Released on March 22nd, 1974, On The Border was the Eagles’ third album and the first to feature guitarist Don Felder. Here we take a closer look at the album through recollections of the people who were there, reviews, and more.

Billboard, April 6th, 1974

Origins

After the marginal success of the Eagles second album, Desperado, the band worried that they were being pigeonholed by the “country rock” label.

Glenn Frey: “I hate those stupid labels! I hate when people call us a country-rock band because they are so full of it. We can do anything! We can do rock and roll, we can do country music – anything.” (Hit Parader, 1975)

Randy Meisner: “Glenn and I wanted to do more rock and roll. In Nebraska, I’d listen to Wolfman Jack late at night on the radio and he’d play all the old R&B stuff. Glenn and I were always the ones fighting for more rock and roll rather than acoustic tunes. We felt that the first two albums were mainly acoustic and we wanted to boogie a little bit.” (Discoveries, 2006)

The band’s two previous albums had been produced by Glyn Johns, who’d worked with The Who, Led Zeppelin, and The Rolling Stones, and felt that the band’s strength was their harmony blend.

Glyn Johns: “Glenn and Don wanted a harder rock sound, and as they were not what I considered to be a rock band, I tended to hang on to what I thought was their forte, the harmony vocal sound and the country rock approach to what they were doing.” (Sound Man, 2014)

Don Henley: “Glyn thought we were a nice pretty acoustic ballad band. Every time we’d do a rock song he’d try to discourage us…Glyn just wasn’t letting the rock ‘n roll develop. I mean, we don’t want to be totally a rock ‘n roll band, we just want to do it all.” (Hit Parader, 1975)


Bernie Leadon: “Glyn has his stamp that he puts on something you do. A certain amount of echo is part of this. We figured some tunes deserved that much echo and some didn’t. We tried to work it out but it wasn’t really happening, so we just decided it would be a good time to try another guy and see where it was at. We went with Bill, who was no more or less talented than Glyn. I think he’s a fantastic producer. It’s just a matter of taste more than anything else. We just thought a change in sound would be healthy. Plus Glyn wanted us to be an acoustic-oriented vocal group. Desperado fit that to a tee, he loved us for it, the whole album. Our ideas of what ballads ought to be worked out great. But our idea of rock and roll and his British idea of rock and roll didn’t quite gel. We just wanted a little more dry, American, L.A., West Coast sound on the records, not only in the conception of the music.” (Door, 1974)

But, it wasn’t just creative differences that caused tension, it was also Johns’ school marmish rules, which included no drugs or alcohol in the studio.

Glenn Frey: “It really irritated him that Randy and I would sneak off and smoke weed. He’d tell me, ‘You smoke grass and then you don’t say what’s on your mind when it comes to mind. Now it’s a week later and you’re talking about something you should have ironed out seven days ago. And that’s juvenile . . .’ What can you say? You’re busted. It’s true. He pointed out a lot of bad habits in everybody.” (Rolling Stone, 1975)

With the Eagles and their producer at an impasse, the band returned to America to finish their album and find a new producer. Only two songs were salvaged from those London sessions: “You Never Cry Like A Lover” and “Best Of My Love.”

Randy: “We got ‘Best Of My Love’ done with Glyn Johns, which was more up his alley and we wanted to do more rock and roll. That song turned out so nice, it’s Glyn’s style with the vocal and the clean sound. [But] we finally decided not to work with him anymore, it just wasn’t right.” (Discoveries, 2006)


Enter Bill Szymczyk

The Eagles met Szymczyk (pronounced Sim-zick) via Joe Walsh. Szymcyck had been Walsh’s producer since 1969 (James Gang, Yer Album) and had recently produced his latest solo effort, with his new band, Barnstorm, The Smoker Your Drink The Player You Get, which included Walsh’s signature “Rocky Mountain Way.” When the Eagles heard this album, they knew this was the sound they were looking for.

