January 19, 2016
RIP GLENN FREY, who passed away at the relatively young age 67 based on what sounds like a painful combination of “rheumatoid arthritis, acute ulcerative colitis, and pneumonia,” according to TMZ.
Chris Queen offers up his take on Frey’s six best vocal performances at the PJ Lifestyle Website – and then there are the effortless harmony vocals the band as a whole were capable of, which first attracted the attention of producer Glyn Johns and music impresario David Geffen in 1971.
As I’ve mentioned before, my father was a huge big band and swing music fan. For him, popular music died the moment the wheels of the Beatles’ flight from London touched down at the then-newly renamed Kennedy Airport in February of 1964, and he was reduced to playing the old songs from his voluminous record archives, and catching the old boys in concert when possible – and the chances to do that began to dwindle off sadly all too quickly. For me, a somewhat regular occurrence growing up in the 1970s was trundling out of bed and wandering into the kitchen for breakfast, and asking my dad why he had a somber look on his face, and being told:
- “Because I just heard on the Today Show that Louis Armstrong died.” (1971)
- “Because I just heard on the Today Show that Gene Krupa died.” (1973)
- “Because I just heard on the Today Show that Duke Ellington died.” (1974)
- “Because I just heard that Ozzie Nelson died.” (1975)
- “Because I just heard that Bing Crosby died.” (1977)
- “Because I just heard Guy Lombardo died.” (1977)
As the deaths in short succession of Lemmy, Bowie, and Frey spotlight, we’re now at the age where the stars of our teenage years will be heading off to the big after-party in the sky as well.
And just as my dad heard little in the music of the British Invasion that measured up to his tastes as a swing jazz aficionado, there are very few artists today that I’m hearing that equal what the best artists of the ‘60s and ‘70s were able to accomplish. We were very lucky that the Beatles (thanks to a powerful assist from George Martin) were as talented and as adventurous as they were; their collective shadow over rock music basically lasted from 1963 until about the time of Live Aid, to reference my post from last week.
As for the Eagles themselves, they weren’t really my bag, baby, as the star of the legendary British group Ming Tea would say. And I had a chuckle watching their recent documentary on Netflix last year hearing what Frey claims ostensibly broke up the band in 1980 – a fight between Frey and “Hotel California” songwriter Don Felder, because the latter musician wasn’t respectful enough of future Keating Five star Alan Cranston and his wife at a fundraising gig the Eagles played to line that California Democrat’s campaign coffers. Wikipedia claims Felder sneered, “You’re welcome – I guess,” to Cranston’s wife “as the politician was thanking the band backstage for performing a benefit for his reelection.”
So let me get this straight: throughout the documentary, a running leitmotif is that the band was desperate to add some decent rock under their soaring harmony vocals. The band fires British superstar engineer-producer Glyn Johns (whose previous resume included the Stones, the Who, the Beatles, and Led Zeppelin’s first album) because he emphasized their harmonies and country sound. In response, they bring in Joe Walsh to rock out. And finally, when their other guitarist does something that’s actually rock and roll and utters a punk rock-style sneer to corrupt power, the entire band implodes?
So while the Eagles were often country-flavored pop (especially in their pre-Walsh recordings), their brilliant harmonies and Beatles-esque ability to push the boundaries in the recording studio was nothing to sneeze at. Like the Beatles, their last album before splitting up in 1980 was essentially recorded at gunpoint and the exhaustion is palpable to the listener. And like the Beatles, their solo careers often seemed to pale compared to their group output. Frey did well out of the gate early, scoring a big hit with “Smuggler’s Blues” that producer Michael Mann liked so much, he built a memorable Miami Vice first season episode around and gave Frey a meaty supporting acting role as a mercenary drug smuggling pilot. This was followed by “The Heat is On,” which he contributed to the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack in 1984. “You Belong to the City,” which he wrote the following year for Miami Vice’s second season debut, focusing on Philip Michael Thomas’s Manhattan expatriate Ricardo Tubbs character, only to watch Don Johnson steal the song for that episode’s show-stopping MTV video sequence. Though by the late ‘80s, Frey’s career seemed to be crashing to earth, and he starred in at least one Jack LaLanne’s Fitness Club TV ad in 1989.
And while I think even their most diehard fans would admit that their recorded output after their 1994 reunion for MTV equaled their highs in the 1970s, at least they were allowed the opportunity to see the band touring once again, before Frey’s untimely death today.
The past month has been a tough one for show-biz deaths. Let’s hope the pace slows down a bit. But sadly, just as my dad was forced to come to grips with 40 years ago, we need to start getting used to the musical stars of our youth checking out on an unfortunately regular basis.