By Chris Shapiro
A musician, like any writer, painter or performer, is a contributor to the culture in which he or she lives but few musicians become the coalescent voice of their culture. Glenn Frey was one such musician. His musical essence subconsciously became interwoven into the culture of his time through the songs he wrote and sang as an Eagle.
Frey’s position in the Eagles is undoubtedly cornerstone. He and co-founder Don Henley shared lead vocal duties as well as songwriting credits. Frey also mastered the guitar, performing classic solos on songs such as, “I Can’t Tell You Why” and “Already Gone,” played keyboards and created the memorizing harmonies the Eagles were known for with his backup vocals.
Frey provided this world with his love and commitment to the best music he could create. In doing so, he related to the commonality in us all. He became the romantic with, “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” the hopeless romantic in, “Lying Eyes,” the faded cowboy in search of a second chance in, “Tequila Sunrise” and the rebel in, “Outlaw Man.”
One listen to “Take it Easy” and you can’t help but feel the down to earth tone of Frey’s voice. He feels like a longtime friend who happens to be speaking to you through your radio instead of in-person. He’s there encouraging and cheering us on with his victory song, “Already Gone.”
Frey resonates a degree of trustworthiness much like a dependable ol’ 55 Chevy. When faced with an emotion brought about from one of life’s grab-bags, there’s a song of Frey’s to provide the needed ambience. Down the highway of life his is the familiar voice on the radio. His songs walk with us, struggle with us, love with us and ultimately endure with us.
A candle can only burn so long as it has wax to feed the flame. A song can’t pass from the top 40 charts and live through the generations unless it has a substance to sustain it. The Eagles knew this and Frey made sure they delivered it.
Frey and the Eagles didn’t achieve the status quo of the musical landscape of the 1970’s. They redefined it. They acquired top-ten singles spanning from their 1972 debut album to 1979’s The Long Run hitting Billboard’s Holy Grail number one position five times.
But it’s not the chart successes, tens of millions of records sold, or even the 6 Grammy Awards that made the Eagles America’s band. It was the content of their songs and the content grew out of their exposure to and consumption of American culture.
The Eagles could be thought of as a mirror held up into the face of American culture allowing it to self-reflect. They saw what was working and what wasn’t and reflected it unabashed and untainted directly back to the source. In doing so, they provided a reference point for society.
The Eagles evaluated culture fairly and thoroughly from a shared perspective. They could be extremely pinpointed and refined on specific aspects within the culture such as in, “King of California” or they could tackle the landscape as a whole as evident in, “Hotel California” and “Life in the Fast Lane.”
Frey and Henley’s approach to songwriting set them apart from their competition. Even their love songs, such as the classic, “Best of My Love,” were serious and adult themed as they focused on the relationship between a man and a woman rather than lust filled lyrics focused on sex.
As songwriters, Frey and the Eagles were true and serious in their reflections and messages delivered in their songs. The majority of pop songs both past and present are juvenile in their lyrics as they are meant to appeal to a wide audience. Yet, when you get down to it, Frey and the Eagles were adults and of an intellectual caliber that blew other musicians and bands of the time right off the charts.
From the Eagles, there wasn’t so much a feeling of trying to be role models or leaders as it was they were trying to be honest with themselves and their fans. You hear about that honesty in Frey’s golden classic, “New Kid in Town.”
Frey and Henley were the cornerstones of the band but they didn’t create the sound or the songs of the Eagles single handedly. After all, it was a band with very talented members, who are pillars within the music industry in their own right. The Eagles even collaborated with the talented songwriters J.D. Souther and Jack Tempchin. The songs created says something of the men responsible for them.
An Eagle has sadly fallen. Yet, not all is lost. The Phoenix first had to fall from the sky before it could rise from the ashes and return to flight. It’s now time for Frey’s music to inspire the next generation of singers and songwriters to take flight.