The Eagles’ ‘Greatest Hits’ is music for people who do not really like music

Album is now top-selling album in US after overtaking Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’

The Eagles  dressed like engineering students. They had hair like your friend’s dull older brother. Jesus, 50 per cent of contemporaneous Fleetwood Mac at least bothered to be a bit sexy.

The Eagles dressed like engineering students. They had hair like your friend’s dull older brother. Jesus, 50 per cent of contemporaneous Fleetwood Mac at least bothered to be a bit sexy.

 

I’ll tell you who I hate. I hate people who use the “[X] for people don’t really like [X]” construction. Whenever a horror film breaks out, some bore in a black T-shirt will be there to explain that: “Night of Despair is horror for people who don’t really like horror.” I hate that guy.

So, anyway. Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) by The Eagles is music for people who don’t really like music. There’s nothing wrong with not liking music (there really is). I don’t judge you for your lack of interest (I do). If that is your favourite album then you are welcome to enjoy your place alongside followers of Dido, James Last, Jive Bunny, Mantovani and the phone company’s hold music. I don’t care (I really, really do.)

Stop whinging. You can comfort yourself with the knowledge that you are among the largest imaginable multitude. News reaches us that the Eagles’ Greatest Hits has, after a battle lasting many decades, finally passed out Michael Jackson’s Thriller to become the biggest selling album of all time.

Unqualified headlines

I say “news”. I really mean: “Fake News!” I gotta tell you. The media are the worst, worst people. Not good people. Fake . . . News . . . Despite unqualified headlines in Rolling Stone and Variety, it transpires that the LP has achieved this title in the United States alone. The Recording Industry Association of America, which now adds streaming and downloading into its figures, has certified that LP as 38x platinum. This used to mean it had sold 38 million hard copies. Lord knows what it actually means now, but the Eagles’ album is officially the highest seller in the US. Congratulations, surviving members. You’re the most popular something in America. Your album will be mentioned in the same breath as deep-fried cookie dough and soft drinks that taste of cough medicine.

Okay, that’s not fair. The Eagles’ album still manages second place in the worldwide chart. People who don’t really like music have been buying the thing everywhere. We can talk ourselves hoarse pointing out that Thriller, still the worldwide champion, is a bona fide masterpiece. It may not be the equal of Jackson’s Off the Wall, but – to paraphrase Joseph Heller on his own Catch 22 – what album is its equal? Billie Jean, Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ and Human Nature more than compensate for the execrable presence of The Girl is Mine.

The Eagles performing in 1998 in London. Their Greatest Hits has, after a battle lasting many decades, finally passed out Michael Jackson’s Thriller to become the biggest selling album of all time. Photograph: David McNew/Reuters
The Eagles performing in 1998 in London. Photograph: David McNew/Reuters

The smoothed-down songs on the Eagles’ LP are so short on angles they barely register while passing through one ear to the other. They are the aural equivalent of those American steaks that, pumped full of chemicals, collapse beneath the teeth like so-much taste-free blancmange. Take it Easy, Witchy Woman, Lyin’ Eyes . . . My eyes are becoming heavy just reading this stuff.

People have been bitching about the Eagles for close to half a century. (Or possibly just “Eagles”. The definite article seems optional.) Long before people like me began complaining about them, the original fans of country rock were tearing out lumps from their considerable reserves of hair. Gram Parsons had more grit. Emmylou Harris had more soul. Even Linda Ronstadt, in whose support band some founding Eagles met up, could muster a few pinches of vocal pepper.

Respectability

The diabolical genius of the band involved blanching a vibrant music into gruel unthreatening enough for even your dad to swallow while he complained about those nice Beatles going crackers. They dressed like engineering students. They had hair like your friend’s dull older brother. Jesus, 50 per cent of contemporaneous Fleetwood Mac at least bothered to be a bit sexy (no, not you, John).

Almost all the bands that punk abhorred acquired eventual respectability. Hip-hop sampled Led Zeppelin. The blissed-out rave scene appreciated the less wordy bits of Pink Floyd. But no fan of Public Image Limited or The Slits ever came round to playing Peaceful Easy Feeling when anybody else was in the room.

I can remember sitting in a pub with a girlfriend in the mid-1980s and making a sour, slap-me face when Hotel California came on the radio. “I don’t bloody care that I’m not supposed to like it!” she bellowed. “I like the guitar solo and I like the way the lyrics approach the Californian drug scene.”

You see what we had to put up with? The awful tolerance? The appalling ability to think for oneself? The inevitable dumping for being an insufferably pompous ass?

Yes, yes, she had a point. It probably is possible to like music and like the Eagles. But at least make an effort to stay away from the greatest hits compilations. “Probably The Best of the Beatles,” Alan Partridge replied when asked for his favourite LP by that band. Do you see my point? Do you? Do you?

I don’t know why I bother.

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