THE WRONG ONE – Eagles fall to earth with ‘The Long Run’

Although few realised it at the time, as 1976 gave way to 1977 rock music was on the cusp of a new chapter. Although titans such as Led Zeppelin, The Who, Elton John and the Rolling Stones were playing huge, insatiably attended gigs, The Ramones first album and Sex Pistols debut single ‘Anarchy in the UK‘ in late ’76 brought the first stirrings of revolt against the rock establishment.

Long Run Eagles – short on smiles…..

Not that mainstream acts such as Peter Frampton, the Eagles and reincarnated Fleetwood Mac had cause to worry, each beneficiaries of an LP buying binge that sent their album sales to unprecedented levels.

Indeed, no soft rock aficionado could claim a comprehensive collection unless it contained ‘Frampton Comes Alive‘, ‘Hotel California‘ and ‘Rumours‘ – of which, to these Clash-honed ears at least, ‘Hotel California‘ was the most resonant, the allegorical lyrics of the title track and songs such as ‘The Last Resort‘ exploring the dark side of the Californian dream.

In the two years following the November 1976 release of ‘Hotel California‘ the Eagles were the most successful rock act in the world (one estimate put their average album sales between November ’76 and March 1981 at a million a month).

Not even a change of personnel, original bass player Randy Meisner leaving the quartet of Don Henley (drums), Glenn Frey (guitar/keyboards), and guitarists Don Felder and Joe Walsh, to be replaced by former Poco bassist Timothy B. Schmit, impinged on their enormous popularity.

But as time slipped by without a follow-up to the critically acclaimed and chart busting success of ‘Hotel California‘, their standing in the rock press, particularly the UK weeklies, shifted dramatically. Throwing their weight behind the burgeoning punk rock movement, every reference to Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Queen and the Eagles, contained ‘dinosaur‘ somewhere in the sentence.

Renowned as a band sensitive to criticism, in faraway Los Angeles it is unlikely the Eagles were unduly concerned by the antipathy the New Musical Express were showing toward them – especially as they had more pressing problems closer to home.

As 1979 unfolded, rumours circulated that recording sessions had become fraught due to personality clashes within the group, while speculation was rife that plans for a double LP had long since been scrapped.

When the new album finally appeared in September 1979 such conjecture proved not too wide of the mark. Most of the band were no longer on speaking terms, with their new offering a ten track, two sided disc – and if ever an album cover reflected the state of a group and the mood pervading most of the songs, then the black and grey tombstone sleeve of ‘THE LONG RUN‘ could not have been more appropriate.

Princes of darkness…..

Coming up with material to equal that of its predecessor would have been difficult had unity prevailed within the camp, but from its earliest listens ‘The Long Run‘ sounded hesitant and insubstantial – David Crosby going as far to describe the songs as, ‘a mile wide and an inch deep.’

If anything that may have overstated some of the lesser inclusions – and although forty years has done little to mask the undoubted thin spots, the album, contrary to the way it was savaged at the time is not without merit, with redemption long over due for the moments that gel.

Of the ten songs, only one does not contain a song writing credit for Henley and Frey (often in conjunction with another group member or Eagle acolytes Bob Seger and J.D. Souther).

The exception is ‘In The City‘ a presentable up-tempo number written by Walsh and Barry De Vorzon, which under different circumstances might have been an interesting sidestep. But the song had previously been included on the soundtrack of the Walter Hill film ‘The Warriors‘ earlier in the year, Walsh having nothing else suitable or acceptable – and therein lies the problem with much of ‘The Long Run,’ too many songs sound laboured, but slight at the same time.

The two songs that open the record are each a case in point. The title track is pleasant enough, even if it soon sounds derivative of a Memphis-styled R&B cut (on the ‘Eagles Live‘ album released the following year, Frey introduces it as a ‘tribute to ‘Memphis Tennessee‘).

On his cover of ‘Tryin’ To Live My Life Without You‘, Seger tells the audience, ‘this is an old Memphis song‘ making the similarity between the two clearly apparent. Not content to leave it there, on his first solo album Frey re-writes ‘The Long Run‘ as ‘I Found Somebody‘ which lyrically makes the Eagles song sound like ‘Positively 4th Street.’

New bassist Schmit brings his lush, delicate vocals to ‘I Can’t Tell You Why‘ and although admirably performed, the Bee Gees overtones are unmissable – and so too is a bland, unoriginal lyric. Suffice to say, neither ‘The Long Run‘ or ‘I Can’t Tell You Why‘ would have been allowed anywhere near the previous two Eagles albums.

