Other Players

I think I’ve finally put my finger on why I’ve never liked The Eagles.

1

It's not, as I've said in the past, that they're too perfect - or even that they wasted their lyrical talents on documenting a trivial and self-indulgent SoCal 70s lifestyle.

My wife is a fan (I like lots of music she doesn't, but I rarely disagree with what she likes), and asked Alexa to play some this morning.

I listened closely rather than dismissively (which as a mindfulness discipline is a good way to make fuel from eagle dung), and realized how utterly familiar every element of every song is. Partially from having heard them ad infinitum, partially from having played many of them in bands - but mostly from the sheer musical and production rightness of everything they did. No musician (and few casual listeners) can fail to be astonished by the craft.

And that's it. It's the craft. I hear nothing but craft, infinitely calculated, polished to cold perfection. They even "rock out" with the greatest of decorum, careful not to offend or annoy. Every phrase is turned to be every bit as (sometimes subtly) clever - and clichéd - as it could possibly be. Not once did they risk being obscure, or failing to speak to the center.

And I don't believe a word they sang in that lush harmony, nor a note they played. Nothing ever got loose.

It was all an act.

4

Oddly, almost everything I said above could also be fairly said of Steely Dan, whom I revere to the same extent I abhor The Eagles. So what's the difference?

For one, I believe everything that comes out of Don Fagen's twisted mouth. Or, rather, I sense the arch extent to which he either means it sincerely - or means it to be cynical, sarcastic, sardonic, or some complex admixture of all of the above. That's whether he's playing a dramatic role in the song - or revealing something personal, however disguised.

And certainly the duo's lyrics are laced with obscure references and particular detail which reveals that the material came from if not from personal experience (I hope not), at least close observation buttressed by fervid imagination. I like that there's often something to figure out...that much of the stories are told between the lines, has to be inferred. They often let us decide how to feel about the emotional consequences of the evocative narratives.

The Eagles' lyrics, on the other hand, are so explanatory, so self-consciously intended to tell universal tales, so bereft of specific detail, that they evaporate into universal vagueness.

As a result, I get invested in, I believe the Dan's shady tales of the underbelly of SoCal and suburban lifestyles (even when the narratives were, paradoxically, not autobiographical) - whereas I feel no identification with the Eagles' stories, and I can't tell they even feel anything about them. And, if anything, there's a greater likelihood their vignettes were lived by a member (or members) of the band.

Somehow I feel that with Steely Dan, there's truth beneath the artifice; with the Eagles, I sense only the artifice.

Some artists, in every discipline, evoke universal themes and emotional states, confident that, in that generality, consumers of their art will recognize themselves and supply the personal specifics through which they identify. Other artists willfully, sometimes almost defiantly, patiently pile up minute details till their stories could only have come from them - challenging their audience to identify with that, get a bit outside themselves, and then see how the particulars have led to the universal. (Or exactly how I differ from the characters in the songs.)

I can appreciate both approaches, but the second gives me more to work with, widens my comprehension of the human experience by letting me walk in another's shoes - to see if they fit, and if not, why, and in what circumstances they might. (Metaphorically speaking.) The steadfastly universalistic approach, where I immediately find myself in the generalities, doesn't teach me anything. It just reinforces everything I already thought or felt. (It's also much harder to do well, as it's hard to rise above cliché when you purposely flog clichés. Steinbeck does it; The Eagles don't.)

But back to my Dan-Eagle dichotomy. Purely musically, while both bands display a roughly similar standard of compositional expertise and production perfection, I just find more of musical interest in SD's combination of jazz, rock, and whatever than I do in The Eagles' persistently pop-polished rounded-off country and mild-mannered rock mashup. I guess I can't help but be more impressed by SD's musical content - the harmonic richness, chord progressions, quirky melodies, Riddle-smart layering and arrangements, the unique mix of genre-agnostic choices - than I am in the much narrower range of faux-rootsy genre-specific tropes, tonalities, and textures assayed by the Eagles. I know that's a choice of taste on my part, but there it is.

I get that both could reasonably be said to be creatures of the studio first, and live bands second. (OK, even that SD isn't really a band but rather a pair of auteurs leveraging a horde of session players, to an ever greater extent than the Eggles.)

