Glenn Frey: One Year Later
Glenn Frey wrote songs.
In an age where costumes and makeup, dirty punk rock and 15-minute drum solos thrived across pop music, Frey succeeded by writing simple, memorable, hook-packed rock ‘n’ roll songs. And everybody likes a Frey song.
Oh, you say you don’t, but when the Eagles’ “Lyin’ Eyes” creeps out of the ceiling speakers in your dentist’s office, you get a little teary. Or maybe you decide to stay at the BBQ for one more beer when you hear that tasty California groove in “Already Gone.” Or maybe even “Take It Easy,” that song your dad or uncle, cool cousin or older sister played for you a thousand times, tugs at your heart.
The Eagles were easy to complain about (see the Dude in The Big Lebowski). But, man, oh, man, could Frey write a tune.
When the 67-year-old Eagles co-founder died a year ago today, the band died with him. Don Henley said their performance with Jackson Browne at last year’s Grammy Awards would be the group’s swan song. It was a promise he reiterated in an interview with the Washington Post in November. (There had been some speculation that Frey’s son, Deacon, would join the band for some shows.)
“I don’t see how we could go out and play without the guy who started the band,” Henley told the Post. “It would just seem like greed or something. … It would seem like a desperate thing.”
But Frey’s legacy is alive and well. When you listen to modern country artists attempt to deftly straddle pop and country, you hear what was so easy for Frey. There are plenty of bad examples of current country singers who fail, but a tremendous success would be Chris Stapleton. Take a listen to Stapleton’s “Traveler” and you hear the echo of the lazy, smart skill of “Lyin’ Eyes.”
When you hear a rock band try to open what is clearly a pop tune with a big rock riff — maybe Kings of Leon or the Foo Fighters — they are looking to emulate Frey (see “Heartache Tonight”). Or when a band smashes a thumping rock and groovy ballad into one like “One of These Nights,” that’s Frey.
Along with Henley, Frey forged a Lennon-McCartney-like partnership for the coke-and-Budweiser ’70s. Not that Henley-Frey equaled the artistic triumph of Abbey Road, because they never did. But they certainly matched the Fab Four commercially. The Eagles recorded only seven LPs. And yet they moved 150 million units — thanks in big part to Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975), which is the bestselling album of the 20th century in the U.S.
Together only eight years — until hell froze over a few times — during their commercial peak, the band couldn’t miss. Over that short time, Frey and company notched 18 Top 40 hits while every album sold a million copies or more. That blend of country rock and smooth FM gold still finds a happy home on hundreds of classic- and soft-rock radio stations.
In the ’80s, Frey had solo hits, including the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack tune “The Heat Is On” and “Smuggler’s Blues.” But the singer-songwriter’s Eagles work built him into a legend. Frey may not have known what kind of impact his songs had on a generation of Americans if the Eagles had never reunited in 1994. What was intended to be a one-off set of shows culminated in a live album that went platinum nine times over. The blockbuster led to more sold-out arena and stadium tours, and a 2007 comeback studio LP, Long Road Out of Eden, moved about four million copies when CD sales were tanking.
Even before he died, he and his bandmates were set to receive the Kennedy Center honors. The center picked the Eagles for the award in 2015 but, with Frey battling illnesses, the band asked if they could postpone a year while their star recuperated. That never happened, and Frey died after a long battle with rheumatoid arthritis and colitis.
Last November, Henley, guitarist Joe Walsh and bassist Timothy B. Schmit were honored. Frey’s widow, Cindy, was given her late husband’s award.
Frey had such an impact, he even influenced geography. In September, a life-sized bronze statue of him was installed in the “Standin’ on the Corner” Park in Winslow, Ariz. — named after lines in “Take It Easy.” Two DJs from Phoenix station KSLX helped fund the $22,000 Frey statue, along with help from the Standing on the Corner Foundation and the city of Winslow. It joined a statue that local residences feel resembles Jackson Browne, who co-wrote the tune.
Frey’s work has attracted millions of die-hard fans and nearly as many haters. As cool as Frey seemed, his music hit right at the birth of punk and new wave, the heyday of early heavy metal and disco. To many, his catalog is corny. And yet, there is so much craft to it. So much talent and wit.
But don’t take my word for it. Go ask your dad or uncle, cool cousin or older sister.
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