Eagles – Desperado (1973)

FrontCover1Desperado is the second studio album by the American band the Eagles. It was recorded at Island Studios in London, England and released in 1973. The songs on Desperado are based on the themes of the Old West. The band members are featured on the album’s cover dressed like an outlaw gang; Desperado remains the only Eagles album where the band members appear on the front cover.Desperado is the second studio album by the American band the Eagles. It was recorded at Island Studios in London, England and released in 1973. The songs on Desperado are based on the themes of the Old West. The band members are featured on the album’s cover dressed like an outlaw gang; Desperado remains the only Eagles album where the band members appear on the front cover.

Although the title track is one of the Eagles’ signature songs, it was never released as a single. The song “Desperado” was ranked number 494 on Rolling Stone’s 2004 list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. The album did yield two singles, though: “Tequila Sunrise” and “Outlaw Man”. Those two singles reached number 64 and number 59 respectively. The album reached number 41 on the Billboard album chart and was certified gold by the RIAA on September 23, 1974, and double platinum on March 20, 2001.

Desperado was the last Asylum Records album to be distributed in North America by Atlantic Records (catalog no. SD 5068), prior to Asylum’s mid-1973 merger with Elektra Records by Asylum’s, Elektra’s and Atlantic’s parent company, Warner Communications.

Eagles

After a commercially successful first album, Frey wanted the second album to be one where they could be taken seriously as artists, and became interested in making a concept album. The original concept was for songs about anti-heroes; according to Glenn Frey, he was jamming together with Don Henley, Jackson Browne, and J. D. Souther after a Tim Hardin concert when they had the idea of doing an album about anti-heroes. One inspiration was a book on gunfighters of the Wild West given to Browne by Ned Doheny for his 21st birthday, and Browne showed them the book and suggested the theme. The book includes stories about Bill Dalton and Bill Doolin; from this came the song “Doolin-Dalton” about the Doolin-Dalton Gang. However, they ran out of ideas after writing “Doolin-Dalton” and “James Dean” about the eponymous actor. The idea for anti-heroes then become the Western-themed Desperado.

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Jackson Browne himself credited the song “Desperado” written by Frey and Henley as the origin of the outlaw theme of the album. Bernie Leadon said that Frey liked the idea of an analogy between outlaw gangs and rock-and-roll: “Glenn sat everybody down and mapped out which characters in the gang could have songs written about them, or encouraged us to write songs about this concept.” As Frey said of the album in an interview in 1973: “It has its moments where it definitely draws some parallels between rock-and-roll and being an outlaw. Outside the laws of normality, I guess. I mean, I feel like I’m breaking a law all the time. What we live and what we do is kind of a fantasy.” Henley also said that the album was to be their “big artistic commentary on the evils of fame and success, with a cowboy metaphor.” However, he admitted: “The metaphor was probably a little bullshit. We were in L.A. staying up all night, smoking dope, living the California life, and I suppose we thought it was as radical as cowboys in the old West. We were really rebelling against the music business, not society.” Part of the reasons for their dissatisfaction and cynicism with the music business was due to David Geffen selling his independent Asylum label to Warner Communications which then merged it with Elektra, and the band attributed this as the reason for the lack of interest in promoting the band internationally by EMI.

Eagles4The other songs in the album quickly came together after the theme had been decided. Even though Desperado is sometimes described as a concept album, it does not have a specific narrative, and the songs do not necessarily fit in with the theme explicitly. “Desperado” was the first song Frey and Henley wrote together, marking the beginning of their songwriting partnership. Henley noted: “That’s when we became a team.” “Tequila Sunrise” was written in the same week as “Desperado”; in all Frey and Henley were involved in writing 8 of the 11 songs in the album. The songwriting prowess of Frey and Henley in Desperado also marks the beginning of their dominance in the band. As Henley said; “That was a real crucial time for us. When we formed the band, it was supposed to be one of those ‘everybody’s equal’ affairs. We’d all sing and all write and so forth. But the fact is people aren’t all going to be able to do everything the same. It’s just like on a football team . . . . Some people quarterback and some people block. So we went through a lot of hassles for a while.”.

Leadon wrote two songs – “Twenty-One” and “Bitter Creek”, while Randy Meisner co-wrote “Certain Kind of Fool” and “Saturday Night”. “Twenty-One” refers to the age of Emmett Dalton, the youngest of the Dalton gang, when he was shot 23 times but survived during the raid on Coffeyville, Kansas in October 1892. Meisner came up with the idea for how someone became an outlaw in “Certain Kind of Fool”, wrote most of it, and said of his contribution: “I kinda started it. And that’s what usually happened – I’d get a verse or two, and I’m done, and they would help fill in the blanks” The only song on the album not written by the band members of Eagles is “Outlaw Man”, which was written by David Blue and chosen because it fit the theme.

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The album was recorded at the Island Studios in London, which took four weeks at a cost of £30,000. The producer Glyn Johns wanted to produce the album quickly and economically, each track was therefore limited to four or five takes, and requests to record more were refused.

