Plenty of bands fail to follow up a career-defining album. Fleetwood Mac decided to experiment on Tusk and ended up selling only a fraction of what Rumours did. Hootie and the Blowfish rushed out their second album, Fairweather Johnson, and cemented their legacy as a “one album wonder.” Smile, the Beach Boys’ attempt to follow up Pet Sounds, broke Brian Wilson and sent the band into a long decline.
But none of those records caused the band, itself, to break up. None of those records saw a band crack so completely and thoroughly from the pressure of following up one of the most popular and critically acclaimed albums of all time. None of those records caused a rift so wide and so seemingly irreparable that, when it came time to release the contractually obligated post-breakup greatest hits compilations or live albums, band members wouldn’t even be able to be in the same state as one another, let alone communicate without going through lawyers. None of those records poisoned the well so thoroughly that band members said they’d reunite when hell froze over.
None of those records were The Long Run.
In 1976, The Eagles were flying high. Hotel California had become one of the defining albums of its era, earning the band two Grammys and going on to outsell any album ever recorded by the Beatles, Elvis, Led Zeppelin, Madonna or Prince. Glenn Frey, Don Henley and Co. had long had a dream of being the biggest band in America. Now they were, and the world was their playground. They were A-List stars with tons of options available – as well as access to enough cocaine to make Tony Montana blush.
But under the surface, cracks were forming in their foundation. Bassist Randy Meisner quit, citing exhaustion, ill health and conflicts with Frey. According to the Eagles’ own documentary, History of the Eagles, guitarists Joe Walsh and Don Felder were feuding with band leaders and chief songwriters Frey and Henley, demanding greater roles in the band. The latter two were also on the outs, as escalating drug use, long-simmering conflicts and the pressure of following Hotel California tore the two apart.
Every minute I’m awake, even when I’m asleep, I’m worried about the next album and what’s going to be written on it and how it’s going to do and how it’s going to be accepted and how my peers are going to react and how we’re going to make it better than the last one and how the record company is on our case about hurry-up-we-didn’t-get-an-album-from-you-in-1978-and-it’s-not-going-to-look-good-on-our-stock-report-and-what-about-the-profit-sharing-planDon Henley, Interview with Rolling Stone, Nov. 29, 1979
The unrelenting pressure seemed to paralyze the band. When it came time for the Eagles to record The Long Run, they had a whole lot of nothing. They had set a high bar, promising a double album. Instead, they struggled to come up with enough songs for a single album, spending so much time and money that they eventually nicknamed this record “The Long One.”
Oftentimes, they tried to kickstart the creative process with some chemical aids. If you watch History of the Eagles, the part that covers The Long Run sessions contains several scenes of band members wiping their noses while rehearsing. At one point, you even hear someone in the background go: “This song has been brought to you by cocaine.”
When we first started snorting coke, it was like a writing tool. Do a couple bumps, kinda get started talking about stuff, get yourself going, and launch into some sort of idea for a song. But in the end, cocaine brought out the worst in everybody.Glenn Frey, History of the Eagles
The lack of inspiration shows. The first song recorded, “I Can’t Tell You Why,” was a mostly complete composition new bassist Timothy B. Schmit brought with him when he joined as Meisner’s replacement. Another album track was a cover of lead guitarist Walsh’s solo song, “In The City.”
The band was only able to cobble together another eight songs after those two that were, for all intents and purposes, composed outside of The Long Run sessions. Those eight songs are decidedly hit-or-miss. “Heartache Tonight” and the title track are among the better singles in the Eagles’ repertoire, and “I Can’t Tell You Why” is a fine song. “Sad Cafe” is an underrated gem written about the Troubador, the L.A. club where Henley and Frey met. The nostalgia-tinged song is partly a rumination on the seeming randomness of success (“I don’t know why fortune smiles on some and lets the rest go free”). It’s also a wistful song about how young and idealistic the musicians at the club used to be before fame and fortune complicated things (“We thought we could change this world with words like ‘love’ and ‘freedom'”). Indeed, the lyrical content covers a lot of themes that Henley would explore in his subsequent solo career and the melancholy solo Felder plays at the end makes “Sad Cafe” really seem like the coda to the Eagles’ career.
But the rest of the album borders on the unlistenable. “Teenage Jail” is among the worst Eagles songs of all time, but don’t take it from me. “Glenn had only brought one song to the album so far, a number called ‘Teenage Jail,’ which was by far his worst writing effort and had a crazy, balls-to-wall guitar solo at the end of it,” Felder wrote in his autobiography, Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974-2001). “My solo was the result of a four-in-the-morning, whacked out, coked-out session, and to this day, I’m embarrassed to have played it. It just keeps lingering like a bad smell.”
“The Greeks Don’t Want No Freaks” was inspired by a viewing of “Animal House.” “Disco Strangler” is a dated period piece about how much the members of the band hate disco. Maybe they were watching “Saturday Night Fever” when they wrote that one. The latter is an especially bizarre piece, as Henley seems to sing in a different time signature compared to the band, making the song impossible to dance to. That was probably the point, but it nevertheless makes for an uncomfortable and odd listening experience. Both songs, along with other album tracks “Those Shoes” and “King of Hollywood,” fit the definition of “filler,” and are completely forgettable.
We were down to our bare nerve endings in terms of stress. I think the whole band had been suffering from postpartum depression after Hotel, and now we were heavily pregnant again with the next baby, and the strain was showing… It would be fair to say, I think, that this became our least favorite album because it represented such a dark time personally. We were struggling to write, we were struggling with drug and alcohol abuse, and we were struggling with interpersonal relations and ego. The whole album had this dark cloud of dissension around it… Finally, we exhausted ourselves, exhausted our patience, and took so many drugs that nobody could see any further solutions except to finish what we had and walk away from it.Don Felder, Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974-2001)
Indeed, the Eagles walked away soon after The Long Run was released. While the album did well in the U.S., hitting #1 on the Billboard 200 and eventually going 7x platinum, it was clear that the Eagles were finished. After the infamous “Long Night in Wrong Beach” where Felder and Frey threatened to go UFC on each other in the middle of their set, the Eagles took a 14-year vacation. They’d eventually reunite for the Hell Freezes Over album, but it was clear that they were now, purely, a nostalgia act — albeit a highly profitable one. They’re still a touring juggernaut today, as not even Glenn Frey’s death in 2016 could stop them. They simply plugged in another Frey (Deacon, Glenn’s son) as well as country superstar Vince Gill and kept on going.
While the Eagles were, ultimately, able to make it in the long run, it didn’t come without a tremendous cost. Then again, for a band that often cared more about the bottom line than anything else, I guess that counts as a success.