On July 22, 1947, Donald Hugh Henley first burst onto the scene...and by that, of course, we mean that he was born in Gilmer, Texas to Hughlene and C.J. Henley. To commemorate this very important date in rock and roll, we’ve put together a dozen-strong list of the best songs Don co-wrote during the glory days of the Eagles, and while it obviously includes some of the usual suspects, we’ve thrown in a few tunes which may have stayed off the radar of some of you more casual Eagles fans out there, so if you don’t know ‘em, give ‘em a spin!
“Witchy Woman” (from Eagles, 1972): It’s a testament to how gradually Henley came into his own as a songwriter within the Eagles that this tune is the only one on the band’s self-titled debut on which he receives a credit. Co-written with Bernie Leadon, it was released as the album’s second single and climbed to No. 9 on the charts, but it’s arguable that even those with only a passing familiarity with the Eagles still know the song, thanks to its usage in an episode of Seinfeld, where it appeared alongside our next entry.
“Desperado” (from Desperado, 1973): Per Henley, he started writing a song in 1968 which was intended to semi-mimic the style of a Stephen Foster song, one which opened with the lines, “Leo, my God, why don’t you come to your senses,” but he never finished it. A few years later, he played the unfinished tune to Frey, who promptly dived headlong into finishing it, resulting in the first of what would become many Henley-Frey co-writes within the Eagles.
“Saturday Night” (from Desperado, 1973): In Rolling Stone’s review of the album, they refer to this song by talking about how it “looks back at the irrevocably lost past, the departed sweetheart, the never-to-be-regained innocence.” Makes sense, right? After all, that’s the sort of the thing that happens when you become a desperado.
“Best of My Love” (from On the Border, 1974): Here’s a sure way to identify a true “California song.” Was it written while having dinner at Dan Tana’s Restaurant? If so, then it’s 100% Californian, which means that “Best of My Love” passes the test. Co-written by Henley, Frey, and J.D. Souther, this silky-smooth tune provided the Eagles with their first No. 1 hit, as well it should have.
“You Never Cry Like a Lover” (from On the Border, 1974): When the Eagles originally went into the studio to record On the Border, they did so with producer Glyn Johns, but when Johns kept trying to steer the band in a country-rock direction, they balked at his refusal to allow them more input, resulting in the band halting the sessions and doing away with all but two songs they’d recorded: “Best of My Love” and this track, a real gem that’s never gotten as much love as it deserves.
“One of These Nights” (from One of These Nights, 1975): Remember what we said about how the band balked at Glyn John’s attempt to keep them headed in a country-rock direction? This track is a perfect example not only of what the band could produce when given the opportunity to spread their wings, musically speaking, but also how well these flights of creative fancy were being received. That’s right: say hello to another No. 1 hit for the Eagles!
“Hollywood Waltz” (from One of These Nights, 1975): Never before has a song managed to be more unabashedly about sex without actually saying the word aloud. Actually, that’s probably not true - there’s a freakin’ ton of songs that are about sex that never say “sex” in them, so many that we couldn’t begin to grade them all - but this is absolutely one of them.
“Hotel California” (from Hotel California, 1976): What more can be said about this song that hasn’t already been said? Plenty, probably, but we’re only going to say a little bit: it was originally titled “Mexican Reggae,” it was semi-inspired by the Beverly Hills Hotel, and it’s almost certainly the single most famous song ever recorded by the Eagles.
“Life in the Fast Lane” (from Hotel California, 1976): The title came courtesy of Frey, who told radio host Redbeard that he was riding on the freeway with a drug dealer, and when Frey asked him to slow down, the dealer - known as “The Count” - replied, “What do you mean? It’s life in the fast lane!” As for the song itself, Henley has said in the past that it emerged predominantly as a result of Walsh’s guitar riff at the beginning, which was so insane that, upon hearing it, Henley said, “We’ve got to figure out how to make a song out of that.” So they did.
“The Last Resort” (from Hotel California, 1976): In that same aforementioned interview with Redbeard, Frey also praised this track, saying that Henley “found himself as a lyricist with that song, kind of outdid himself.” For his part, Henley said in a 1978 Rolling Stone interview, “ ‘The Last Resort,’ on Hotel California, is still one of my favorite songs...That's because I care more about the environment than about writing songs about drugs or love affairs or excesses of any kind. The gist of the song was that when we find something good, we destroy it by our presence - by the very fact that man is the only animal on earth that is capable of destroying his environment. The environment is the reason I got into politics: to try to do something about what I saw as the complete destruction of most of the resources that we have left. We have mortgaged our future for gain and greed.”
“The Long Run” (from The Long Run, 1979): The title track of the band’s 1979 album and the second single released from the LP, it was - per Henley in a 2016 Rolling Stone article - written in response to articles at the time saying that the Eagles were passé. In turn, he and Frey wrote this track, knowingly enjoying the irony of writing the song while the band “was breaking apart, imploding under the pressure of trying to deliver a worthy follow-up to Hotel California.”
“King of Hollywood” (from The Long Run, 1979): Ostensibly written because Henley was pissed off about having been promised a role in a Western that never came to pass, this oft-forgotten tune from the band’s last album of the ‘70s was about the decadent lifestyles of Hollywood producers. Funny - but not ha-ha funny - how much the lyrics seem to spell out the actions of more than a few producers in far more recent memory...