Henley would later state that his greatest regret was that he did not sing as well as he could on the title track “Desperado”, and would have liked to redo the song.

According to the producer Johns, he and Leadon tried to come up with a few musical links in an attempt to tie up the story for an outlaw concept in the album, however, the concept itself dissipated. The band was very happy with the finished result; after Johns had played the album back to them as an entity for the first time, they carried him on their shoulders out of the control room.

However, the finished recording was received poorly by Jerry Greenberg, the president of Atlantic Records, who said: “Jeez, they’ve made a fucking cowboy album!”

The film director Sam Peckinpah had planned to use the album as the basis for a film, but the plan did not come to fruition.

The photograph on the back cover as a reenactment of the capture of the Dalton Gang. On the ground are Jackson Browne, Bernie Leadon, Glenn Frey, Randy Meisner, Don Henley, J. D. Souther.

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The artwork for the album was done by artist Gary Burden with photos by Henry Diltz, both of whom were also responsible for Eagles’ first album. To illustrate the theme for the music in the album, the original concept was for a gatefold double album with the band dressed as outlaws on the front cover with images of gunfight and the Wild West inside. The centerfold idea however was scrapped by David Geffen.

On the back of the album is an image of all four members of the band together with Jackson Browne and J. D. Souther lying dead and bound on the ground, with a posse including the producer Glyn Johns (far right in a white hat), manager John Hartmann, road manager Tommy Nixon, artist Boyd Elder (later responsible for the skull artwork of Eagles’ later albums), roadies, and Gary Burden (far left) standing over them.

The photo is meant to be an reenactment of the historical image of the capture and death of the Dalton Gang. Jackson Browne said that the image on the back cover with the musicians lying dead is when the “whole thing really comes together”.

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The photo shoot took place at the Paramount Ranch, an old film set for Western movies in Malibu Canyon. It was however an expensive shoot, and to justify the cost, a promotional film for the album was also made at the same time. The film was shot on Super-8, then sepia-tinted, and transferred to videotape. In each process a little video quality is lost, which Frey described as a “nice accident” as it made the video appear aged and more realistic. Henley described the promotional film, like the album itself, as “a commentary on [their] loss of innocence with regard to how the music business really worked”]

Paul Gambaccini of Rolling Stone gave the album a positive review on its release in 1973. He wrote: “The beautiful thing about it is that although it is a unified set of songs, it is not a rock opera, a concept album, or anything pretending to be much more than a set of good tunes that just happen to fit together.” In conclusion, he wrote: “Desperado won’t cure your hangover or revalue the dollar, but it will give you many good times. With their second consecutive job well done, the Eagles are on a winning streak.”

Robert Christgau however took the view that “with its barstool-macho equation of gunslinger and guitarschlonger, its on-the-road misogyny, its playing-card metaphors, and its paucity of decent songs, this soundtrack to an imaginary Sam Peckinpah movie is “concept” at its most mindless.”[24] AllMusic editor William Ruhlmann praised that Henley had more involvement with the album, but wrote that it “was simultaneously more ambitious and serious-minded than its predecessor and also slighter and less consistent.”

The Eagles Dressed as Cowboys

The album is now considered by some critics to be the one of the significant albums of country rock. Music writer John Einarson argued in his book Desperados: The Roots of Country Rock that despite its weak initial sales, the album “would set the tone for all the later soft country rock sounds, and impact what would become the foundation of “new country”, in both image and music.”

Released in April of 1973, the album was not a commercial success initially. It debuted on the US Billboard 200 chart at a lowly number 145 on its week of its release, rising to number 41 in its eighth week on the chart, It remains Eagles’ lowest charting album and it produced no hit song, as both singles released from the album, “Tequila Sunrise” and “Outlaw Man”, failed to reach top 50 on the main singles chart.

However, the success of their next album release, On the Border, as well as subsequent releases, spurred on the sales of the album. It was certified double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on March 20, 2001, indicating shipment of 2 million copies in the United States. (by wikipedia)

Singles

Personnel:
Glenn Frey (guitar, vocals, keyboards, harmonica)
Don Henley (drums, vocals, guitar)
Bernie Leadon (guitar, vocals; banjo, mandolin, dobro)
Randy Meisner (bass, vocals)

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Tracklist:
01. Doolin-Dalton (Henley/Frey/Browne/Souther) 3.34
02. Twenty-One (Leadon) 2.10
03. Out Of Control (Henley/Frey/Nixon) 3.05
04. Tequila Sunrise (Henley/Frey) 2.54
05. Desperado (Henley/Frey) 3.37
06. Certain Kind Of Fool (Henley/Frey/Meisner) 3.02
07. Doolin-Dalton (Instrumental) (Henley/Frey/Browne/Souther) 0.48
08. Outlaw Man (Blue) 3.35
09. Saturday Night (Leadon/Henley/Frey/Meisner) 3.20
10. Bitter Creek (Leadon) 5.04
11. Doolin-Dalton/Desperado (Reprise) (Henley/Frey/Browne/Souther) 4.51

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The Eagles Dressed as Cowboys

 

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