It can be difficult to draw a bead on what made Don Felder's tenure with the Eagles so transformative, with all of the sniping that's characterized their relationship since he split with Don Henley and Glenn Frey.
Set aside the press conference insults and the tell-all books, however, and history shows they created a musical confluence that propelled the group toward a hard-edged new sound, long before Joe Walsh showed up in the late '70s. A band once obsessed with Old West themes on country-rock efforts like 1973's Desperado would, in a few short years, emerge as a stadium-ready rock act – and Don Felder was a critical element in that evolution.
He was a member of the band from 1974 until the band's initial breakup in 1980, and then again from their unlikely reunion in 1994 until 2001 – and our lists draws from every era. Unfortunately, one of these tracks isn't officially available on YouTube, but still warranted recognition as part of this list of Top 10 Don Felder Eagles Songs.
'Take It to the Limit'From: 'One of These Nights' (1975)
Randy Meisner's ageless waltz made all kinds of band history, becoming the first single to feature someone other than Henley or Frey on lead – and the last to include founder Bernie Leadon. Buried somewhere in all of that are a few tasty little asides from Don Felder.
'The Sad Cafe'From: 'The Long Run' (1979)
In many ways, this song sets a template for Don Henley's subsequent solo career, as he offers a darkly ruminative examination of love lost. But it wouldn't be such a fitting finale, on what for some 14 years looked to be the Eagles' last studio recording, without Felder's understated, elegiac, utterly virtuosic turn on guitar.
'Visions'From: 'One of These Nights' (1975)
Written by the guitarist with an assist from Henley, this riffy, Southern rock-informed rocker is the only Eagles song to feature Felder on lead vocals. He'll never be confused with the group's better-known singers, but Felder's scorching runs on his main instrument provide plenty of gritty distractions.
'Hotel California [Live]'From: 'Hell Freezes Over' (1994)
Typically live versions don't make these kind of lists, since they're so often nothing more than note-for-note run throughs of the original studio effort. Not this time. Powered by a newly written, gorgeously conveyed flamenco opening from Felder, "Hotel California" is so completely overhauled here as to sound like a completely different tune. (And, yes, that original is actually found elsewhere on our list of the Top 10 Don Felder Eagles Songs).
'Good Day in Hell'From: 'On the Border' (1974)
A key moment in Eagles history arrives, as Felder is asked to join in as a sessions guest on slide guitar for a Glenn Frey-sung album cut. After this sizzling, Allman Brothers-inspired performance – in fact, the very next day – Felder was asked to join the Eagles.
'One of These Nights'From: 'One of These Nights' (1975)
We go into the second half of our Top 10 Don Felder Eagles Songs with a track on which his impact was immediate, as Felder arranged the unforgettable bass and guitar signature for this chart-topping smash composed by Henley and Frey. Then Felder launches into a searing solo – one that perfectly underscores the song's bitter sense of missed opportunities.
'Those Shoes'From: 'The Long Run' (1979)
The musical relationship between Felder and Joe Walsh, as both foils and friends, helped define the group's sound in the late-'70s. Together, they give this Henley-sung track a steely menace. Felder co-wrote "Those Shoes," and tangles brilliantly with Walsh in one of the decade's most memorable talk-box street fights – and that's saying something.
'Victim of Love'From: 'Hotel California' (1976)
Featuring an intro from Felder that stutters and snarls, "Victim of Love" paints a dim portrait of a desperate search for late-night companionship – propelled by a series of nasty retorts courtesy of Felder. The guitarist also co-wrote this track, again sung by Henley.
'Heavy Metal (Takin' a Ride)'From 'Heavy Metal' (1980)
Ostensibly a solo track from Felder, "Heavy Metal (Takin' a Ride)" makes this list because it also features both Henley and Timothy B. Schmit. That's as close as you're going to get to an official Eagles release by this point in their argumentative history – and the song simply, completely rocks.
'Hotel California'From 'Hotel California (1976)
An epic opening statement on the Eagles' most recognizable song cycle. "Hotel California" grew out of a Felder instrumental demo jokingly called "Mexican Reggae" – and, if you listen closely, it still retains a certain island sway. That is, until this Henley-sung tale of West Coast decadence descends into a cauldron of flame-kissed licks from Felder and Walsh.