For me, On The Border was the breakthrough album for the Eagles — and, it seems, much of the rest of America.
The album, the band’s third, went gold on June 5, 1974, just 10 1/2 weeks after its release. In contrast, the band’s first two albums both took about 18 months to go gold. I think the reason On The Border broke through quicker is seen in the bookends to the LP.
It opened with “Already Gone,” which showed a more hard rock flavor than the prior two albums. Although it was one of three tunes on the LP to which no member of the band has a writing credit, the rock edge is due in large part to the addition of Don Felder. He gave the band a three-guitar lineup and the song features a twin guitar solo with him and Glenn Frey. I still recall a good friend from high school (the song hit the charts in our last months of high school) who played guitar and just absolutely loved the squeal of one of the solo licks.
But it was perhaps the other bookend that really presaged the band’s future. Closing the LP was “Best of My Love,” a ballad that displayed the ability of Don Henley and Frey (who wrote the song with J.D. Souther) to pen big hits. The song hit number one not only on the Billboard pop chart but also the adult contemporary chart. In addition, it was a crucial component in On The Border showing that the Eagles could mix country rock, rock and ballads in a way that worked well together, even if it wasn’t totally seamless. “Best of My Love” also was a strong indicator what was to come on the band’s next LP, where three songs would reach the top 5 (“One of These Nights,” number 1; “Lyin’ Eyes,” number 2 and “Take It To The Limit,” number 4).
In between the two, there was plenty of other good music. While “Already Gone” cracked the Top 40 charts, it wasn’t the only taste of harder rock. “James Dean” is a hard driving piece whose writers included Jackson Browne who, with Frey, wrote the band’s first top 40 tune, “Take It Easy.” Also falling in the hard rock category is “Good Day in Hell,” a Frey-Henley tune featuring Felder on slide guitar, and the title cut, a funkier and more R&B-oriented tune.
Yet the album didn’t abandon the country influences displayed on the first two albums. Even “Already Gone” had a bit of a country flavor. Yet that aspect of the band was seen clearly on other tunes. “Midnight Flyer” is an up-tempo, banjo-driven tune but, given the competition, is probably the weakest cut on the LP. “My Man” is among my favorite songs, a beautiful, pedal steel tinged tribute to Gram Parsons, who died about six months before the release of On The Border. The album also gave me and a lot of people our first exposure to Tom Waits, with an top-notch rendition of “Ol’ 55,” on which Frey sings the verses and Henley the chorus.
As I say, On The Border was what really led me to the Eagles. And the LP itself led me to what is my favorite LP by the band. On The Border caused me to go listen to the band’s first two LPs and, with time, its predecessor, Desperado, became the Eagles studio album I would pick if I could only keep one. Thus, On The Border became a breakthrough album for me in more ways than one.
So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains
And we never even know we have the key
“Already Gone,” Eagles, On The Border