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The Eagles

The MoFi Desperado

The Eagles Steve Alexander, CC BY-SA 2.0
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Desperado” was a stiff when it was released. It’s not like it didn’t sell at all, but there were no hit singles, it didn’t burn up the chart, it didn’t even get banged on FM radio. That didn’t happen until later, after the release of “On the Border,” with its number one single “Best of My Love.” And then the following year “One of These Nights” cemented the Eagles as the biggest band in the land. All summer you heard the title track, “Lyin’ Eyes” and “Take It to the Limit” incessantly, on both AM and FM, and despite Steely Dan ultimately singing “turn up the Eagles, the neighbors are listening,” only hipsters pooh-poohed the band, just to hear that intro to “One of These Nights” was to go on an aural trip into the ether of California, when the state was still a dream as opposed to an object of derision.

And then came “Hotel California.”

It’s rare that the heavily expected follow-up to the monster hit exceeds expectations. “Hotel California” was a leap forward, with more hooks, more insight and phrases that entered the vernacular, like “life in the fast lane.” “Hotel California” cemented the band’s legacy, they were no longer just hitmakers, they were seers, chroniclers of life…if you don’t resonate with “Wasted Time” you never had a breakup.

But what about “Desperado”?

I bought it the day it came out. At this point the Dude and so many more put down the Eagles, but back in 1973, they were just another band with a good debut album with a hit single. Albeit a monster.

Maybe you didn’t buy the album, but if you did you heard not only the follow-up single “Witchy Woman,” but magical tracks like “Earlybird” and “Tryin'” and you wanted more. That’s what fans always want, more. And it’s a responsibility to deliver something of equal or better value. Which most acts abdicate, frustrating their fans. That’s what is astounding about the Beatles’ output, they never missed. And neither did the Eagles.

And the insider hype for “Desperado” was heavy and hot. There were endless stories in music magazines about the western theme, the photography session, the fact that Jackson Browne was included, along with J.D. Souther, tied the knot for all those following the Southern California music scene, dreaming if they could only live there their lives would work.

But the album came and as I said above, nothing happened.

But like I also said above, the one thing a fan wants more of is the music, so people later went back and bought “Desperado” and discovered its magic and it slowly grew in the public consciousness to the point when Don Henley steps up to the microphone and starts singing the title song it’s the highlight of the show.


Now you did not need a big stereo rig to get the Eagles, but it helped, especially with “Hotel California,” and then shortly thereafter Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours.” This was not two track low fidelity and if you had a good system you could extract nuggets that those listening through the speaker in the car dash could not.

But now those systems are passé. They’re not the dream they once were. That was your number one desire, a great stereo. They had stores dedicated to selling you just this. You went and marveled at the equipment, contemplating what you’d buy next as you built your system, or upgraded it. And to sit or lie in front of the speakers, stoned or not, and listen to the music and let your mind drift…was the height of life. Music was not the background, a complement to your activities, it was your activity, it was life.

So how many people have the equipment to hear the aural truth in the MoFi version of “Desperado”? Very few.

Not that my expectations were high. I’ve still got my vinyl, I’ve got the CDs, how much is left to extract from the master tapes?

Turns out plenty.

I was shocked. I learned that Don Henley was right. His vocal on “Desperado” could have been improved. I always thought it was nitpicking, another artist who could never be satisfied. But when Henley sings it live it’s not just another song, it’s a summation of not only a lifestyle, but all our lives, a better life, one in which limitations were less, where we explored the fringe and some got stuck out there and some made it back and artists chronicled the journey.

I’m listening now and I’m hearing the treatment of Henley’s vocal, the strings in a new way. The song is so great it can’t be killed, but someone needs to let the band loose, which ultimately Bill Szymczyk did thereafter.

Glyn Johns did not take the Eagles seriously. They made the albums on his terms. In his way. When true artists have a vision and want to do it their way. “Desperado” was cut in dull and dreary London, whereas the Eagles were not about constriction, but an opening up, a superseding of limits. And the title track is controlled in a way that what comes after is not.

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The second side of “Desperado” has a cover of David Blue’s “Outlaw Man.” I had to buy Blue’s album to hear his take, it was not as good. But it fit the theme of “Desperado” perfectly so the Eagles included it.

But the second side also includes “Certain Kind of Fool” and “Bitter Creek,” the songs I love most on “Desperado” along with the title track.