And still - with Steely Dan, I find something more substantial behind, under, beyond the craft. And with The Eagles, I only find craft.

5

I thought you were just a fan of The Big Lebowski.

I am that too. Of COURSE!

6

No interest in The Eagles at all but love the Dan. Reading Donald Fagen's book Eminent Hipsters (great name for a band if you could live up to it) where he charts both his musical and literary progress through adolescence, you can see where all those Dan characters and tales came from. Wonderful stuff that, to my ears, never fades.

7

when he charts both his musical and literary progress through adolescence, you can see where all those Dan characters and tales came from

Yes - and, taking that body of work in conjunction with his solo albums - especially The Nightfly - it emerges that he's a softy at heart, a sentimentalist with a crusty roundabout way of expressing it.

Which (not to flog my arbitrary comparison) is more heart than the ever-so-on-their-sleeves Eagles have. Or, to be fair, since I can't judge the individuals, more heart than the Eagles ever truly reveal.

8

I think it's interesting how you compare Steely Dan and The Eagles. I've never heard anyone compare them side by side before. They are both formed from studio musicians so the craft is in their DNA. The main differences I hear are The Eagles seemed to write songs specifically to be played on the radio where Steely Dan seemed more interested in pushing the boundaries of what studio musicians could accomplish while balancing good 1970s style pop rock songwriting.

9

Steely Dan was DARK. Finding out that the kid isn’t really yours. Drug dealers on the lam. The neighborhood child molester. Middle aged losers banging girls half their age and knowing how tawdry it is. “Lying Eyes” and “Life in the Fast Lane” are skim milk by comparison.

10

I think it's interesting how you compare Steely Dan and The Eagles.

Yeah, I don't think it's ever occurred to me before today. It came about because as I was condemning everything I don't like about the Eagles - self-important hymns to a trivial and self-consciously decadent SoCal lifestyle, consummate studiocraft, ever-so-calculated musicality, an apparent pursuit of perfection for its own sake - it occurred to me that Steely Dan (who is never far from my consciousness) could be blamed/praised for exactly the same things. And they both had their years of greatest productivity during the 70s.

That impelled me to explore why I find one band great, and the other grating. The old compare-and-contrast thing.

11

Steely Dan was DARK.

Well, yeah. But funny.

So that's another thing. The Eagles, skim milk and all, have No. Sense. Of. Humor.

12

Harmonically, the Eagles would have to stand on Steely Dan’s shoulders just to kiss their mama’s butt. Yeah, they’re both slick but like you said, The Eagles were slick coz they wanted to sell records. S. Dan were slick because you had to be a badass to pull off those songs and slickness is merely a by-product of said badassery. IMO, of course. Zappa’s bands were always slick too but not coz that stuff was easy to play. But I getcha, the Eagles were a sterile, soulless kinda slick. Luvz me some Joe Walsh, however.

13

S. Dan were slick because you had to be a badass to pull off those songs and slickness is merely a by-product of said badassery.

Not to mention, to come up with them in the first place.

The Eagles were slick coz they wanted to sell records.

Yeah, so in the end - weirdly - for all the Dan's musical trickery and twisted tales, The Eagles are more cynical than SD.

14

It's not, as I've said in the past, that they're too perfect - or even that they wasted their lyrical talents on documenting a trivial and self-indulgent SoCal 70s lifestyle.

My wife is a fan (I like lots of music she doesn't, but I rarely disagree with what she likes), and asked Alexa to play some this morning.

I listened closely rather than dismissively (which as a mindfulness discipline is a good way to make fuel from eagle dung), and realized how utterly familiar every element of every song is. Partially from having heard them ad infinitum, partially from having played many of them in bands - but mostly from the sheer musical and production rightness of everything they did. No musician (and few casual listeners) can fail to be astonished by the craft.

And that's it. It's the craft. I hear nothing but craft, infinitely calculated, polished to cold perfection. They even "rock out" with the greatest of decorum, careful not to offend or annoy. Every phrase is turned to be every bit as (sometimes subtly) clever - and clichéd - as it could possibly be. Not once did they risk being obscure, or failing to speak to the center.

