Glenn Frey, the voice and mind behind some of the biggest hits by the Eagles, has died after a battle with multiple health problems. The songs he wrote and performed with the Eagles became some of the most enduring music of the ’70s.
The Eagles never seemed to manage to win over the critics. Over at AllMusic, Bill Janovitz noted that:
…the Eagles could get no respect from rock & roll hipsters; the form of country-rock they practiced was just too smooth and polished when compared to the genre’s edgier and more soulful pioneers…
But it didn’t matter, as the music the Eagles made resonated with a generation of boomers—and their kids, as I can attest. Glenn Frey contributed to that enduring sound.
Of course, Frey managed a successful solo career after the Eagles broke up. In addition to his work with the Eagles and as a solo artist, Frey performed alongside the likes of Linda Ronstadt and Jackson Browne, and he even parlayed his solo career into a few television acting gigs, from a memorable guest shot on Miami Vice to the forgettable South of Sunset.
Rather than simply sit here and mourn the loss of another part of my childhood, I want to celebrate Frey and his contributions to the world of music. Here are five of his best vocal performances. Rest in peace, Glenn.
5. “It’s Your World Now,” from Long Road Out of Eden (2007)
I didn’t know this song until a friend of mine sent it to me the night Frey died. Look past the far too many Tex-Mex affectations, and you’ll find a poignant song about mortality. With lyrics like “It’s your world now/My race is run/I’m moving on/Like the setting sun/No sad goodbyes/No tears allowed,” it’s a fitting tribute to Frey, and it just happens to be one of his finest late-career vocals.
4. “Smuggler’s Blues,” from The Allnighter (1984)
I’ll be honest here: I don’t care for Frey’s solo stuff, but one of his songs made a lasting impact on me. “Smuggler’s Blues” sums up the futility of the war on drugs in the most succinct way, and it holds up surprisingly well today. Frey manages social commentary far better here than Don Henley’s cynical solo work, and “Smuggler’s Blues” also just happens to be a terrific, bluesy vocal.
3. “Lyin’ Eyes,” from One of These Nights (1975)
Frey drew the straw of performing this epic story-song, and he made it an instant classic with a straightforward delivery that lets the storyline unfold with no frills or distractions. As a result, the harmonies shine even more, and “Lyin’ Eyes” nearly missed becoming the Eagles’ first number one hit, landing at number two.
2. “Heartache Tonight,” from The Long Run (1979)
Frey’s smooth, soulful vocals always contrasted with Henley’s more world-weary style, and he expanded his sound into blues territory with this chart-topper from the Eagles’ last album of the ’70s. The range Frey employed on this track is impressive, and he let it rip in a way we didn’t see often before.
1. “New Kid in Town,” from Hotel California (1976)
The Eagles’ third number one single is another story-song, but it’s a far different commentary on small-town life than “Lyin’ Eyes.” With that said, Frey gave his absolute best vocal performance, gliding effortlessly into falsetto on the bridge and ad libs and owning a melody that transcends the somewhat simplistic lyrics. He delivered better here than anywhere else, hands down.
What are your favorite moments of Glenn Frey’s career? Share in the comments section below.
Editor’s Note: Updated to remove “Best of My Love” from the list. Don Henley carried the lead vocals on that song.