It’s never been fashionable to cite The Eagles as an influence.
The band, whose guitarist and vocalist Glenn Frey died on Monday, was not just one of the most popular and commercially dominant bands to come out of L.A.’s ‘70s country-rock scene (or any other scene). They embodied just about everything that the avant-garde was out to destroy.
Saccharine vocal beauty and clean-cut technical proficiency; a combination of faux mysticism with a thin veneer of cynicism, and drug-fueled decadence with a reputation for being insufferable jerks and coldblooded businessmen in person: The Eagles had it all.
Punk, metal and alt-country were supposed to vanquish all that. “The Big Lebowski” may have summed it up best with The Dude’s classic, unprintable complaint against them.
But over the last decade of L.A. folk and rock music, there’s been a renewed streak of appreciation for The Eagles’ virtues. Frey had a precision-honed attention to song structure and melody, and an unmatched ear for how vocal harmony can take a dark sentiment and make it feel incandescent.
Frey’s style yielded plenty of local contemporary influence, most obviously seen in the many groups that orbit the producer Jonathan Wilson’s songwriting roundtable and jam sessions. From there, the magic-hour acoustic guitars and high-lonesome harmonies of an act like Dawes found its footing, and they became one of L.A.’s preeminent folk-rock acts.
Jenny Lewis, a favorite daughter of the L.A. rock scene, has a deep streak of affection for commercial ‘70s country-rock and its smooth-pop cousins. The Eagles are likely no exception. She’s one of our finest songwriters today, and a rare one capable of dramatic, exacting harmony arrangements that recall Frey and Henley as much as her beloved Patsy Cline.
Josh Tillman’s Father John Misty is a caricature of an over-coked ‘70s folk-rock burnout, and while he plays the role for yuks he plays his songs for real. His lyrics handle L.A. doom with a light touch, and his arch humor is often tempered with earned sadness and a growing virtuosity behind the microphone. His gentler old band, Fleet Foxes, might have claimed a more direct sonic lineage to the Eagles. But no one better embodies the tetchy, self-indulgent romance of Glenn Frey like Father John Misty.
There are scores more Los Angeles acts that claim those signifiers as a starting point. But for a band once so reviled by progressive young acts, to then prove so durable in influence, it means that Frey, for all his faults or gaucheness over the years, stood on very solid ground as songwriter. And Frey lived above Echo Park Lake next to Jackson Browne when they wrote “Take It Easy” — try beating that backstory for credibility today.