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Take It To The Limit: Behind The Song That Sent Eagles Supernova
Warner Music
In Depth

Take It To The Limit: Behind The Song That Sent Eagles Supernova

Tapping into the darkness of 70s North America, Take It To The Limit was the song that ushered in Eagles’ ‘satanic country-rock period’.

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Take It To The Limit, by Eagles, is a song that defines a Los Angeles culture. It’s also one of Eagles’ most well-known songs, in a catalogue of instantly recognisable hits. Added to that is a true soulfulness, blending the band’s country-rock softness with a poignant, almost bluesy melancholic heart.

This is the story of how one of the best Eagles songs came into being, and why Take It To The Limit still raises the bar for songwriters today.

Listen to ‘Take It To The Limit: The Essentials Collection’ here.

The backstory: “We wanted to capture the spirit of the times”

In late 1974, Eagles were already a successful band, boasting three fine albums and a tight-feeling work ethic. The albums had helped forge a new sound of North America in the 70s: one that was literate, commercial and harmonised to perfection, yet with an undercurrent of mistrust and unease. Band members Glenn Frey and Don Henley were, as writing for the group’s fourth album, One Of These Nights, begun, becoming more aware of these underground drumbeats of paranoia, with social problems, division and political turmoil growing in their homeland.

“It was a dark time, both politically and musically,” Henley said. “We thought, Well, how can we write something with that flavour, with that kind of beat, and still have the dangerous guitars? We wanted to capture the spirit of the times.” As their new songs were developing, Henley and Frey joked that this would be Eagles’ “satanic country-rock period”.

The writing: “That was the line”

Take It To The Limit began with Randy Meisner, who was a founding member of the band, alongside Frey, Henley and Bernie Leadon. At the time of Eagles’ formation, in 1971, self-taught bassist Meisner was probably the most accomplished musician of all of the members; he had already been part of Poco, and also toured with Ricky Nelson as part of the singer’s The Stone Canyon Band.

Meisner said he began the song on acoustic guitar after hanging out at LA’s famous Troubadour club. “It was real late at night,” he recalled. “I was by myself and started singing and playing, ‘All alone at the end of the evening’. That’s where it started.”

The title, explained Meisner, meant “to keep trying before you reach a point in your life where you feel you’ve done everything and seen everything, sort of feeling, you know, part of getting old. And just to take it to the limit one more time, like every day just keep, you know, punching away at it… That was the line, and from there the song took a different course.”

The group effort: “They would help fill in the blanks”

Though Meisner had begun the song, he just couldn’t finish it. He said, in 2006, that this wasn’t unusual, partly because lyrics came less easily to him than to other band members. “I didn’t study English literature,” he said in 2006, “so it was harder for me to find words that would go together lyrically. I had a hard time with that. Musically I could always get an idea or hook line that was good.”

However, time was ticking on. Eagles needed to record the material for their new album, so in stepped Henley and Frey to help with lyrics. “I’d get a verse or two, and I’m done,” Meisner said, “and they would help fill in the blanks.” Take It To The Limit was now ready to go: and it would be crucial in sending One Of These Nights, and the band itself, supernova.

The album: “If someone had a strong suit he would play that card”

Released in the summer of 1975, One Of These Nights stands as one of the best Eagles albums, and it marked a few subtle shifts within the group’s sound. There was the increased influence of soul and R&B music, which rippled subtly through the tracks. The main obvious change, however, was in the vocal mix. Glenn Frey’s voice was now heard less than on previous albums. This was the case even on tracks that meant a huge amount to Frey, such as the record’s title track (“We made a quantum leap with One Of These Nights,” Frey has said. “It was a breakthrough song”).

“[Glenn] was generous in that respect,” said Don Henley. “If I began to do more than he did, it was because if someone had a strong suit he would play that card.” Randy Meisner also sang lead on two of One Of These Nights’ songs, including Take It To The Limit, on which his mellow tones are crucial to the song’s success.

There was also another, bigger, change that would soon make itself felt in the band: the growing division between Henley, Frey, Meisner and Bernie Leadon. Leadon was becoming vocally unhappy with Eagles’ rockier sound. The other members of the group felt that this was the end of an era. “We had an indication a year and a half before Bernie left that he was planning to leave,” Frey said in 1976, “or at least he wasn’t going to stay with us for the duration. The duration as we saw it was a much longer period of time than he wanted it to be.”

The release: “I just didn’t want to be in the limelight”

Released on 15 November 1975, Take It To The Limit was an enormous worldwide hit. The third single lifted from One Of These Nights, the song notably broke the band in the UK market, reaching No.12 on the singles chart. It was quickly established as a live favourite, too, with one estimate putting the number of times Eagles performed Take It To The Limit at 870, and the song remaining in the group’s setlist through each of their reunions, including the 2018 show recorded for Live From The Forum MMXVII.

Its success, however, sat ill with its original author and lead singer. “I just didn’t want to be in the limelight,” Meisner said in 2016. “I liked to be on the side and play and do my parts. I was kind of shy, actually. I just wanted to do my job.” This reluctance to take a lead role on stage, particularly when Take It To The Limit was performed, contributed to further band tensions. One night in Knoxville, Tennessee, Meisner refused to go back onstage and sing the song as an encore, resulting in a punch-up with Frey.

Meisner left the band after Eagles’ next album, 1976’s Hotel California, partly due to these tensions but also from a dislike of travelling and personal factors. He formally quit in September 1977. “All that stuff and all the arguing amongst the Eagles is over now,” he later said. “Well, at least for me.”

The legacy: “I’m happy as a clam”

It’s perhaps obvious that such a classic song would have its own life outside of Eagles. Meisner himself re-recorded Take It To The Limit for his 1978 self-titled solo album, and the song has hopped around genres ever since. There’s been heavy R&B courtesy of Etta James’ version; its country roots were magnified by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson; Cher glitzed it up with an early-80s live take; indie-folk artist Sarah Dougher relocated the song as a gentle paean; and Miley Cyrus dedicated her version to her late grandmother.

Randy Meisner died in 2023, and, apart from an appearance at Eagles’ Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction, never again performed with the band after quitting. He said he had no regrets at leaving one of the most successful groups of all time. “You’re wasting your time thinking about that stuff,” he chided an interviewer in 2008. “I’m happy as a clam.”

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