Bill Szymczyk: “I was somewhat hesitant when both Joe Walsh and lrving Azoff said to me, ‘You’ve got to talk to the Eagles.’ I didn’t want to make country records; I wanted to make rock albums. They said, ‘Well, they want to rock!'” (Billboard, 2016)

Randy: “Then we got Bill Szymczyk. Bill had recorded ‘The Thrill Is Gone’ with B.B. King and we thought he’d be perfect for us and he was. We were impressed with his sound. Szymczyk got us a real nice bass sound and I loved the way he worked. Bill came from more of a rock and R&B background. He was really attentive and a hard worker. ‘You want to do it? Wanna stay all night? Okay, let’s get it done.’ Bill became like a member of the group.” (2006)

Don Felder: “Bill Szymczyk was a huge bear of a man with a handshake that could crush cans.” (2007)

Szymczyk: “I was an R&B freak. On The Border was originally country and I changed it to the Eagles-meet-The-Temptations.” (Palm Beach Post, 1994)

Glenn explains why Szymczyk soon earned the nickname “Coach”:

Glenn: “Working with Bill was like we were the Miami Dolphins and he was Don Shula. His job as far as producer went was not so much to arrange the music or analyze the songs as much as just to keep us up, keep us loose, make sure things didn’t get too intense, but that they got intense enough.” (Circus, 1974)


The revamped Eagles with their new producer, 1974. Photo by Henry Diltz.
L-R: Bernie Leadon, Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Randy, Don Felder, Bill Sczymcyk.

LATE ARRIVAL: DON FELDER

Bruce Malamut, Crawdaddy (July 1974): “Don Felder is one mutha guitar player.”

The Eagles became aware of Don Felder through Bernie Leadon, who had known him since their high school days in Gainesville, Florida. They were also in a band together called The Continentals.

Don Felder: “You know a lot of rockabilly music was going on. And later I met and played with people like Stephen Stills who was in my first band called The Continentals. And when he left, Bernie Leadon replaced him in the band – who was later one of the founding members of the Eagles. I taught Tom Petty guitar lessons there in Gainesville. We had a little music store that I worked in during freshman year of high school. And Tom came in and was in some band called The Rucker Brothers. He had been playing bass, so I started giving him guitar lessons and helping with arrangements in his band. Duane Allman and Gregg Allman had bands called The Spotlights and The Allman Joys. We were at battle of the bands together. I would steal everything I could from Duane. As a matter of fact, he was the one that showed me how to play slide guitar – gave me my first introduction to it. I thank him to this day for his kindness and generosity to take the time to help me.” (Music Recall Magazine, 2015)

Don Felder: “I’d go down and see the Eagles right after the first album came out. They were opening for bands like Yes in little 2,000-seaters, and people didn’t know anything about them. I’d go down and play guitar backstage with them.” (Chicago Tribune, 1980)

Randy: “We needed a different style of guitar, some harder rock lead. We wanted someone who could really go up and down the neck.” (Bam, 1980)

Szymczyk.: “What he brought was great chops. We called him ‘Fingers.’ Fingers Felder because he was an incredible player.” (History Of The Eagles, 2013)

Felder was initially brought in to play slide on “Good Day In Hell,” but impressed the band so much they asked him to stay.

Don F. “I did that session (for “Good Day In Hell”). I think it was like three hours. Then, I packed up and went home. Not thinking anymore about it except that it was just another session. The next day, Glenn called me and asked if I’d like to join the band. I said, ‘absolutely.'” (History Of The Eagles, 2013)

Randy: “Don adds new life to the band. We had a hard time as four people getting rhythms down; it’s hell for the bass. Bernie and Glenn would try to cover the two areas, lead and rhythm, but the sound was never full. Now we’ve got that extra spark.” (Hit Parader, 1975)

Glenn: “What our music needed was a good kick in the ass.” (Circus, 1974)


THE ALBUM

All songs, unless otherwise noted, produced by Bill Szymczyk and recorded at the Record Plant in Los Angeles.

Listen to the album here.

SIDE ONE:

“Already Gone”
Written Jack Tempchin & Robb Strandlund. Sung by Glenn Frey

  • Tempchin had previously written “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” for the Eagles debut album. He later wrote the title track to Randy’s second solo album, One More Song, as well as another track on the album,”White Shoes.”
  • “Already Gone” was a favorite of Randy’s & one he continued to play throughout his solo career.

