Heartache tonight: Songs to remember Glenn Frey
SINGAPORE – It looks like 2016 has gotten off to a terrible start for fans of the “classic rock” genre. First David Bowie passed on. And now Glenn Frey has bit the proverbial dust.
Admittedly, while his solo efforts were fairly successful – You Belong To The City, The Heat Is On, The One You Love – I’ve always associated Frey (pronounced “fry” by the way) with his work as a member of that California band, The Eagles.
That band was, throughout the 1970s, the one American mainstream rock band that could stand head-to-head with anything the British and European pop and rock acts had to offer. We’re talking Queen, Abba, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, The Bee Gees, amongst others. Sure there were acts such as CCR, Bruce Springsteen and Aerosmith out at the time, but The Eagles were all that and more.
Formed in 1970 when Don Henley met Frey, The Eagles achieved great heights in the world of music, with hits such as Take It Easy, Peaceful Easy Feeling, Heartache Tonight, Desperado and of course, their monster smash, Hotel California.
“I'm not sure I believe in fate, but I know that crossing paths with Glenn Lewis Frey in 1970 changed my life forever, and it eventually had an impact on the lives of millions of other people all over the planet. It will be very strange going forward in a world without him in it. But, I will be grateful every day that he was in my life. Rest in peace, my brother. You did what you set out to do, and then some,” wrote Henley about Frey’s death.
Frey’s contribution to The Eagles musical output is unquestionable, but he was also partly responsible for the tensions within the band. Members who left the band – Bernie Leadon, Randy Meissner and Don Felder – have all had run-ins with Frey.
Those clashes eventually led to the band going on an “extended break” in 1980, after a concert at Long Beach, which has since been dubbed “Long Night At Wrong Beach”. The members only reunited in 1994 for the Hell Freezes Over concert.
When I interview Frey in 2007, the year they release Long Road Out Of Eden, he said the band were eager to get into the studio record another album. “(But) it wasn't happening,” he said. “We tried a couple of times, but ... I now know enough to go, 'it's not the right time'.”
They embarked on several reunion shows, which saw the acrimonious departure of original guitarist Don Felder in early 2001. Nevertheless, Frey said that was the band had fun.
“We (had) the best time ... since the '70s,” said Frey. “Besides the fact that we felt we were playing and singing good, what really came back was the camaraderie. We really enjoyed that tour and being with each other. It was fun.”
It would take six more years before The Eagles finally emerged with Long Road Out Of Eden. The two-disc 20-song collection is filled with the same impeccable harmonies they're famous for, with song-writing contributions from all members.
Henley has credited Frey for bringing everything together. “The bond we forged 45 years ago was never broken, even during the 14 years that the Eagles were dissolved,” Henley said on Monday. “Glenn was the one who started it all. He was the spark plug, the man with the plan. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of popular music and a work ethic that wouldn't quit. He was funny, bull-headed, mercurial, generous, deeply talented and driven.”
We won’t ever get to see another Eagles concert nor hear any new music featuring the band’s original co-founders. But, as The Beatles’ John Lennon once said his band’s own breakup: You have all the old records there if you want to reminisce. Here then, are our favourite tracks from Frey (as a songwriter or singer).
NEW KID IN TOWN. This has to be my favourite Eagles track of all time. The first single off what would be the monster album called Hotel California (1976), New Kid In Town is sometimes overlooked as a key Eagles track (despite it being a No 1 hit) because it’s so quiet and even more laid-back than Peaceful Easy Feeling. Written by Frey and Henley (together with their frequent collaborator JD Souther), Frey takes the lead vocals in this song, competently backed the band with the members supplying great close harmony work.
TAKE IT EASY. You can still hear bands playing this song in the clubs here. With its twangy guitar opening Take It Easy was the Eagles’ first single (and hit) in 1972 and became one of the band's signature songs. It was mostly written by musician Jackson Browne, but Frey added a line and sings lead vocals. Incidentally, that road junction of 2nd Street and Kinsley Street in Winslow, Arizona (immortalized in the line “Well, I'm standing in the corner of Winslow, Arizona, such a fine sight to see”) has now become a bit of a popular destination for Eagles fans. The authorities in Winslow erected a statue of a man and a guitar there, and the town named the spot the Standin' on the Corner Park. It’s reported that every year, more than 100,000 people visit the former rail hub. Funnily enough, Browne said the experience of seeing a young woman in a truck had its roots not in Winslow, but in the nearby town of East Flagstaff - but Winslow fitted better into the lyrics.
HOTEL CALIFORNIA. Another song that’s been played ad infinitum by the club bands here, ever since it came out. Hotel California topped the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and gave the group the Grammy Award for Record of the Year. The music for the song originated from a demo written and recorded by Felder. Henley and Frey tweaked the music and provided the lyrics. The song’s working title, said Frey, was Mexican Reggae, which could explain the tempo of the final product. Also, the duelling guitar solo between Joe Walsh and Felder echoes the rock solos of the era. The band did an acoustic version of the song for their Hell Freezes Over reunion concert CD and video releases, which gave the song another boost in the popularity stakes.
HEARTACHE TONIGHT. Appearing on the band’s final studio album of the 1970s, The Long Run, Heartache Tonight was another Frey, Henley and Souther collaboration, who wrote the track with musician Bob Seger. As with most of the harder, edgier songs by the band, Frey sang lead vocals. The song won a Grammy Award for best rock vocal performance by a duo or group.
PART OF ME, PART OF YOU. A lovely jaunty tune that’s structured like the breezy rock songs of The Eagles' later years (although it replaces the guitar approach for an understated synthesiser part). At six minutes, this is a fairly long sonic excursion for Frey, but you don’t feel the time passing (which is always the mark of a good song). It was also used in the movie Thelma & Louise.
THE ONE YOU LOVE. I’m choosing for sentimental reasons (this was the first Glenn Frey solo record I bought). Admittedly, it’s not the best Frey song but it’s the most recognisable, thanks to that schmaltzy saxophone riff. Frey poses some terrific philosophical questions for lovers out there (“Are you going stay with the one who loves you or are you going back to the one you love?”); but he kind of deflates the atmosphere with the follow-up (“someone’s going to cry when they know they’ve lost you, someone’s going to thank the stars above”). Still, there is a reason this song is on Glenn Frey's "best of" list.
THE HEAT IS ON. That punchy saxophone intro, the tub-thumping drums, the running rhythms: Frey doesn’t put a foot wrong with this all-out pop track. Like several of his songs in the 1980s, this was used in a movie too: Beverly Hills Cop.
ALREADY GONE. I like this one only because Frey cheekily dedicated this track to the former American President George W Bush – as a reference to his Presidential campaign at the time - during the 2004 concert in Singapore.