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The Eagles were formed in 1971 as country-rock group, with the rock element becoming ever more pronounced. After six albums, notably the global mega-seller 'Hotel California', they ground to a halt in 1980, before reforming in 1994. 'Desperado' was their second album, released in 1973. After the group's triumphant Wembley Concert in July 1975 it made a belated appearance in the British album chart, reaching No. 39.
'Desperado' is vaguely a concept album, with the songs about Wild West outlaws. A rather dark and murky front cover shot shows them dressed up as no-nonsense gunslingers, and the back picture a bunch of five (them again? It's difficult to tell) lying on the ground having evidently come off second-best after a shootout. There is no story line running through the songs, just a vague theme.
'Doolin-Dalton', the opening track, is a slow, wistful tune with mainly acoustic guitar and harmonica, with the group's lead vocalists Glenn Frey and Don Henley trading lines in a tale of two outlaw brothers, living the Wild West lifestyle of easy money, faithless women, and rye whisky. It could have almost been the soundtrack, or the theme tune, to a western movie.
There are plenty of contrasts on the next two songs. 'Twenty-One', the first of two Bernie Leadon songs, is pure country and bluegrass, with dobro guitar and banjo leading the instruments behind the vocals. This is the kind of music which made people think they were a pure country band in the early days. As the closing instrumental section fades out, the next number starts. It's difficult to believe that 'Out Of Control' is the same band. Some brisk slashing electric guitar chords and a gutsy rock'n'roll bass seem determined to outdo the likes of 'Saturday Night's All Right For Fighting'. If they wanted to be country stars, part of them also wanted to be an American version of the Rolling Stones or similar as well.
A chance to catch breath comes with the fourth track, 'Tequila Sunrise', which remains one of the best-known songs from their early period. A dreamy song with pretty lap steel guitar and perfect vocal harmonies, this tells of 'another tequila sunrise, starin' slowly across the sky, said goodbye, he was just a hired hand, workin' on the dreams he planned to try, the days go by.'
The well-known title track follows. A world-weary vocal from Henley, backed by piano and lush strings, this ballad is addressed to a desperado or drifter who needs to be persuaded to settle down: 'Don't your feet get cold in the winter time, The sky won't snow and the sun won't shine; It's hard to tell the night time from the day, You're losin' all your highs and lows, Ain't it funny how the feeling goes away?' The edge is taken off the bittersweet mood of the lyrics by those wonderful vocal harmonies.
A rare lead vocal from bassist Randy Meisner comes on 'Certain Kind Of Fool', a mainly acoustic, folky country song enlivened about halfway through by some more more muscular lead guitar. Without a pause, a brisk roll of drums takes us into fifty seconds of bluegrass guitar and banjo picking on the instrumental reprise of 'Doolin' Dalton'. That in turn fades into 'Outlaw Man', a song written by folksinger David Blue, who like them was an early signing to the Asylum record label. Sounding a bit like Neil Young's 'Heart Of Gold', at first, after a laid-back couple of minutes it gathers pace with some heavy bass and drums. It was a minor hit single in the US, though not in Britain where the band were at the time no more than a cult attraction.
'Saturday Night' is probably the loveliest track. A gentle mandolin in the introduction goes into a slow waltz-time tune with unashamedly romantic lyric about a time long ago when 'the moon burned so bright and the time went so slow' as the narrator gave his love a ring and the bluebird was high on the wing. Then it's back to country meets folk territory with the second Leadon song, 'Bitter Creek', another acoustic song with a story, subtle vocal harmonies and subdued drums. It's also the only track here longer than five minutes.
Finally, there's a reprise of 'Doolin' Dalton'/'Desperado'. The first song cuts out about two minutes in to a few seconds of dobro and guitar, then back to part of the 'Desperado' song but without strings.
With only 35 minutes playing time, it's quite short. None of the subsequent reissues of the vinyl album on CD have added any bonus tracks.