Randy: “I remember Glenn came in with ‘Already Gone.’ We thought it was cool. Really fun to play, really rock and roll. I always liked our rock stuff the most.” (2006)

Glenn: “The ‘all right, nighty-night’ at the end of the song was sort of typical of the spontaneous feeling we wanted on our records. It was at this time that we changed producers and started working with Bill Szymczyk. I was much more comfortable in the studio with Bill, and he was more than willing to let everyone stretch a bit. ‘Already Gone’ — that’s me being happier; that’s me being free.” (2003)


“You Never Cry Like A Lover”
Written by Don Henley & JD Souther
Produced by Glyn Johns & recorded at the Olympic Studios in London

Robert Hilburn, Los Angeles Times (April 14, 1974): “You Never Cry Like A Lover” is one of the best “I-can-feel-love-slipping-away songs since John Prine’s “Far From Me.” The lyrics: You never smile at me late at night/Laugh out loud when we get it right/You can’t get loose if there’s too much light/You never smile like a lover.'”


“Midnight Flyer”
Written by Paul Craft. Sung by Randy Meisner

Glenn: “Bernie had a tape of the Osborne Brothers, Os-borne Brothers, as in killer bluegrass. They had a tape of ‘Midnight Flyer’ of which ours is a derivative, although not entirely the same. That’s where we actually heard the song.” (BBC, 1977)

Bud Newman, Tallahassee Democrat (April 14, 1974): “Midnight Flyer” could be their best song since ‘Take It Easy.’ It’s every bit as appealing musically and vocally, featuring tight harmonies and banjo throughout.”


“My Man”
Written and sung by Bernie Leadon

Bernie Leadon: “I was In The Flying Burrito Brothers with Gram. ‘My Man’ was about him. He died a week after I did an overdub session for him down at Capitol L.A. studios. I flew to London to start the third Eagles album, and we found out about Gram dying right after we woke up from jet lag in London. I was really bummed out, as Clarence White had also died recently. I had gone to his funeral with Gram, and we had sung ‘Farther Along’ at the gravesite. Now Gram was gone. So, I started the song there. Henley suggested a line in the second verse, the ‘Hickory Wind’ reference. I finished it in the studio in L.A. after we changed producers to Bill Szymczyk.” (Canyon Of Dreams, 2009)

In 1977, Don Henley claimed that the song was originally conceived as a tribute to Duane Allman:

Don Henley.: “Bernie originally started writing the song about Duane Allman, because he and Duane used to be friends and every time Duane would see him, he would say, ‘Hey, my man,’ so that’s where that originally came from. Then Gram died and that got written into it as well.” (BBC, 1977)


“On The Border”
Written by Don Henley, Bernie Leadon, and Glenn Frey. Sung by Don Henley.

Randy: “The bass parts on ‘On The Border’ are fun. Some R&B stuff.” (2006)

Don H: “As for the lyrics, there was a lot going on in the country at that time regarding the impeachment of Richard Nixon. The whole Watergate debacle was coming to a head [and] there were a lot of people concerned about the government overstepping its bounds with regard to issues of privacy. It’s an odd song. I like Glenn’s cool little R&B guitar part in the tag, though, and at the very end there’s something almost inaudible. Someone — it had to be Glenn or me — says, ‘Say goodnight, Dick’… We were addressing Nixon, because at that time it was pretty clear that he was on his way out, so that was our little kiss-off to Tricky Dick.” (2003)

In 1974, Circus magazine, via Glenn Frey, told the story behind the funky break in the middle of the song:

“It was already past midnight, and after three or four takes, they knew they were sounding really close to how they wanted to sound. Suddenly Bill [Szymczyk] shut the massive tape recorder and smiled through the glass partition surrounding the engineers booth. ‘Hey, it sounds great,’ he said. “Let’s just cool it for a few minutes. There’s no sense in playing this until you’re sick of it.” He then proceeded to mix Tanqueray and tonics for all, at which point the Eagles decided to get ‘seriously drunk’ for the crucial take.
Nestling into an overstuffed armchair, Glenn explained, ‘We decided to get completely liberated on gin and tonics in order to do that little Temptations bit in the break. We had to be totally uninhibited where we didn’t feel like we were going to sing the blues or anything, but like we were white, stoned punks, drunk out of our minds. We were just gonna go out there and have a good time!'”