“He kinda had a craving for something no one else could see”

That’s what it takes to be a rock and roll star. There’s no school, you just have to have a vision, believe in yourself and execute, and you still might not make it. Oftentimes you’re the only one who believes, but you want it so bad.

“He wants to sing, oh yeah
He wants to see lights a-flashing
And listen to the thundering”

What he wants is to let loose, to be free, the freedom of yore, which was more about what you thought than what you did.

“They got respect, oh yeah
He wants the same, oh yeah”

Some things never change. Isn’t this the essence of hip-hop?

And “Certain Kind of Fool” is sung by Randy Meisner, an integral part of the group until he stopped delivering on stage and was ultimately excised and replaced. Henley and Frey wrote it with him. But Meisner’s nearly pained vocal conveys an emotion that makes the whole number believable.


But “Bitter Creek” was something different.

“Once I was young and so unsure”

Now everybody knows everything. We see preteen entrepreneurs. Everybody wanting to skip the discovery process of life, trying to figure out who they are. But back in the seventies that was part of growing up. You might ultimately go down a career path, but before you did you wanted to drive cross-country, see the Rockies, get high, try and figure it out, and then you’d take the experience into everything you did thereafter.

“Out where the desert meets the sky
Is where I go when I wanna hide”

Hiding, it’s the opposite of today’s social media world. Do you ever feel you just want to retreat, lick your wounds, be free of the incoming, try to soothe yourself? I certainly do, and this is when tracks like “Bitter Creek” resonate so much.

“I can’t wait to see the old man’s face
When I win the race”

There was a generation gap. Not only could our parents not believe in our paths, they couldn’t even understand them. We had something to prove. And the best of us did.

We were desperadoes.

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“Desperado
Why don’t you come to your senses
You’ve been out ridin’ fences
For so long now”

The dream. We held on to it for as long as we could. We thought it could work, but it didn’t. And one by one we sold out. But we never forgot.

That lumpy guy in the bad suit? In his heart he was a desperado, and still is.

That guy in the boardroom? He may be rich, but he’d rather be a rock star, he wants to be a desperado.

Everything was possible, and we wanted to get our share.

“Desperado
Oh, you ain’t getting no younger
Your pain and your hunger
They’re driving you home
And freedom, oh, freedom
Well that’s just some people talking
Your prison is walking through this world all alone”

You wake up one day and you realize your life is no longer working. What you dedicated yourself to has not panned out. Your life is hard. You’ve been flying solo, forgoing the treats of humanity, the comforts. The touch, the conversation, everything everybody can’t see that means so much. It’s not on your resumé, you can’t see it on LinkedIn, but it’s everything.

“You’re losing all your highs and lows”

This is when you know you’ve got to give up, take another direction. When the dope no longer gets you high. When you’re going through the motions and getting less and less satisfaction, fewer and fewer highs.

“Why don’t you come to your senses”

We wouldn’t listen to our parents, we had to hear it from people we trusted, who we knew were trying to channel truth, who understood us.

“Come down from your fences
Open the gate”

Buy a ticket. Take a chance. It’s as true at seventy as it is at twenty. I know you’ve been beaten and bruised, but there are still rewards in life if you’d just take a chance. As Jackson Browne sang in “The Late Show” the next year:

“You could be with somebody who is lonely too (Sometimes it doesn’t show) He might be trying to get across to you (Words can be so slow)”

“But there’s a rainbow above you”

Hope is everything in this world, it’s the silver lining, without it you’re done, you’re paralyzed, in mind if not body. You’ve got to believe things can get better.

“You better let somebody love you
Before it’s too late”

As the boomers aged, as the songs on the hit parade came and went, “Desperado” started to shine in a way it had not before. You could give up the dream and still be whole. What you thought was selling out could easily be buying in. Instead of waiting for the perfect love, finding a companion, a person who’ll be there for you, is what makes life endurable, worth living.

So “Desperado” has become a secret anthem. A song that means something to listeners that others do not. It’s not a ditty, people believe it’s their life, that Don Henley has looked into their soul and understands them, is nudging them to move on down the line, to give up being an outlaw and embrace the good in life. He’s setting your head straight. You don’t really want to be a desperado.

Except when you’re out in the wilderness.

Except when you’re at the Eagles show.

I did not set out to write about “Desperado” today. I just inserted the MoFi CD into the Sony’s drawer and I heard this sound… It was more than a sound, it was akin to the Pied Piper taking me on a journey, away from the mess of every day, to a much better place, where I used to live and know I can now visit just by playing this CD.

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