Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The 50 Music Project: The El Lay Sound

XVII. The El Lay Sound

There was a time when I probably would have said that of the artists in this group, Linda Ronstadt was my favorite. I still own quite a few of her albums (mostly on vinyl), but they haven't held up particularly well, the exceptions being Heart Like A Wheel and Simple Dreams. What surprises me now is how well-regarded she was at the time for her interpretations of others' songs; since she wasn't a writer, that was just about all of them. Some of her covers are classics, but when she took on bigger game, like Buddy Holly, Warren Zevon (with the exception of "Carmelita;" her version is beautiful even if it doesn't quite match the original), Elvis Costello or The Rolling Stones, the results could be embarrassing. Both of the songs below made an appearance on her first Greatest Hits album, and if everything she did was this good, she'd might still be on the charts today.

After that I would have said Jackson Browne, who enjoyed a burst of creativity in the mid- to late-1970s that eventually would land him in the Hall of Fame. Late for the Sky and Running on Empty are both great albums, and the high points of The Pretender are arguably the best work he ever did. Since then he's never made a bad album, and his recent works have been criminally underrated, but nothing he's done since 1978 has quite matched what came before.

The Eagles? A great band; an incredible greatest hits album; the great Hotel California, and beyond that, a lot of inconsistency. I'm looking forward to their upcoming album, but frankly will be surprised if it matches up with the best stuff from their heyday.

Finally, anyone who's read this blog at all knows that there's no doubt in my mind today that Warren Zevon is the class of this class. One of my all-time favorites, no doubt about it.

Take it Easy, The Eagles

We gave Glenn Frey a nickname, The Lone Arranger. He had a vision about how our voices would blend and how to arrange the vocals and, in many cases, the tracks. He also had a knack for remembering and choosing good songs. Jackson Browne had shelved “Take It Easy” because he couldn’t complete it, but it was Glenn who remembered the song from some time earlier and asked Jackson about it one day. • Don Henley

Doctor My Eyes, Jackson Browne

The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson, they gave us California as paradise and Jackson Browne gave us Paradise Lost. Now I always imagine, what if Brian Wilson, long after he’d taken a bite of that orange the serpent offered to him, what if he married that nice girl in “Caroline?” No, I always figured that she was pregnant anyway, and what if he moved into the valley and had two sons? One of them would have looked and sounded just like Jackson Browne. Cain, of course, would have been Jackson’s brother in arms, Warren Zevon. We love ya, Warren. But, Jackson to me, Jackson was always the tempered voice of Abel. Toiling in the vineyards, here to bear the earthly burdens, confronting the impossibility of love, here to do his father’s work. Jackson’s work was really California pop gospel. • Bruce Springsteen, speech inducting Jackson Browne into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, March 2004

Love Has No Pride, Linda Ronstadt
Already Gone, The Eagles
Late for the Sky, Jackson Browne
You’re No Good, Linda Ronstadt

Desperados Under the Eaves, Warren Zevon

As Cain to Jackson Browne’s Abel, Warren Zevon became, and remained until the day he died, one of the great unsung heroes of rock ‘n roll. His lyrical and musical brilliance was apparent from his very first album, on which this song appeared. One of the great lyric moments of all time: “And if California slides into the ocean/like the mystics and statistics say it will/I predict this motel will be standing/Until I pay my bill.”

One of These Nights, The Eagles

We made a quantum leap with “One of These Nights.” It was a breakthrough song. It is my favorite Eagles record. If I ever had to pick one, it wouldn’t be “Hotel California”; it wouldn’t be “Take It Easy.” For me, it would be “One of These Nights.” • Glenn Frey

The Pretender, Jackson Browne
Carmelita, Warren Zevon
Hotel California, The Eagles
Lawyers, Guns and Money, Warren Zevon

Running On Empty, Jackson Browne

The lines that made the song:

Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
I don't know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels
I look around for the friends that I used to turn to to pull me through
Looking into their eyes I see them running too

Clearly, the seventies were taking their toll.

I Can’t Tell You Why, The Eagles

No comments: