'The Long Run'
The Eagles' lackluster follow-up
The mega-success of the Hotel California album put Eagles at the top of the world in 1977. They were more successful than they ever could have imagined and as always, therein is the difficulty: where to go from there.
As many bands have before them, they envisioned the big statement: a double album that would solidify their status as THE band of the 1970s. Not just a superior singles act but a juggernaut with several solid albums to their credit and at least two masterpieces.
However, the Hotel California tour had left them exhausted and it was not without acrimony. Glenn Frey and Randy Meisner had run-ins during the tour, and yet another original member quit (or was forced out of) the band in mid-1977, leaving only Frey and Don Henley still in tow after five plus years of Eagle history. However, they did not have to look hard for a replacement bass player, summoning Timothy B. Schmit from Poco--the very band in which he had previously replaced Meisner. Like Meisner, Schmit had a powerful falsetto voice to accompany considerable musical skill, so assimilating Schmit would prove a relatively easy task compared to some of the other ones ahead of them.
As planning began on the daunting task of a follow-up, Joe Walsh continued his solo career, recording the album But Seriously Folks, which was released in 1978 and featured the satirical hit song "Life's Been Good." All four other Eagles, including Schmit, guested on the album and the single would become a future staple of Eagles shows (and is so to this day). The band recorded a Christmas single for the holiday season of 1978. Their version of Charles Brown's"Please Come Home For Christmas," a vehicle for Henley that was backed with the mostly forgettable "Funky New Year," would become the highest charting Christmas single in 20 years.
By the time the Eagles hit the studios, the idea of a double album was scrapped when the Eagles realized they could not come up with enough songs to accomplish this. Unlike many of their songwriting peers, the team of Henley and Frey had never been tremendously prolific. Completing the songlist for their first few albums had largely been accomplished by calling on friends like Jackson Browne, J.D. Souther, and Jack Tempchin. Plus Bernie Leadon and Meisner had always been good for two or three songs between them and helped on others. Leadon, for example, accounted for two songs encompassing about 10 minutes of One of These Nights, songs that Henley and Frey would disparage but that would have been welcome additions to the song candidates for The Long Run.
Even on Hotel California, Henley and Frey benefitted from Walsh bringing in a song planned for a solo project and a guitar riff that would become "Life in the Fast Lane." Felder would bring in the opening and closing passages of the title track that would break the Eagles into the stratosphere. And Randy Meisner would provide one last more than serviceable song.
Reports also were that Frey and Henley were not in agreement over much of anything except the correct idea that they were the creative talents that ran the Eagles. Here they took credit as cowriters on all but one track the heaviest lifting they had done to date, but the relative quality of the songs compared to their earlier work does lead to the question of whether the two were up to writing as a pair at that time. Even though the album was once again produced by Bill Sczymcyk, the troubles are betrayed by the fact that recording for The Long Run took 18 months and was done in 5 different studios. This is not to say that the album does not feature the typical excellent vocals and highly professional production and musical backing one by now expected of the Eagles. It certainly does, but the songwriting is a step below what had been seen previously.
It's somewhat concerning that Henley and Frey seemed to be trying to even emulate Hotel California's running order. Like that album the singles were all up front, with one small difference--the first single wound up being on side two of the album, and was the only one to top the charts..
As with its predecessor, The Long Run opens with its title track and while a serviceable opener, it falls well short of the power of "Hotel California." It was intended as a commentary on the Eagles' long-term success, which is ironic because the band was faltering at this time. A Henley-Frey cowrite, it lacks the elements that Felder brought to bear on the earlier title track. The opening bars are more mundane than arresting, and there is no exciting element, like the dual guitar solo that closes out "Hotel California." And where the previous title track had a cryptic, evocative lyric that made the song endlessly interesting, the lyric to "The Long Run" was relatively straightforward and largely uninteresting. Still, as the album's second single, it did reach number 8 on the Billboard Top 100.
Next up is "I Can't Tell You Why," which was written by new recruit Timothy B. Schmit along with Henley and Frey. Frey added the R&B vibe to the song since he was familiar with that style from growing up in Detroit. Frey advised Schmit to sound like Smokey Robinson on the song. Not to become too obsessed on the subject of the previous album but unlike its predecessor Track 2 "New Kid in Town" the song at time seems to go nowhere at all, even if some of the musical touches are quite nice. Released as the album's third single, it also reached number 8 on the Billboard chart.
"In The City" was composed by Joe Walsh with Barry De Vorzon for the soundtrack for the film "The Warriors" It was recorded initially for the soundtrack of that movie but was recorded anew by the Eagles for this album. It's a nice Walsh track, akin to some of his moderately successful solo tunes, but as a riff and as a complete entity it unfortunately pales next to "Life In the Fast Lane." It was not released as a single though it did get some airplay during the time of the album's popularity; it was Walsh's only lead vocal performance on the album.
"The Disco Strangler" written by Henley and Frey with Don Felder and was their commentary on rock music's "existential threat" at the time. Even though not in the style of disco, the move of having a "disco" themed song seemed unworthy of them. Like their buddy Jackson Browne, whose "Disco Apocalypse" would lead off his album the next year, Eagles were thriving fine without disco and this imagined nightclub rang a bit short of earlier classics despite a nice opening riff.
"King of Hollywood" is another rather mediocre song, which features rather uninspired singing by writers Henley and Frey. Even a nice guitar solo and vocal harmonies near the end can't save the song from being one of the more cliched accounts of the Hollywood life that the band had been so effective in exploiting in earlier albums.
What was then the first song on the second side of the LP,"Heartache Tonight" was the album's first single, released a week before the full album and reaching number 1 on the Billboard Chart. The song brought a new contibutor as songwriter for an Eagles record, with either writing input or song doctoring by Frey's mentor from Detroit, Bob Seger. Credited to Henley and Frey with J.D. Souther and Seger, it proved a solid single for the band and a nice stylistic change. While very simple lyrically, it went down smooth and was a welcome listen in 1979. Clever percussion and effective backing vocals that featured an uncredited Seger.
"Those Shoes" is really just a showcase for the playing and talk box effects of Walsh and cocredited writer Felder. Even without Felder in the band, it has been played live quite frequently at Eagles concerts in recent years.
"Teenage Jail" is a guitar-driven song that really drags, with Henley's near spoken word lyrics and a bit of synthesizer noodling. It might be the worst Eagles track to make an album in the '70s, or maybe ever. Except...
"The Greeks Don't Want No Freaks" is just embarrassing and really just shows that the band was scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of filling out the album. Jimmy Buffett is a backing vocalist on this one. Thankfully it is one of the band's shortest tracks.
The final track, "The Sad Café" is Henley's tribute to the Troubadour club in Los Angeles. where Eagles and much of the California music scene got their start, and Elton John and other British artists staked their claim on US adudiences. The music was credited not only to Henley but Frey, Souther and Walsh as well. Because it's the album's longest and most lyrically wistful song, it gets compared to "The Last Resort," the long Henley diatribe on bad taste and environmental damage that ended Hotel California. That song grow increasingly angry as it reaches a crescendo of strings and synthesizers, while this one pretty much stys wistful and nostalgiac, bathed in soft keyboards and the alto saxophone of David Sanborn.
The album came out on September 24, 1979, and sold millions to the now very loyal Eagles fan base. However, the reviewers were not so kind. Don Henley responded to some negative reviews by sending angry letters to the reviewers,which did not win him many friends.
The tensions in the Eagles would soon boil over less than a year later, In July 1980 after a disastrous political benefit gig the band would implode leading to a 14-year sabbatical. A 1980 live album would be the last gasp for the first decade of Eagles. Henley would go on to a fairly successful career, while Frey would have less success recording than he would have acting--and that seemed to suit him fine. Schmit and Felder tried to find work wherever they could, while Walsh's addictions got the better of him for an extended time. It did indeed seem that hell would have to freeze over....