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The Story of the Eagles’ Risk-Taking Concept Album, ‘Desperado’

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For a band that was never particularly narrative, linear or even all that ambitious with their songwriting, the Eagles’ decision to make their second album a concept record always seemed a bit odd. Their self-titled 1972 debut was filled with peaceful, easy and likable L.A.-style country-rock that rarely grabbed at more than it could handle. At this stage in their career, there was nothing cynical or pretentious about the Eagles.

But a year later they returned with Desperado, a concept album about the Old West and, especially, the Dalton Gang – a group of late-19th century outlaws led by three brothers. The LP’s story is somewhat flimsy, its narrative held together by historical summations and sketchy portraits of the gang’s ringleaders. But the music, mostly acoustic ballads and mournful country tunes, at times sounds richer and more focused than the debut.

From the opening “Doolin-Dalton” and the single “Tequila Sunrise” to the character study “Certain Kind of Fool” to “Outlaw Man,” the album’s toughest song, Desperado saddles up for a dusty-trailed journey held together by the Eagles, still a quartet at this point, and their tight harmonies and expert playing. And then there’s the title track, one of the band’s best-ever songs. As far as narrative-driven concept albums go, it isn’t Kilroy Was Here, but it’s way more enjoyable.

Released on April 17, 1973, Desperadois the Eagles’ lowest-charting LP, having just missed the Top 40. But it eventually went platinum, better than 1972’s Eagles. The album’s singles – “Tequila Sunrise” and “Outlaw Man” – didn’t do all that well; neither reached the Top 50. The next year the band hardened their style with the addition of Don Felder and the On the Border album. No. 1 records, excessive lifestyles and legend weren’t far behind. Desperado is the Eagles’ last stand at innocence.

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