Circus, July 1974

Side Two

“James Dean”
Written by Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Jackson Browne, and J.D. Souther. Sung by Glenn Frey

  • Written during an overnight rap session about famous outlaws that also produced the song “Doolin-Dalton” for Desperado. “James Dean” was originally intended for the Eagles’ second album, but got shelved when Desperado became a concept album with an Old West theme.


Glenn: “When it came time to do On the Border, we got ‘James Dean’ right off the shelf and said, ‘Let’s finish this.’ I always thought the best line in ‘James Dean’ was ‘I know my life would look alright if I could see it on the silver screen.’ You just don’t get to do that.” (2003)

Randy: “’James Dean’ was another good one. That was a song written by Jackson, J.D., Don and Glenn. Cool song. That was a really fun song to play. They brought that to rehearsal. Anything that was jumpin’ I loved to play bass on ‘cause a lot of the slower songs were just two notes on a bass. We played ‘James Dean’ in Detroit. Every once in a while you get this feeling that you’re the Beatles or something. Everything went right, every song clicked perfectly and the crowd just loved us.” (2006)


Ol’ 55
Written by Tom Waits, sung by Glenn Frey & Don Henley, with a notable appearance by Al Perkins on pedal steel.


Glenn: “David Geffen played me a tape of Tom Waits in his office. ‘Ol’ 55’ was the first song on a demo that had maybe three songs on it. I loved the song…and took it to the band. I played it for Don and said, ‘I think we should do this. We can split the vocals, it could be really cool, and we could do oooohs in this section here.’ I really liked the song. Still do. It’s such a car thing. Your first car is like your first apartment. You had a mobile studio apartment! …It was that car thing, and I loved the idea of driving home at sunrise, thinking about what had happened the night before.” (2003)

Tom Waits, who was initially flattered that the Eagles were going to record his song, was less than impressed with their version of it:

Tom Waits: “I frankly was not that particularly crazy about their rendition of it. …It’s one of the first songs I wrote so I felt like it was kind of flattering that somebody wanted to do your song but at the same time I thought their version was a little antiseptic.” (WAMU interview, Washington DC, 1975)

When he was asked about the song a year later his feeling had not improved:

“Naw, I don’t like the Eagles. They’re about as exciting as watching paint dry. Their albums are good for keeping dust off of your turntable and that’s about all.” (NME, June 5th, 1976)

Ouch.


“Is It True?”
Written and sung by Randy Meisner


Perhaps of all the songs that Randy composed during his tenure with the Eagles, “Is It True?” is the most neglected. As far as I can tell, it was never performed live and Randy himself has never discussed the song (perhaps because he was never asked). But, in 1974, it was highly praised by critics. In fact, Circus magazine thought it was the most beautiful song on the album.

Circus, August 1974

Alan Edwards, Trenton Times (June 2nd, 1974): “Bassist Randy Meisner’s sweet lament, “Is It True?, which could have been written in 1965, features beautiful, finally-satisfying harmonies.”

Dave Bourdon, Press & Sun Bulletin (April 6th, 1974): “A sure fire single.”

Al Rudis, Chicago Sun-Times (April 27th, 1974): “A medium-paced sparkler, with a great chorus.”

Janis Schact, Circus (July 1974): “’Is It True,’ is another fine performance with some gorgeous slide guitar work by Glenn Frey and really lovely vocals by the group’s bassist, Randy Meisner. The harmony work on ‘Is It True’ is clean, clear, and beautiful, too, but the guitar work really stands out.

Mark Plummer, Los Angeles Free Press, (May 24, 1974): “Randy Meisner grows as a bass player each time I hear him, and his vocals have a quaint ‘lost boy’ feel to them.”


“Good Day In Hell”
Written by Glenn Frey & Don Henley. Sung by Glenn Frey.

  • This song was also written about Gram Parsons, but not as a eulogy.

