'On The Border' is the dark horse of The Eagles' recording history, featuring just one of their best-known tracks. 'The Best Of My Love', however, is not representative of the album as a whole. Like 'Take It Easy', this smooth, lilting song was the candy used to interest the casual listener. The band's strength was less in writing great songs, though there are several of those, than in their execution. 'Already Gone' is a good song made better by fine harmonies and an ability to rock without going at it too hard. It's a track that exemplifies their ability to appeal to a wide-ranging audience. The title track and the eulogy to James Dean rock harder, while 'Midnight Flyer', with its fast banjo, leans more toward country. 'You Never Cry Like A Lover' is a slow, piano-led ballad at the other extreme and perhaps the least effective track. Elsewhere, the songs are more like 'Already Gone'. The ballad aside, 'On The Border' is a solid album, a reminder of what The Eagles were capable of when they rocked.
on 27 November 2007
There's another customer review of this album on Amazon.co.uk, where the reviewer mentions he's glad that On The Border wasn't his first experience of the Eagles, otherwise it would have been his last. I'd like to offer a flipside: this was my first experience of their music. One day in 1980, my mother came back from town with this album on cassette, which she'd picked up on special offer from WHSmith. I was five years old at the time and hadn't formed any real musical taste, other than listening to various LPs my parents owned and watching the chart music on Top Of The Pops. I'd never heard of the Eagles before, and my mother really just picked it up on a whim. She certainly didn't say anything like "Yes, this is the band that made Hotel California". After the first listen, I was utterly hooked. It's still so vivid in my mind now, listening to each side of the tape and just loving every single aspect of every single song. Four separate lead singers, all with distinct, fabulous voices. Such great musicianship and harmonies; such musical diversity. During the summer holidays, my family used to drive all the way to the former Yugoslavia with a caravan towed behind. We'd depart the ferry at Rotterdam, Holland, then drive down through Germany, through Austria, taking in some of Italy before finally reaching Yugoslavia and hitting the Mediterranean Sea. My younger brother slept through entire countries, but I always loved the scenery and counted all the different types of cars and trucks coming the other way. It was a means to get to the actual holiday but it was a part of the holiday for me. Well, On The Border was the soundtrack for every one of these cross-European slogs (and there were quite a few). I'm amazed the tape didn't completely wear itself out, because we must have listened to it a few hundred times. Sometimes, we'd change to a bit of Neil Diamond or Bobby Goldsboro, but most of the time, it was On The Border. My mother was perfectly happy to keep listening again and again, and even my dad, who doesn't listen to music much (he prefers talk radio) didn't put up much of a fight.
It was a couple of years at least before we bought our 2nd Eagles alum, which was their eponymous debut album. I've since became a complete lifelong fan. I've got all their albums, concerts, even Best Of's and Greatest Hits collections with absolutely no new songs... sad, admittedly. I've got the solo albums from all the Eagles members, not just the good stuff from Don Henley. But of all their output, this album remains my favorite. It may be part down to nostalgia, or the fact that this was my first - I can't totally discount that - but I think there was something else going on with this album too. It's no secret that there were many tensions within the band. People claim they all absolutely hated each other, plain and simple. Even after reading Don Felder's new book, I still think that it was just down to there being a group of young talented guys who had slightly different views on what they wanted to make, combined with the Wolf pack or Lion pride mentality. Everyone wanted to be the Alpha male. In the end, I guess Henley and Frey became the Alpha couple (I wouldn't want to suggest an Alpha female there) and Bernie Leadon was eventually forced out, as was Randy Meisner. Why am I even mentioning all this? Well, On The Border was really a crossroads album, and there are 3 important factors here:
1) The members who left didn't leave until later, so all of the original members were present.
2) Don Felder (Bernie's friend, and one helluva great guitarist) joined the group, knowing fine well - and being warned - that he really was entering the Lion's den.
3) With the previous two albums, there'd been a battle over musical style. Frey, Henley and I think Meisner too wanted a more rock sound. Leadon, who was the most experienced and successful individual before the band formed, wanted a more country sound. As did Glynn Johns, their famous producer. However, Desperado hadn't sold as well as their first album, many putting it down to the fact that it was too rock for country fans and too country for everyone else. So, with On The Border, the other members had their case strengthened, they sacked their producer early on and then really went for a different sound. Felder came in to strengthen this sound, even though Leadon knew that the arrival of his old friend would mean his beloved country sound was pushed further to the background.
