from Los Angeles…about half the time. We wanted to get away from the ballad syndrome with ‘One of These Nights.’ With Don Felder in the band now, we can really rock.” Frey added that they “wanted ‘One of These Nights’ to have a lot of teeth, a lot of bite-a nasty track with pretty vocals.” The writing was influenced by R&B music and disco, according to Frey who was listening to Spinners and Al Green records when he was writing the song. Frey said this was his favorite Eagles song, “If I ever had to pick one, it wouldn’t be ‘Hotel California’; it wouldn’t be ‘Take It Easy.’ For me, it would be ‘One of These Nights.’ The single was released on May 19, 1975, and peaked at #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100. The single was backed with “Visions” the only Eagles song featuring Don Felder on vocals.
#1-Hotel California-Hotel California
It is hard to compete with arguably the band’s best-known song. The song was written by Don Felder, along with Henley and Frey. Felder wanted to write a song where two guitars could play off each other. He sat on his sofa with an acoustic guitar and used his reel to reel tape recorder. He put that on a cassette with 14-15 other pieces he assembled and gave one to Henley and Frey. Frey said they were mostly just cluttered guitar licks, and they ask him where does he sing. Then the iconic Hotel California intro came in and that one caught their interest. The song is shrouded in mystery of what the song is about. The lyrics tell a surrealistic story of a weary traveler checking into a luxury hotel. The hotel at first seems inviting but it turns into a nightmarish place where you can check out any time you like but you can never leave. Some suspect the song to be about different mythologies, some accuse the band of being a part of the Church of Satan (Anton LaVey is on their gatefold after all). Some say it’s an allegory about hedonism, self-destruction, and greed in the music industry in the late 1970s. Don Henley called it “our interpretation of the high life of the American dream and about excess in America, which is something we know a lot about.” In the History of The Eagles documentary, Henley said it’s a “journey from innocence to experience, that’s all.” I can go on breaking down the song line for line. There are a lot of interesting lyrics in the song from “Please bring me my wine/He said, ‘We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969”, “Warm smell of colitas” and my favorite lyric, “They stab it with their steely knives, But they just can’t kill the beast.” That lyric is a reference to Steely Dan. In the Steely Dan song, “Everything You Did” they sing, “Turn up the Eagles, the neighbors are listening.” The Eagles return the favor by giving a shoutout back to Steely Dan. The song ends in an amazing, extended guitar solo. The guitar solo is a combined effort of Don Felder and Joe Walsh trying to one-up each other and play off each. Wash says that competition makes the song better.
Before clicking off from the article, I’m not done yet. I still have a few more songs I want to cover as honorable mentions. It’s hard to narrow down Don Henley Eagles songs because he sang so many great ones. Below I listed five more songs that were so close to reaching the Top 10. As always these songs are listed in chronological order.
This is an often-overlooked Eagles song. The first album has a lot of great songs including “Take It Easy” and “Witchy Woman” but halfway through the album is this great Henley song. It has some great guitar throughout and some great vocal harmonies.
Life in the Fast Lane-Hotel California
Glenn Frey described the origin of this song. He was riding in a corvette with a drug dealer known as “The Count” and next thing he knew they were going 90 miles per hour. He looks over and asks, “Hey man what are you doing?” The Count looks at him grinning and says, “What do you mean? It’s life in the fast lane.” Frey thought about that statement and thought it would be a great song title. Sometime after that experience, Frey walks into the studio and Joe Walsh was warming up with a guitar finger exercise. Frey asked Walsh to play it again. Frey decided to build the song around that lick. The song describes a man and woman that had everything but lost it because of their lifestyle. The song was released as a single on May 3rd backed with “The Last Resort” (See #5). The single peaked at #11 on the US Billboard Hot 100.
Funky New Year-Selected Works: 1972-1999
This is a song that was released on the compilation album Selected Works: 1972-1999. The album’s fourth CD was titled ‘The Millennium Concert (A Night to Remember)’. The song starts with kazoos and other instruments celebrating the new year. About 37 seconds in, the song begins with a hard rock/funk sound. The song is really catchy. Unfortunately, there isn’t any information on this one. It’s a good song that I’m sure a lot of Eagles fans never heard.
Fast Company-Long Road Out of Eden
A great song from Long Road Out of Eden that is often overlooked. The song features heavy bass chords and hard-hitting drums. Don Henley stays on the higher end of his vocals. This song along with “No More Cloudy Days” and “Do Something” were first released in 2006 in a bonus CD of a special edition exclusive to Wal-Mart of the DVD release, Farewell 1 Tour-Live from Melbourne.
Frail Grasp on the Big Picture-Long Road Out of Eden
Another great song from Long Road Out of Eden. The song describes the short-sightedness of society. The first part of the song is about how real journalism is dead and gone in America but that doesn’t bother people thinking they know it all. The second part criticizes short-term relationships with lyrics like “who left the cap off the freakin’ toothpaste?” for an example. The third part is about the shallowness of people’s religious views and Americanizing God, like assuming a football team winning is God’s grand design. The whole song points to people focusing on the little things instead of looking at the big picture. To inject my own thoughts here, I think this is one of the most relevant songs to today I’ve ever heard, at least related to classic rock and classic rock artists.
There are a lot of other great songs I could’ve included but as always there are only so many spaces. I tried my best to keep songs off that features another musician equally, and focus on the songs that are either entirely Henley or majority. Unfortunately, that means I couldn’t include “Good Day in Hell” which is split pretty evenly between Frey and Henley. I guess I’ll save that for another Eagles related list in the future, we’ll see. What did you think of this list? Do you agree with it? Would you rearrange it? What songs would you include on your list? Share your thoughts in the comments below. If you want more Eagles then check out my Awesome Albums episode about Hotel California, it goes through the history of the making of the album from shortly after the release of One of These Nights and the post Hotel tour that led to Meisner’s departure. It’s an old one but it’s still a good one, well my opinion anyway. Also, don’t forget to follow Awesome Albums on Instagram and Twitter, like on Facebook, and Subscribe on both YouTube and BitChute for music-related content. Also, don’t forget to come back next Tuesday, for another list for Top “Ten” Tuesday!