Glenn: “‘Good Day In Hell’ was written while Gram was alive. It was just a symptomatic scene that I saw at Topanga Corral where there were a couple of girls hanging out with him because he was Gram Parsons and nobody was telling him that he was killing himself. Nobody was a good enough friend of his to sit him down and say “Hey, you’re very talented and you’re going to waste here. Why don’t you change your way of living and give us all a break.” (1977)

The band originally wanted Joe Walsh to play slide guitar on the song, but he was unavailable, so Don Felder was asked.

Randy: “We had known Don before, Bernie and Don had grown up in Gainesville, Florida. We wanted more rock and roll. That was kind of a problem in some way because Bernie didn’t play much of the rock and roll stuff. Eventually Bernie left. Felder, what do you say, great guitar player. He’s such a precise player, you can tell he studied Clapton, I think.” (2006)


“Best Of My Love”
Written by Henley, Frey, Souther. Sung by Don Henley.
Produced by Glyn Johns & recorded at the Olympic Studios in London


Henley: “A lot of the lyrics were actually written in Dan Tana’s at a booth we liked to sit in, on the front side of the bar area. J.D. Souther wrote the bridge and it was perfect. That was the period when there were all these great-looking girls who didn’t really want to have anything to do with us. We were just scruffy new kids who had no calling card. We could be cocky at times — which was really just a front — but we weren’t very sophisticated or confident. We were typical, frustrated, young men. We wanted the girls to like us, but …at the same time, we were also becoming quite adept at brushing off girls who showed any interest in us.” (2003)

Glenn: “I was playing acoustic guitar one afternoon in Laurel Canyon, and I was trying to figure out a tuning that Joni Mitchell had shown me a couple of days earlier. I got lost and ended up with the guitar tuning for what would later turn out to be ‘The Best of My Love.’” (2003)

Randy’s contribution to this song cannot be overlooked. Not only his unmistakable high harmony, but also his steady, melodic bass line, which compliments the song.

Maury Dean, Rock & Roll Gold Rush, 2003: “‘Best of My Love’ surveys a stormy, tattered relationship. Henley’s sound sails on a slurred burrowing of a Meisner bass line. The Eagle Chorus swoops after.”


THE ARTWORK

The cover was designed by Gary Burden, who had designed the covers for the Eagles first two albums. The cover image was created by Navajo artist, Beatian Yazz (aka Jimmy Toddy). Burden purchased the original print at a rummage sale for a quarter.

I bought the original at a rummage sale for a quarter without knowing it was an original painting or who the artist was. I just thought it was a beautiful thing.
When it came time to create the artwork for On The Border I pulled out this piece of art, which I had been thinking about and suggested it to the band for the album cover. Everyone agreed that it would be perfect. I researched and found out who the artist was. When I tracked him down the best I could find was that he picked up his mail at a trading post on the Navajo reservation. The record company sent a sizable check to the artist and we never heard if he got it or not. If so it must have come as a surprise, money out of the blue. I always have felt good that millions of people who bought or saw this Eagles album cover, who never would have been exposed to this wonderful Navajo art otherwise, got to see it and hold it in their hands. A painting by a great Navajo artist immortalized by a rock and roll band’s album cover is a very good cross cultural exchange thing.

Gary Burden, 2009

The unique lettering on the album was created by renowned psychedelic artist Rick Griffin, who had created iconic posters and album covers, most notably for The Greateful Dead. He also created the logo for Rolling Stone magazine.


PHOTOGRAPHY

Although Henry Diltz is credited on the album as photographer, the cover itself included no photos of the band. However, original, first-issue copies did include a two-sided, gatefold color poster, with a group shot on the front and individual shots of the band members superimposed on a desert background on the back. Subsequent issues of the album did not include this poster, so the item is a rare find today.


In a Facebook post in 2015, photographer Henry Diltz said the photo below was originally supposed to have been used for the album’s gatefold insert.



CHART PERFORMANCE

On The Border became the Eagles most successful album to date, reaching gold status within three months of its release. It also produced the band’s first number one single, “Best Of My Love.” Two other singles reached the Billboard Hot 100:”Already Gone” and “James Dean.” The album was certified double platinum on March 20th, 2001.