Pretty standard, with just a couple of pictures and basic listing of the tracks and the group's line-up.
It's a pleasant, even good album, but not really essential in my view. Although there are those who say this was probably the best Eagles ever got, before they decided to become 'just another easy listening American rock band', I'd say it's more of a curiosity for Eagles fans who were attracted by the more successful rock stuff which they recorded later on and are curious find out how they sounded before that. Apart from 'Out Of Control', it's fairly easy on the ear. On the two subsequent albums, the musical balance shifted away from country, and it's easy to see why Leadon felt there was no longer a place for him in the line-up.
'Tequila Sunrise' and 'Desperado' have appeared on most of the group's later best-of compilations.
[Revised version of a review I originally posted on ciao]
1. Doolin-Dalton (Glenn Frey, J.D. Souther, Don Henley, Jackson Browne)
2. Twenty-One (Bernie Leadon)
3. Out of Control (Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Tom Nixon)
4. Tequila Sunrise (Don Henley, Glenn Frey)
5. Desperado (Don Henley, Glenn Frey)
6. Certain Kind of Fool (Randy Meisner, Don Henley, Glenn Frey)
7. Doolin-Dalton (instrumental) (Glenn Frey, J.D. Souther, Don Henley, Jackson Browne)
8. Outlaw Man (David Blue)
9. Saturday Night (Randy Meisner, Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Bernie Leadon)
10. Bitter Creek (Bernie Leadon)
11. Doolin-Dalton / Desperado (reprise) (Glenn Frey, J.D. Souther, Don Henley, Jackson Browne)
Although seemingly a concept album about the Wild West, there are a few songs which at first glance or hearing doesn't seem to fit, but somehow the Eagles just make them. Desperado seems to also be written as a metaphor for the rock musician-living on the road, always moving around, possible young death, transient love, wild parties and always being outside the mainstream.
The album begins with Doolin-Dalton to set it up for what's to come. It tells the story of the Dalton gang who were outlaws in the US in the late 1800s where they attempted to rob two banks, in Coffeyville, Kansas in daylight simultaneously. This went badly wrong and four out of five gang members were killed. After this Bill Doolin and Bill Dalton formed their own gang.
Twenty-One is one of the most country songs the Eagles have produced. Sung and written by Leadon about a young man who can't see a reason for not living. This song morphs into Out Of Control seemingly continuing the story with a few more years behind the man and now he's much more of a risk taker.
The next two songs are both ballads which are the most well known songs from the album. Tequila Sunrise, one of the singles, seems to be about the days passing you by. Desperado, though not a single, one of the most popular Eagles songs, follows with Henley's world wearied vocal, even though he's in his mid twenties.
Certain Kind Of Fool takes the metaphor of the outlaw and musician and puts it to words.
"He saw it in a window
The mark of a new kind of man
He kinda liked the feeling, so shiny and smooth in his hand
He took it to the country and practiced for days without rest
And then one day he felt if,
He knew he could stand with the best"
The Doolin Dalton Instrumental follows as a short break and leads into Outlaw Man, written by David Blue which is another rocky song. Saturday Night, written by all the band tells of a man looking back on what he has done, with haunting harmonies and a piano and banjo interplay which can send shivers down your spine, it is one of the Eagles most beautiful songs.
Bitter Creek, a Leadon song through and through, is about an outlaw who has grown bitter and tired and decides on one last job.
The last song is the Doolin Dalton and Desperado Reprise which seals the fate of the outlaws, never to find true love and in the end to die by the gun.
Desperado marks the introduction of Henley as a full fledged writer and has the first Henley-Frey compositions which are also some of the stronger thematic songs. Once again, this album demonstrates a group of musicians working together and bringing different ideas to the whole.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Doolin Dalton
2 Twenty One
3 Out Of Control
4 Tequila Sunrise
6 Certain Kind Of Fool
7 Outlaw Man
8 Saturday Night
9 Bitter Creek