And I don't believe a word they sang in that lush harmony, nor a note they played. Nothing ever got loose.

It was all an act.

– Proteus

100% with you about the Eagles, 100% against you about Steely Dan, who I think define great musicianship and pretentious lyrics polished into the ultimate elevator music sound. We all like what we like for many different reasons. Neither one of these bands deliver the kind of raw tones I like. Just because of this discussion I'm going to cue up Beggars Banquet and clear my mind.

15

100% with you about the Eagles, 100% against you about Steely Dan, who I think define great musicianship and pretentious lyrics polished into the ultimate elevator music sound. We all like what we like for many different reasons. Neither one of these bands deliver the kind of raw tones I like. Just because of this discussion I'm going to cue up Beggars Banquet and clear my mind.

– Daniel Weldon

" Please allow me to introduce myself!"

16

Steely Dan was DARK.

Well, yeah. But funny.

So that's another thing. The Eagles, skim milk and all, have No. Sense. Of. Humor.

– Proteus

And unlike Donald Fagan, the Eagles failed to back up their lyrics with the occasional tasty major mu chord progressions.. A Steely Dan trademark, now to the point that they are expected. These chord structures allow even dark lyrics to sound sardonically upbeat.

18

Steely Dan was DARK. Finding out that the kid isn’t really yours. Drug dealers on the lam. The neighborhood child molester. Middle aged losers banging girls half their age and knowing how tawdry it is. “Lying Eyes” and “Life in the Fast Lane” are skim milk by comparison.

– Junior Q Man (Ryan M)

Actually kind of fitting for a band named after a sex toy.

19

I never got the religion about Eagles, the Walsh era or pre Walsh era. For so called country rock I'll take the Chris Hillman/Burritos/Gram Parsons scene, Sweetheart of the Rodeo -- they had it first, and did it better.

20

Joe Walsh is God! There I said it....

The rest of the eagles are like some kinda Boy Scout gathering.
Clapton should have been an Eagle. The eagles are like the best white bread money can buy. Not a single discoloration or flaw, just pure white bread, but oh wait there is Joe Walsh... keep that one on a short leash. Didn’t the Eagles all play PRS guitars?

21

When I was a teenager, being big into music in the post-punk/alternative 80's, to me, the Eagles were just schmaltzy sugary old people crap, the kind of thing punk thankfully "got rid of".

Now, I still really don't like them, and I think of them as where country rock went wrong and turned into... schmaltzy sugary crap.

22

For so called country rock I'll take the Chris Hillman/Burritos/Gram Parsons scene, Sweetheart of the Rodeo -- they had it first, and did it better.

Well, yessir. New Riders. Early Byrds, etc. OR, godblessme, Skynyrd and the CDB.

I like my country rock either countrier...or rockier.

Joe Walsh is God! There I said it....

Well, Joe is blessedly and charmingly his own thing. Saw the James Gang at the Ohio State Fair (whenever that would have been), and still love the James Gang albums. And his solo albums, for that matter. Joe got wit. Joe funny. Joe slinky and melodically inventive. Joe got a distinctive voice. When I heard he crawled into the Eagle nest, I recognized he'd found a financial home, and hoped he'd bring some charm and wit to their dead-serious proceedings. For a few minutes in "Hotel California," and in some instrumental breaks, the hope was almost rewarded.

He certainly filled out the band, and drove it at least into gravel (if not rock) - but yeah, a short lease. They barely let him be Joe. Glad he still did his solo stuff. And of course I could forgive him for getting a day job.

Clapton should have been an Eagle.

Nah. Not slick enough.

Didn’t the Eagles all play PRS guitars?

Hah! If they didn't, they should have. That's an endorsement deal made in heaven. And Taylor acoustics!

23

You guys are all nuts.

– Charlie Vegas

What he said.

24

I’m a fan. You guys don’t have to be. Life goes on. Many could find fault in anything. It’s just music. Love it or leave it. Most critics seem miserable...

25

Music is just like a TV channel.

If ya don't like it, tune in to something else.


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