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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Happy Birthday, Don Henley!

When selecting the topic for today’s blog entry, I had no idea that the timing would be so perfect.  It’s almost as if I’m doing a Tuesday Timeline entry on a Sunday!  I really had no idea that the artist that I am featuring in this blog entry is celebrating his 65th birthday today!  Talk about perfect timing!

Yes, today is July 22, 2012.  But back on July 22, 1947, Don Henley was born in Gilmer, Texas. 

And yes, we’re going to be featuring a song of Don Henley’s in this particular blog.  But before we do that, why don’t we talk about Mr. Henley a bit?  His life is quite interesting.

Although he was born in Gilmer, Henley grew up in the nearby town of Linden, and attended a couple of colleges in the late 1960s.  Henley ended up leaving school to spend time with his father, who was losing his life to heart disease.  But one thing that Henley had going for him was his love of music, and little did he know that his love of music would end up impacting his future career.

In 1970, Don made the decision to form a band named Shiloh.  That same year, he moved to Los Angeles with his band to record an album.  And here’s a bit of trivia for you.  Do you know who produced that album?  It was none other than future country music superstar Kenny Rogers!

Shortly after the album was recorded, Don happened to befriend someone else who was also looking to make a name in the music world.  That friend’s name was Glenn Frey.

Now Don and Glenn ended up getting another break together, as both of them ended up being recruited for Linda Ronstadt’s back-up band.  They joined the band in the spring of 1971.  A few months later, when Ronstadt was embarking on her summer tour, two more people were added to her back-up band; Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon.  Leadon and Meisner soon developed a bond with Frey and Henley, but here’s the wild part about it all.  They only managed to play together as a unit ONCE during Linda Ronstadt’s summer tour (the gig was held at Disneyland in July 1971.  But all four managed to see their names added to the liner notes for Linda Ronstadt’s self-titled album.

When Linda’s tour ended, the four men decided to seek out their own fortunes and made the decision to form a band of their own...a move that was largely supported by Linda herself.  Signing a contract with Asylum Records (a brand new label that was founded by David Geffen), the band began recording under a new name...”Eagles”.

The Eagles’ self-titled album was released on June 26, 1972, and spawned three Top 40 hits.  And that was just the first album!  Over the course of the next eight years, the band would end up recording six #1 albums, and in the band’s lifetime, they won five American Music Awards, and six Grammy Awards!  And with such classics as “Desperado”, “Take It to the Limit”, “Lyin’ Eyes” and “Hotel California” on their set-lists, is it any wonder that the Eagles ended up being one of the most successful bands of the 1970s?

Sadly, all good things must come to an end.  In the summer of 1980, the band broke up.  I would go into the story about how the split occurred, but this blog entry isn’t really about the Eagles.  Please remind me to bring it up whenever I feature an Eagles blog entry, okay?

What was interesting about the breakup of the Eagles was the fact that almost all of the band members embarked on solo careers throughout the 1980s.  Joe Walsh (who replaced Leadon after he left the band in the mid-1970s), released a successful album in 1981, and ended up becoming a session musician for other artists including Richard Marx, Steve Winwood, and Dan Fogelberg, amongst others.  And Glenn Frey ended up having a few successes in the soundtrack industry, having hits with “You Belong to the City” for the Miami Vice soundtrack, and “The Heat Is On” for the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack.

And then there was Don Henley, who easily had the best solo career of them all.

Don Henley’s first project as a solo artist was actually a part of a duet.  At the time, he was seeing Fleetwood Mac vocalist Stevie Nicks, who herself was in the process of releasing solo projects.  The two of them worked together on the 1981 duet “Leather and Lace” (which reached the Top 10), and shortly after that, Henley released his first solo album, “I Can’t Stand Still”.  The album is known for Henley’s first solo hit “Dirty Laundry”, which was released in 1982.  The song became a big hit, and soon Don was back at work recording his follow-up album “Building the Perfect Beast”.

And as an album, “Building the Perfect Beast” was almost perfection!  (I say almost because nothing is ever really perfect.)

Seriously, the album managed to have a lot of success.  The album, which was released in November 1984, reached #13 on the Billboard 200 and sold three million copies.  The album spawned four singles, all of which reached the Top 40, and the album featured a huge cross-section of talent.  Lindsey Buckingham (Fleetwood Mac) played guitar on the album, Randy Newman (“I Love L.A.” played synthesizer, and both Belinda Carlisle and Patty Smyth performed harmony vocals (Henley would later have a hit song with Smyth on their 1992 duet "Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough").

Even in 2012, the singles from “Building the Perfect Beast” are still heard all over the radio.  With songs such as “Sunset Grill”, “All She Wants To Do Is Dance”, and “Not Enough Love In The World”, it’s easy to see why so many people love them.  They’re catchy, have a great beat, and great lyrics.

But the song I want to focus on is the one single that I haven’t listed yet.  The single that could very well be considered one of Don Henley’s signature hits.  For whatever reason, I can’t post the actual video on the blog itself, but if you click HERE you can watch it. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

ARTIST:  Don Henley
SONG:  The Boys of Summer
ALBUM:  Building the Perfect Beast
DATE RELEASED:  October 29, 1984

(Seriously?  This song wasn’t a #1 hit?  I call shenanigans.  Oh well.)

Ah, but wait!  Although the song didn’t quite top the Billboard charts, it did reach the pole position on the Top Rock Tracks chart for over a month!  The music video was directed by Jean-Baptiste Mondino, and its simple, yet post-modern concept ended up winning the award for Best Video at the 1985 MTV Video Music Awards (which Henley found amusing given that in his own words he “won by riding around in the back of a pick-up!”

Maybe that was the case for the music video...but the song itself was a wonderful song about growing older, and questioning past choices.  I suppose if one were to look at the song through a shallower context, one might also see the song as a song about growing from youth to middle age.  Certainly, the video succeeds in presenting that message, as three different actors (from child to young adult) were cast as the younger version of Don Henley.

What do I think the song is about?  Well, back in 1984, I was three, and I really couldn’t say that I was analyzing pop songs while I was trying to stuff Froot Loops up my nose.  Of course, now that I am older, the song is quite bittersweet because it evokes such feelings of nostalgia.  It sort of reminds me of those carefree days when I was a child, and life seemed so simple.  And at the same time, I know that I can never have those days back.  It’s a very surreal feeling, and I think that Don Henley expressed that sentiment beautifully.

But then again, if the Eagles could reunite with each other again just fourteen years after they split up, perhaps there are some ways in which we all can get back those magical times that we once shared in some of the best parts of our lives.

Happy birthday, Don Henley.

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