I love “rockumentaries” as they are called. A short while back, I watched one of the best rockumentaries I have ever seen, History of The Eagles: The Story of an American Band. As these things go, I have to give this one two thumbs way, way up.
Before I go on about it, I did want to say something about objectivity here. Mainly, that I am very confident in the objectivity of my review on this one. If I was reviewing something like Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage or YesYears: A Retrospective, it would be more than fair to question whether I’m capable of being objective in my review. After all, I am both a huge Rush fan and a huge Yes fan. As for the Eagles? While I’m not exactly Jeffrey Lebowski, aka “The Dude”, who (ahem) “hates” the Eagles. I generally liked a number of their songs that I frequently heard on the radio during my youth, when they were at both their artistic and commercial peak. At the same time, they were never a band who I followed closely or whose next release I waited for with baited breath. I did drop about $15 to see them in concert in 1979 on their tour supporting The Long Run. But prior to seeing this documentary, my music library included a grand total of three – 3 – Eagles/related songs: Dirty Laundry by Don Henley, The Confessor by Joe Walsh, and Get Over It by the Eagles themselves. And while I’ve purchased about 10 Eagles songs in the wake of seeing History of the Eagles, I still don’t own any full albums of theirs. You’d be hard pressed to call me a fanboy.
Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I can objectively say … this is a fantastic documentary, one that I strongly recommend unless you just absolutely despise The Eagles. Part 1 covers the band’s history from their origins to their break-up in 1980. Part 2 covers their post-breakup solo careers, re-uniting in 1994, and career since then. While I like Part 1 much better than Part 2, the latter concludes with footage from a 1977 concert in Washington, DC. Altogether, eight songs are performed, including their biggest hit, Hotel California. The highlight of that part is the camera work toward the end of the song, focusing on Joe Walsh and Don Felder as they play off one another in some of the most iconic guitar soloing of the 1970’s, if not the rock era altogether.
Part 1 included a number of anecdotes regarding the creative genesis of a number of different well-known Eagles songs, including Take It Easy, Lyin’ Eyes, and Life in the Fast Lane. Former Eagle guitarist Bernie Leadon explains to us why Take It Easy became such a big hit in the context of its time and place. Jackson Browne explains to us why he got stuck on that song, and the understated brilliance of the way Glenn Frey filled in the rest. Frey explains how an observation one night at a bar gave rise to one of the hits mentioned above, and how a crazy car ride with a drug dealer resulted in another. He also explains how an overheard coordination exercise being performed by Joe Walsh became one of the most recognizable guitar licks of the late 1970’s. And finally, there is an absolutely hilarious anecdote involving Walsh, John Belushi, and an upscale restaurant in Chicago during an Eagles visit to that city. Ferris Bueller, you’ve got nothing on these guys.
My only lament here is personal. It seems that their late-70’s producer, Bill Szymczyk was a former navy sonar technician, as am I … perhaps I missed my true calling. Sigh.
In summary, I’ll restate what I said above – unless you absolutely despise The Eagles, unless you have a Dude-like hatred for these guys (more notable since The Dude wasn’t a hater), then you really owe it to yourself to see this. I will have to warn those with small children to put them to bed first, as there is a brief bit of nudity (when a crazed female fan runs on stage) and a few F-bombs scattered throughout. Don’t let that stop you, though.
If there is anything that is a testament to the excellence of History of The Eagles, it’s that despite having at most a moderate interest in this band, I was completely mesmerized. I’ve encountered a similar phenomena once, reading the book Moneyball by Michael Lewis. That book is about baseball, a sport of which I only have at most a passing interest. And yet the book was so well written and so fascinating that I could not put it down. This documentary is akin to that. It is so well made that I couldn’t stop watching it, even though the band that was its subject is nowhere near close to being my favorite. If you are an Eagles fan, I don’t need to tell you to watch this, but even if you’re not … you still owe it to yourself. Happy viewing.
By the way, here’s the trailer: