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The debut album to an incredible solo career.
on 23 February 2005
Many of the great rock bands rise because together, they are more than just the sum of their individual members' talents. The Eagles have always been a perfect example of that proposition. Yet, when the infamous "Eagles pressure cooker" finally blew up in 1980 (although they took a full two years to officially announce what everybody had come to realize by then anyway), they couldn't have chosen more different paths than those followed by the five individuals emerging from the pieces. Don Felder discovered the real estate business, while also appearing (sometimes alongside other former Eagles members) on albums by Bob Seger, Stevie Nicks and other artists, penning contributions to movie soundtracks ("Heavy Metal" and "Fast Times at Ridgemont High;" the latter album ironically reunited, individually, all members of the Eagles' last configuration, featuring one contribution by each of them), and eventually publishing his own, commercially not overly successful "Airborne." Timothy B. Schmit went on to cooperate with virtually every great musician and band of the second half of the 20th century, also making significant contributions to his former fellow band members' solo projects, and on the side, released four records of his own. Henley, Frey and Walsh pursued full-fledged solo careers.
Of all of them, Don Henley proved to be the most successful, and it was so right from the start. While Glenn Frey decided to take a break from the pressure cooker and released an album entitled, not coincidentally, "No Fun Aloud," and Walsh had, without much ado, already resumed his solo career a year earlier with "There Goes the Neighborhood," Henley hooked up with Danny "Kootch" Kortchmar and Greg Ladanyi to produce "I Can't Stand Still," and proceeded to take songwriting to a new level.
From the opening title track (by some accounts, a reflection of Henley's occasionally stormy relationship with then-girlfriend, "Battlestar Galactica" actress Maren Jensen, to whom the record is also dedicated and who supplies background vocals on "Johnny Can't Read") to the closing, spiritual/gospel-inflected "Unclouded Day," the album shows a side of Henley not obvious from his contributions to the Eagles' music, significant as they were. Sure, this was the guy who had (co-)written "The Last Resort," the Eagles' ode about Paradise Lost. Sure, "Talking to the Moon," Henley's reflections on the small-town Texas where he had grown up, could have been an Eagles song. But for one thing, most of the tracks on "I Can't Stand Still" are drum- and rhythm-driven in a way few Eagles songs ever were (Henley finally got to put his skills as a drummer center stage). The guitar work in the majority of the songs is harsh, grating and straightforward. And most importantly, Henley did no longer hold back on taking a stance politically. Where the Eagles had shied away from endorsing specific politicians or parties, Henley's lyrics, beginning with those on his first solo album, were now laced with acid social commentary. Wanna go to nuclear war (remember Cold War, anyone)? Go on - "get ready boys, third time's a charm" and "if things go from bad to worse we can still kill them if they kill us first" ("Them And Us"). Think the school system works just fine and kids are happily learning away? Well, this teacher's son is here to tell you that Johnny Can't Read, and although that's nobody's fault (not Teacher's, not Mommy's, not Society's, not the President's, and most certainly not Johnny's own), "coupla years later Johnny's on the run - Johnny got confused and he bought himself a gun." And think press coverage is just what it ought to be and the media are setting any standards for themselves at all? Then listen to that news crew on location, looking for ever more Dirty Laundry: "Can we film the operation? Is the head dead yet? You know, the boys in the news room got a running bet. Get the widow on the set!" The lyrics of that last song, in particular, have never rung truer than today; and not surprisingly, it was still the opening piece of Henley's 2000-01 "Inside Job" tour.
Don Henley brought back for the production of "I Can't Stand Still" those of his former band members with whom he had stayed in touch after the breakup, Timothy B. Schmit and Joe Walsh. But he also enlisted the help of other musicians; among them, Warren Zevon, J.D. Souther, Steve Lukather and the Porcaros from Toto, Heartbreaker Benmont Tench, guitarrist Waddy Wachtel and, most importantly, Bob Seger (who co-wrote "Nobody's Business," a song that could have come right off his own "The Distance" in all except lead vocals) and the Chieftains, more particularly, Paddy Moloney and Derek Bell, for the sad and beautiful "Lilah" and its prologue "La Eile" (Gaelic for "Another Day"). It may have taken Henley's follow-up album "Building the Perfect Beast" for him to produce more than one top-ten single again (an achievement which he then topped with the overwhelming success of 1989's "End of the Innocence"), but "I Can't Stand Still" did go gold, and "Dirty Laundry," its biggest single hit, made it to No. 3 on the charts. Don Henley's first solo release effectively made the point that even if the Eagles' career was over (and would, as he prophesized, only resume if hell ever froze over), he himself was far from passe and there was a lot he had yet to tell the world.