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‘On The Border’: A Track-By-Track Guide To Eagles’ Career-Redefining Album
The Photo Access / Alamy Stock Photo
List & Guides

‘On The Border’: A Track-By-Track Guide To Eagles’ Career-Redefining Album

As this guide to every song on Eagles’ ‘On The Border’ album shows, the record found the group honing their straight-up rock chops in 1974.

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On The Border, an album which featured striking cover art by renowned Navajo artist Beatien Yazz, is the third studio release from Eagles and was a massive hit when it was released by Asylum Records in 1974. Certified double-platinum, with sales of more than two million copies, it’s one of the era’s defining rock records, as revealed by this track-by-track guide to every song on the album.

Listen to ‘On The Border’ here.

‘On The Border’: A Track-By-Track Guide To Eagles’ Career-Redefining Album

Already Gone

Already Gone, an out-and-out rocker about love and loneliness, was co-written by Jack Tempchin, who had previously penned the Eagles classic Peaceful Easy Feeling. “It was incredible,” said Tempchin. “The fact that they were doing another one of my songs was amazing, and the fact that they chose it as a single, it all unfolded like a dream.” Glenn Frey and Don Henley shared harmony vocals on the track, which, recorded in Los Angeles, was issued as the first single from On The Border and peaked at No.32 on the Billboard Hot 100. Still regarded as one of the best Eagles songs, Already Gone is boosted by Don Felder’s guitar work on a Les Paul Special. Tempchin’s co-writer, Robb Strandlund, later quit music to become an architect.

You Never Cry Like A Lover

You Never Cry Like A Lover’s lovelorn lyrics (“Somebody must have put some pain on you/You never cry like a lover”) were written by Eagles vocalist Henley in partnership with John David Souther, a regular collaborator with both Eagles and Linda Ronstadt. The silky production on the track owed much to the work of Epsom-born Glyn Johns, who oversaw the production of the song in London. “Glyn had a stamp he put on his records which is a deep echo that is really smooth like ice cream… he did a good job on Best Of My Love and You Never Cry Like A Lover, they needed that sound,” said Henley.

Midnight Flyer

Memphis-born country singer Paul Craft, whose song Keep Me From Blowing Away was covered by Ronstadt, composed Midnight Flyer for bluegrass duo The Osborne Brothers, and Eagles chose to cover it for On The Border, with bassist Randy Meisner on lead vocals. This railway-themed country-rocker was helped by Bernie Leadon’s energetic banjo playing. “Bernie was one of the top banjo players in the country, so I was proud to do a bluegrass tune and I thought it lent a certain amount of authenticity and credibility to our band. It showed versatility,” said Henley.

My Man

My Man was written by Leadon in honour of his singer-songwriter friend Gram Parsons, who had died the previous year from a toxic combination of morphine and alcohol. Parsons, who wrote the country classic Hickory Winds, was just 26 when he died. Leadon and Parsons had been colleagues in The Flying Burrito Brothers, and Leadon’s personal emotions are clear in a moving tribute to what he calls “a very talented man who would sing for the people and the people would cry”. Referencing Hickory Winds in its lyrics, the song is also about survival. After leaving Eagles, Leadon, who plays lovely pedal steel guitar on the track, bought a 300-acre farm outside Nashville.

On The Border

On The Border, a composition co-written by Henley, Leadon and Frey, was an anti-Richard Nixon song written in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal that led to the then US President’s downfall. “Don’t you tell me ’bout your law and order/Sick and tired of your law and order,” Eagles sing on a funky song that bears the hallmarks of the work of producer Bill Szymczyk, who was hired to finish the album after Glyn Johns left the project. Szymczyk produced the bulk of the record in Los Angeles and went on to oversee some of the best Eagles albums, among them One Of These Nights and Hotel California.

James Dean

James Dean, the opening track of Side Two of On The Border’s original vinyl release, was a songwriting collaboration between Frey, Henley, Southern and the acclaimed lyricist Jackson Browne. Dating back to the Desperado album sessions, the track is another nostalgic tribute to a talent who died too young – in this case, the actor James Dean, star of Rebel Without A Cause, who died in a car crash in 1955 when he was just 24. “Too fast to live, too young to die,” the band sing in this touching tribute.

Ol’ ’55

Tom Waits is one of the finest songwriters in popular music, and his sweet ballad Ol’ ’55 – written partly in tribute to the 1955 Cadillac that Waits drove in the early 70s – was a favourite of Eagles. Among the cover’s strengths are Frey and Henley’s harmonising and the steel guitar playing of maestro Al Perkins, a man who recorded with Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and Randy Newman, among others.

Is It True?

The bass guitar work by Randy Meisner really stands out on his own composition Is It True?, a troubled song about love gone wrong that includes the lyrics “How come you love him when he takes you for a fool?/He’s only lookin’ for a good time/How can he love you when he treats you mean and cruel?” Meisner’s playing had been inspired by the Motown session players – a stable of musicians which included some of the best bassists in music history. “I really liked the On The Border album,” he reflected in 2016. “There are good bass parts and some fun, some R&B stuff. I was real happy with that album.”

Good Day In Hell

The original plan was to have Joe Walsh play guitar on Good Day In Hell but he was unavailable. It worked out well because Don Felder came in on slide guitar and laid down some great licks for a track written by Frey and Henley. The song is also about Gram Parsons but was written before his tragic death. As Frey later recalled, “Good Day In Hell was written while Gram was alive. It was just a symptomatic scene that I saw at Topanga Corral, where there were a couple of girls hanging out with him because he was Gram Parsons and nobody was telling him that he was killing himself. Nobody was a good enough friend of his to sit him down and say, ‘Hey, you’re very talented and you’re going to waste here.’”

Best Of My Love

Best Of My Love was reportedly inspired by Henley’s romantic break-up with girlfriend Suzannah Martin. Henley wrote the song with Frey and Souther, who said the tune was based on a melody from folk singer Fred Neil, the man who wrote Everybody’s Talkin’. Most of the lyrics for Best Of My Love were penned in a booth in Dan Tana’s, an Italian restaurant in West Hollywood (the band thanked the maître d’, Guido, in the On The Border liner notes), and the song is a lament for the time when life was “full of sweet things” before “love began slipping away”. Best Of My Love was also recorded at Olympic Studios, in London, under the production of Glyn Johns, but was later remixed by Szymczyk. Released as the third single from the album, it became Eagles’ first Billboard Hot 100 chart-topper.

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