Happy 45th: Eagles, DESPERADO

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

45 years ago today, the Eagles released their sophomore album, and while it certainly didn’t exactly soar to the top of the charts like, say, the animals that provided the band with its name, it did serve as a cornerstone to the country-rock movement.

Produced by Glyn Johns at London’s famed Island Studios, DESPERADO’s origins can be traced to Glenn Frey’s desire to make a concept album, one inspired by a book about gunfighters of the Wild West that Jackson Browne provided when the topic of conversation came up one evening. What was originally planned as a collection of songs about anti-heroes kind of fell apart after writing “Doolin-Dalton” and “James Dean,” so they switched things up and decided to just do a Western-themed album.

The end result featured such classics as “Tequila Sunrise” and the album’s title track, along with a top-notch – and thematically-appropriate – cover of David Blue’s “Outlaw Man,” but to say that the finished product did not immediately meet with the approval of the Eagles’ label would be somewhat of an understatement.

“A guy named Jerry Greenberg was, at that time, the president of Atlantic Records, which was the distributor of the label we were on (Asylum),” Don Henley recalled to Rolling Stone. “When he heard the album, he reportedly put his head in his hands and exclaimed, ‘Jeez, they've made a fucking cowboy album!’ The company was expecting us to give them more ‘hits’ like ‘Take It Easy,’ ‘Witchy Woman’ and ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling.’ In fact, the DESPERADO album was not a commercial or even a critical success, but it served its purpose by establishing us as a band that was willing to roll the dice, to take chances artistically, and not just play it safe and do the expected thing.”

Upon its initial release, DESPERADO was – as Henley noted – not a smash hit: it topped out at #41 on the Billboard 200, and neither “Tequila Sunrise” nor “Outlaw Man,” the album’s two singles, cracked the top 40, getting no farther than #64 and #59, respectively. Having said all that, however, the album eventually found its following, and as of this writing it’s well beyond the point of going double platinum, so it’s fair to say that the Eagles had the last laugh.

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