I've gone on a bit here, but the Eagles are a huge band, and I think this album deserves more than some people give it. For me, it feels like the old Eagles, plus a bit more. But it also feels much more related to their later albums like Hotel California than their first two albums. It seems that not so many people are happy with this compromise, but for me, it's perfect. I love every song, and I honestly think any of them could have been released as singles. People will always have their favorites, but if you have a balanced and diverse taste in music, I think you'll see the true beauty in each song. Lyrically simpler than the later stuff and I guess more innocent. It's not a rock album. It's not a country album. It's not a pop album. It's not bluegrass, R&B or any one thing, but it is a perfect, radio-friendly mixture of all of these genres in my opinion. I know it better than the back of my hand, and it hasn't aged a bit.
on 6 August 2001
Although reasonably successful when released, this is now perhaps a rather overlooked album, which dates from a period of changing directions for the Eagles as they veered away from their original country-influenced soft rock towards a more hard-edged sound. There are elements of both in 'On the border', and as such it is an album of contrasts, and is not particularly cohesive. However, this was the first Eagles album I ever heard, which for me was helpful in that from the outset I was made aware of the band's contrasting influences. Only two tracks are widely known - the closing ballad 'Best of my love' and to a lesser extent the brash, rocking opener 'Already gone' - and these almost epitomise the diverging styles of the band when the album was made. The rest will be unfamiliar to all but dedicated fans of the band.
In marked contrast to the distinctive and stylish artwork of almost all of their other original albums, the uninspiring and dreary painted cover, with no pictures of the group, didn't help as an advertisement for the record. And for anyone buying it expecting to hear either another 'Peaceful easy feeling' or 'Hotel California', this album would be a disappointment; however, it is worthwhile persevering with 'On the border', because it contains several quality songs, which could well become firm favourites.
A change of producers at the beginning of the project, with Glyn Johns being responsible for two tracks recorded in England and American producer Bill Szymzyck for the rest, brought a hard rocking edge to the music and largely put an end to the gentle country rock which characterised much of the first two albums. A fifth member of the band, the additional lead guitarist Don Felder, was a late arrival to the 'On the border' sessions, but he immediately made his mark with incisive solos on 'Already gone' and 'Good day in hell'. However, his arrival in the band tipped the scales away from country rock territory, leading eventually to the departure of founder guitarist Bernie Leadon, who had been the principal 'country' influenced player in the group.
To summarise the tracks, 'You never cry like a lover' finds Don Henley establishing himself as a convincing singer of the band's ballads, whilst 'My man' (at first glance a slightly worrying title) turns out to be a sensitive and beautifully harmonised tribute by Bernie Leadon to the late Gram Parsons. 'Ol'55' (a cover version of a song from an unexpected source - the white bluesman Tom Waits) is another strongly harmonised number, and like 'My man' includes beautiful pedal steel guitar work. The title track is certainly the most unusual song recorded by the band up to this point, and defies categorisation, whilst 'Good day in hell', in which Felder lets rip on the slide while Glenn Frey pounds the piano, is undoubtedly the most hard-hitting rocker. My least favourite tracks are the token country song 'Midnight flyer' (not written by the band so presumably intended to provide some stylistic link with their two previous albums) and the rather annoying and almost punky 'James Dean'.
So to summarise this is a solid album which is indispensable to committed fans of the Eagles, although others would probably be best to settle for the 'Very Best Of' compilation.
Following 'Eagles' and 'Desperado', this superb album marked the beginnings of an emphatic move towards rock stardom and away from the country-rock genre of their beginnings. 'Eagles' had been a more-than-solid debut album but was pretty patchy, whilst 'Desperado', whilst excellent, was a one-off concept album.
That 'On The Border' would take the Eagles into the rock mainstream was evident from the first notes of 'Already Gone'. There remain vestiges of country (notably in 'Midnight Flyer' and 'Ol' 55'), but even these are much better than a lot of the material on 'Eagles'.
The emphasis here is on a new kind of West Coast rock. Stand-out tracks include 'You Never Cry like a Lover'; Randy Meisner's 'Is It True?'; and 'My Man', a moving, Leadon-penned tribute to the late great Gram Parsons. The big hit, here, of course, was 'Best of My Love'.
Listen to this after 'Eagles' and you'll see just how far the band had come in just two years. The road to stardom was now wide open.