After ‘In The City‘ comes ‘The Disco Strangler,’ a comment on the LA nightclub/party scene. Set against a thumping bass drum and scything guitar riffs, the song has no great depth, but at less than three minutes does not outstay its welcome.

Of a similar theme, but far more substantial, is ‘King Of Hollywood‘ – Frey, Felder and Walsh all producing impressive electric guitar work in a sordid tale of an exploitative film producer. (‘Come sit down beside me honey, let’s have a little heart to heart, now look at me and tell me darlin’, how badly do you want this part?’).

From the earliest days of ‘The Long Run‘ being in circulation, this sounded the most effective track – the song taking on even greater resonance four decades later in light of the Harvey Weinstein allegations.

Side two kicks off and up with the thumping ‘Heartache Tonight‘. With its handclaps and singalong chorus it was an effortless hit single, the only surprise being the efforts of four talented people (Henley, Frey, Seger and Souther) were required to write it.

Notable for the talk-box guitars showcased by Felder and Walsh, ‘Those Shoes‘ has aged better than most other ‘Long Run‘ offerings. Telling a story not that dissimilar to ‘Victim of Love‘ on ‘Hotel California‘ it displays some commendable innovation – which is more than can be said for ‘Teenage Jail,’ a rather trite observation, behind howling guitars and leaden synthesiser break, on attitudes of the young.

Ironically, a line from ‘Those Shoes‘ (‘all those jerkoffs in their fancy cars‘) could be said to reflect how many listening to punk felt about the Eagles in 1979.

The Greeks Don’t Want No Freaks‘ was the most uncharacteristic piece the Eagles had recorded up to that point and while this raucous, beach-party surf song lightens the mood, it stands as little more than a novelty – all of which leaves ‘The Sad Cafe‘ to wrap things up.

Once again four writers are required to complete the song, an electric piano ballad fattened up with a saxophone (played by David Sanborn), the instrument making its first appearance on an Eagles album – by contrast the guitar solo by Walsh is the only time acoustic guitar is heard on the entire album.

The well-constructed lyric reflects on what could be construed as the Eagles journey – ‘The Sad Cafe‘ taken as the Troubadour, the LA rock club where the original group were formed. As ever, Henley proves himself a first rate vocalist as he laments:

Maybe the time has drawn the faces I recall, but things in this life change very slowly, if they ever change at all.’

But things were about to change for the Eagles – a year later the group existed only in name, a final round of acrimony causing them to splinter after a run of US stadium shows in the summer of 1980. For the ‘Eagles Live‘ album (November 1980), overdubs were carried out on a largely separate basis, although collectively the record did them few favours.

As solo careers commenced, Schmit and Walsh did cameos for Henley, Felder and Schmit likewise for Walsh, but the rancour emanating from ‘The Long Run‘ sessions was enough to keep the group apart for fourteen years – the 1994 ‘Hell Freezes Over‘ album and tour so named after an early-80s quote from Henley on the likelihood of an Eagles reunion.

For almost fifteen years ‘The Long Run‘ remained the Eagles epitaph, ‘The Sad Cafe‘, the last page of what appeared the final chapter. Had they ridden out the storm and continued recording throughout the 80s (as Fleetwood Mac did, despite their internal squabbles), ‘The Long Run‘ may have come to be regarded as a mishit rather than own goal.

Had Henley for instance, put the fine songs he was to write for his first solo album to an Eagles album, it would surely have been greeted as a welcome return to form.

The rough treatment dished out by the critics for ‘The Long Run‘ undoubtedly added to late-70s tensions within the group. Some commentators claimed to like the Eagles but not the album, while one noted New York rock writer delivered the ultimate back-handed compliment (east coast music journalists generally loathed the soft-rock of California personified by the Eagles) in saying he liked the record – but not them.

Eagles – The Gone Fun;

As the summer of 2019 draws to a close, it is interesting to note they have recently played sold-out shows across America and Europe, the Eagles effortlessly retaining a vast audience.

Not even the firing of Felder in 2001 and sad death of Frey in 2016 has interrupted their momentum – and on any given night, ‘I Can’t Tell You Why‘, ‘In The City‘, ‘Heartache Tonight‘ and the title track are set-list certainties.

Their most maligned album could be said to have made it – in the long run.

EAGLES – THE LONG RUN (Released September 24 1979):

The Long Run/I Can’t Tell You Why/In The City/The Disco Strangler/King Of Hollywood/Heartache Tonight/Those Shoes/Teenage Jail/The Greeks Don’t Want Know Freaks/The Sad Cafe;

This article was first published on 17/8/2019.

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NEIL SAMBROOK is the author of ‘MONTY’S DOUBLE‘ – an acclaimed thriller available as an Amazon Kindle book.