Now here's something I did not know: Eagles—Their Greatest Hits, the one that doesn't have "Hotel California," is the top-selling album in the history of the United States. This information comes from a Canadian paper, so they may just be making it up to humiliate us, but the numbers are: 28 million copies sold so far (enough, notes The Globe and Mail's J.D. Considine, for "Lyin' Eyes" and "Witchy Woman" to be owned by "nearly one in every 10 Americans"), with bigger sales than such lumbering dinosaurs as Rumours, Thriller, and The Wall, and with a quarter of those sales coming in the last decade alone. (I'm assuming upgrades to CD from 8-track and wax-cylinder media accounts for some portion of this last bit).
How does The G&M explain this lingering affection for an Eagles lineup that at the time didn't even include Joe Walsh? It was all about putting old-fashioned gringo imagery into a more accessible package:
Truth be told, it's Desperado, Take It Easy and Already Gone that speak most directly to the American psyche. On a musical level, that shouldn't be too surprising, because the country-rock sound the early Eagles perfected was profoundly influential. Unlike the archival approach taken by such country-rock predecessors as Gram Parsons or the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Eagles' sound was more interested in adding polish than in tracing roots. However much their vocal harmonies owed to the Southern gospel tradition, the singing spoke not of a high, lonesome sound but of the cool professionalism of Crosby, Stills and Nash or the Beach Boys. Likewise, the guitar arrangements were painstakingly plotted, with the parts intertwining as intricately as anything Steely Dan ever did. Their sound was slick, urban, rock 'n' roll.
Yet their subject matter was anything but citified. Even though their protagonists—and by extension, their audience—rarely got closer to horseback than riding in a Ford Bronco, they identified deeply and frequently with cowboys and Western independence.
That is to say, The Eagles, more than any actual country acts, are responsible for the current denatured state of "Country" music. "In the nineties," says Considine, "a whole generation of Stetson-topped singers and pickers insisted that the Eagles were as much an inspiration as Hank Williams (if not more)." That jibes with my experience: It takes me ten minutes to figure out whether I'm listening to a country station or some reanimated corpse of KlassiK RocK.
Other possible explanations for ongoing Eaglemania: Glenn Frey's mid-80s admission that he was born in the city and pre-Traffic exercise in pusillanimous Drug-War fence-sitting "Smuggler's Blues," which prompted the tersely named Rock magazine to declare: "To Glenn Frey, the current propensity toward a marriage between the auditory and the visual might, for the most part, mean the obliteration of music by performance. The music scene is just that—a scene. And with the advent of form over content comes dependence on it. Form that is." And of course, Don Henley's intervention to rescue Walden Pond, in the mistaken belief that it was the site of an Oscar-winning film starring Katherine Hepburn and two Fondas.