Dutch picture sleeve for “Best Of My Love” (1974)

TOUR

The Eagles kicked off a tour of colleges and universities in support of the album on March 19th, 1974, three days before its release. Performing in front of a backdrop featuring the album’s Navajo artwork, the show is influenced by what Glenn termed “peyote consciousness” and a desire to “bring the desert to the audience.” The band toured throughout the Spring and Summer, playing nearly 60 cities in the U.S. and Canada. Browse the dates & read reviews in our Concert Archive .

Fort Lewis College, Durango Colorado, April 2nd, 1974

FINAL THOUGHTS

Don H.: “I’m beginning to feel kind of proud that we’ve gone through three albums. I’m beginning to feel like a trouper, like we’ve finally got a place in the big rock pile, as it were. The important question now, though, is will we make a better album than the last one?” (Rolling Stone, 1975) 

Glenn: “On The Border was really like our band’s mid-life crisis. We were not big enough to sell out the big halls and our records had had moderate success, I would say, at that time–our albums weren’t the biggest albums out. On The Border was really the turning point; that’s when all the things really started to fall together.” (1980)

Randy: “By On The Border, the band was really starting to get good. From the beginning, there was a desire in this band to constantly top themselves. It was like when we were finishing one album, we were already working on another. But, with On The Border, I think the band had finally reached a real good creative place.” (The Long Run, 1995)


ADDITIONAL READING

Reviews:

Circus, July 1974
Crawdaddy, July 1974
Chicago Sun-Times, April 27, 1974
Los Angeles Times, April 14, 1974
Los Angeles Free Press, May 24, 1974
Press & Sun Bulletin (Binghamton, NY), April 6, 1974
Tallahassee Democrat, April 14, 1974
Trenton Evening Times, June 2, 1974

SOURCES

“On The Border: The Eagles Kick Up A Sundance,” Ellen Mandell, Circus, August 1974
“The Eagles,” Barbara Charone, Hit Parader, January 1975
“The Eagles: California Dreamin’,” Tom Nolan, Phonograph, June 1975
“The Eagles’ Bernie Leadon,” Greg Leonard, Door (San Diego), May 14, 1974
“The Eagles: Eagle-Eyed,” Chris Charlesworth, Melody Maker, April 12, 1975
“Eagles: Chips Off The Old Buffalo,” Cameron Crowe, Rolling Stone, September 25, 1975
“Ex-Eagle Randy Meisner Flies High Solo,” Dave Zimmer, BAM, November 7, 1980
“Randy Meisner Takes It To The Limit One More Time,” Ken Sharp, Discoveries, September 2006
“Interview With Former Eagles Guitarist Don Felder,” Joseph Hett, Music Recall Magazine, April 24, 2015
“Glenn Had This All Laid Out,” Bill Szymczyk, Billboard, February 16, 2016
“Producer Gave Eagles Room To Fly,” Scott Benarde, Palm Beach Post, July 22, 1994
“Flight To Fame: 5 Eagles Hit Peak Of Country Rock,” Pete Oppel, Chicago Tribune, May 18, 1980
Conversations with Don Henley & Glenn Frey, August 2003, Cameron Crowe
The Long Run: The Story Of The Eagles, Marc Shapiro, 1995
Heaven And Hell: My Life With The Eagles (1974-2001), Don Felder, 2007
Canyon Of Dreams: The Magic & Music Of Laurel Canyon, Harvey Kubernik, 2009
Sound Man, Glyn Johns, 2014
BBC Radio One Interview, April 1977
History of the Eagles, directed by Alison Ellwood (Jigsaw Productions, 2013)

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7 comments

  1. Just a correction in one of Randy’s quotes: Bernie himself has stated that the idea that he disliked rock and roll is an oversimplification and not only did he play a Fender Telecaster, but he also played a Gibson Les Paul and he enjoyed rock and roll not to mention that it was evident from the early albums.

    1. I believe this is the quote you are referring to:

      “We wanted more rock and roll. That was kind of a problem in some way because Bernie didn’t play much of the rock and roll stuff.”

      Nowhere does Randy say that Bernie “disliked” rock and roll, nor does he infer that Bernie couldn’t play it.

  2. Thank you Jessica and yes, that was the quote I was referring to. Bernie mentioned of how he played a Gibson Les Paul as well as a Fender Telecaster and enjoyed rock & roll in a 2013 Rolling Stone interview.

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