“One song I wrote that I think Felder…well, I wrote the lyrics, is called ‘Too Many Hands.’ It’s one…that I’m glad I was involved with and able to write because it’s almost coming true now. It’s about destroying our Mother Earth and what I don’t like about destroying it. So maybe that’ll be a classic someday–when there’s nobody here to play it. (laughs)”
-Randy Meisner, interview on KBSG radio in Tacoma, WA, May 12, 1988.
(Note in the clip above (:05) that Randy stops short of saying the song is “one of my favorites.” )
For Earth Day, we felt it was only appropriate to celebrate Randy’s song about the planet. “Too Many Hands” was written in 1975 and included as the the second track on the Eagles’ fourth album, One Of These Nights. It was also the B-side to the hit, “Lyin’ Eyes.” The lyrics featured a clever play on words: Was it about a woman, who has too many affairs, or about “too many hands” destroying the earth? The song was the only collaboration between Randy and Don Felder.
In his autobiography, Felder described how recording it literally made his fingers bleed:
“‘Too Many Hands’ [was] a raucous rock-and-roll number with a rhythm guitar riff that Don and Glenn had really liked and with toe-to-toe guitar solos by Glenn and me.
“That song actually made my hands bleed. The basic track was played on a twelve-string acoustic guitar, which you need the hands of a gorilla to play, because it just eats you up. During the recording at the Record Plant, I took a break and jumped into the ‘scum pond’ (hot tub) to relax a little. The hot water softened the callouses on my hands, and when I went back in to finish laying down the track, the skin on my fingers opened up and bled.”¹
One Of These Nights was a turning point not only for the Eagles, but also for Randy Meisner.
“I didn’t get to shine too often with the Eagles but One Of These Nights turned out to be a big album for me.”²
Randy’s shining moment was on a song he wrote, with the help of Don Henley and Glenn Frey, called “Take It To The Limit.” Released in December 1975, it was the Eagles’ biggest-selling single up to that point. Randy’s performances of the song, with the earth-shattering falsetto ending, have become legendary. But, when the Eagles first toured in support of One Of These Nights in the Spring of 1975 (the album was released in June), “Take It To The Limit” was not yet part of the setlist.3 Perhaps at that time, “Too Many Hands” was the song Randy wanted to highlight. His message song. It became a staple at Eagles concerts throughout 1975.
One of the first performances of “Too Many Hands” was at a free concert for “Spirit School” contest winner, McHenry High School, on May 12th, 1975. In the review, “Too Many Hands” was described as “a song about ecology and how we’re abusing nature.”4 Did the band intro the song this way or did the reviewer get the drift?
Two nights later, on May 14th,the Eagles played the Boston Music Hall. The following is an audience recording of “Too Many Hands” from that show, with an intro by Bernie Leadon. The band plays the song very close to the original, but with a few extra bass licks thrown in by Randy. The Boston Globe noted that the song was “a far cry from ‘Desperado’ with an “expanded blues sound.”5 As always, the recording sounds best with earbuds or headphones.
“In the last year and a half Randy has really found himself as a vocalist. ‘Take It To The Limit’ and ‘Too Many Hands’ were sung with so much brilliance on the record that he is a changed singer in the solo vocalist category. In the group he’s always been phenomenal.”
-Glenn Frey, Melody Maker, December 11, 1976
What The Critics Said
“The acoustic guitar on Meisner and Felder’s ‘Too Many Hands’ easily outdistances anything (Stephen) Stills has managed in recent years, and Meisner’s vocal on the track is his most arresting since the band’s debut.” (Crawdaddy, September 1975)
“Meisner’s ‘Too Many Hands’ is one of the LP’s strongest songs. With Felder and Frey leading the attack, the number becomes a feast for guitar freaks: from high-voltage screaming electrics to the intriguing harmonic variation played on the acoustics.” (Daily Tar Heel, July 24, 1975)
“All the cuts are long, juicy with intricate string byplay and infectious rhythm patterns, and the Eagles make you wish almost every cut would go on forever, particularly the hard-driving ‘Too Many Hands,’ in which the lyrics and harmonies become a ‘sixth’ musician.” (Detroit Free Press, June 22, 1975)
“Songs such as ‘One Of These Nights,’ ‘Journey Of The Sorcerer,” and ‘Too Many Hands,” are what have really made One Of These Nights a top seller.” (Paris News, Texas, September 22, 1975)
Despite some slack, One Of These Nights still contains an adequate amount of ‘old-fashioned’ Eagles music…, ranging from the powerful ‘Visions,’ to the fragile ‘Hollywood Waltz,’ and the absolute highlight ‘Lyin’ Eyes….’ Overlooked then are the title track and the two songs ‘Too Many Hands’ and ‘Take It To The Limit,’ co-written by the little mouse Randy Meisner (note his irreplaceable bass parts). Beautiful.” (Trouw, Amsterdam, June 28, 1975, translated from Dutch)
Becoming a Classic
After Randy left the Eagles in 1977, he continued to play “Too Many Hands” as a solo artist. There are a handful of recordings of the song from his solo period and beyond, but this one is a personal favorite. It was recorded at the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach, California on August 25th, 1978. This show may have been Randy’s debut as a solo performer (previous shows for which he was scheduled were cancelled). Randy’s voice is strong and his band does a great job on the song. The addition of flute near the end is very reminiscent of Traffic.6
Over the last nearly five decades, “Too Many Hands” has become an essential Eagles deep track. In 2003, the Palm Beach Post did a Top Ten list of such songs and “Too Many Hands” came in at number 8 (see more of the list here).
The following was written on March 17th, 2005 by Mark Wilson of the Evansville Press & Courier. It was a review of the Eagles Box which was a CD compilation of everything Eagles. I thought a fitting close to this piece was what he had to say about Randy. It’s not necessarily about “Too Many Hands,” but how Randy was the “the most underrated talent” in the band. The secret weapon, in other words.
“Although guitarists Bernie Leadon, Don Felder and Joe Walsh each have their moments, the most underrated talent here is clearly original bassist Randy Meisner, who stayed in the group through it’s megahit album Hotel California before quitting in 1977.
“Meisner’s high voice added a lot to the band’s country harmonies, and his bass playing added much of the band’s rock muscle, especially before the addition of Felder and, later, Walsh. But it is his songwriting that really shines through both on hits such as “Take It to the Limit” (possibly the ultimate Eagles song) and album tracks such as “Is It True?” “Tryin,” “Take the Devil” and “Too Many Hands.”
1Don Felder, Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974–2001), 2007
2Marc Shapiro, The Story of the Eagles: The Long Run, 1995
3“Take It To The Limit” was not performed with any regularity until 1976. In fact, the first documented mention of the song being played at a concert was in Robert Hilburn’s review of the Sunshine Festival in Anaheim, California on September 28th, 1975. The Eagles last show of the year (and Bernie Leadon’s last with the band).
4The Daily Sentinel (Woodstock, IL), May 16, 1975
5Boston Globe, May 17, 1975
6 The Traffic influence is not by chance. Randy’s band, Gold Rush, covered songs by Traffic in 1969-70, according to guitarist Steve Love. Randy was particularly fond the Dave Mason songs. (Stephen A. Love public Facebook comment April 18, 2018)