. 4. The Eagles – Lyin’ Eyes.
The records I’ve been writing about all appear on a playlist I’ve made on my phone that I’ve been listening to as I go on my daily walk. I put it together because I realised that I have quite a lot of MOR schlock on it and, you know, as much as putting all your songs on random is appealing, sometimes you want a theme.
I was thinking about Guilty Pleasures and that made me think about Yacht Rock and then I realised that none of the songs I’ve written about really constitute Yacht Rock in the slightest. One of them’s just an 80s FM pop ballad and two of them are, more or less, Country & Western. Yacht Rock’s supposed to have high production values, like Steely Dan or Fleetwood Mac, neither of whom I have much time for. Sylvia’s Mother is hardly any of those things, but even that’s more Yachty than Ruby (Don’t Take Your Love To Town) which, if it was built to play on any kind of boat, would be a fibreglass dinghy with a dead possum under the bench of it. So maybe I’m just not into Yacht Rock – on balance, I think I’m probably not, really.
Apart from The Eagles that is, who are the Country Rock connoisseur’s kryptonite. While I enjoyed a fair bit of Country & Western when I was a little kid, it was never cool so when I was worried about whether the things I was into were cool or not, I ditched all that and went, as I said, psychedelic. Psychedelic music’s the same as all genres of music, in that most of it’s not up to much but the best bits are great. Also, it’s the least manly man music going – or at least the type of psychedelic music I like isn’t manly because I mainly prefer the English Pastoral take on Psychedelia – the Edwardiana infused side of it that’s strangely preoccupied with cups of tea and Lewis Carroll, as opposed to the American, heavier take on it that was so tied up in its opposition to the Vietnam war. It’s not quite as clear cut for me as I’m implying, but it’ll do seeing as I’m not supposed to be writing about that now. Anyway, I do like some American psychedelia, but mainly the Los Angeles angle, as opposed to the San Francisco one. In short, I’m into The Byrds, Love, The Beach Boys and I’m not into The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane or Janis Joplin, if that helps. What that means is that, especially as far as The Byrds are concerned, their psychedelic period (starting with Eight Miles High, I suppose) takes quite a lot from free jazz and the droning Indian influences of the time and then, as they progressed, Country & Western eased its way into their music until, basically, they ended up a Country & Western band who played psychedelic music.
The Byrds’ C&W fixation reached fruition when they hired Gram Parsons as a keyboard player and they brought out Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, which was far too Country & Western for the psychedelic dudes who were into The Byrds previously and far too psychedelic for the Country & Western crowd who were previously – and continued to be – into George Jones and what have you. Gram Parsons walked and formed The Flying Burrito Brothers, taking Michael Clarke and Chris Hillman from The Byrds as he went. The Flying Burrito Brothers, in Country Rock circles, are the real deal. They’re pretty country, but they’re also pretty psychedelic.
If Gram Parsons and The Flying Burrito Brothers are Jesus in the eyes of the Country Rock cognoscenti, then The Eagles are Judas. A band of breadheads who smoothed off all the rough and interesting edges of the Burritos and laid waste to America’s airwaves in the mid 1970s. If The Eagles started off smooth, they became slick. Slicker than owl shit. And, even as modern Country & Western leads the world in terms of developing slick, non stick, aural Teflon, The Eagles tend not to be remembered too fondly and with good reason.
Do I like The Eagles? I don’t know. I find them – especially the two singers Glenn Frey and Don Henley – to be fairly dreadful people, based on media reports. Despite myself and despite them, I can’t help but find myself drawn to a few of their songs and not just ironically.
I mainly hear their records in supermarkets and, when I do, I rub my gums with a dry finger and walk around with my teeth sticking out, adopting a(n even more) gormless look on my face than usual because that’s the look I imagine The Eagles had on their faces most of the time. I have no evidence to support this idea, except the records sound like someone with their lips stuck to the tops of dry gums, shaking their head lovingly. To clarify, I’m taking the piss when I’m doing that.
But it is only a few of their songs that I quite like. Take It Easy is almost a cynical record in terms of aiming for rush hour radio playlist programmers’ attention, but I still quite like it. Hotel California is as close as MOR Country & Western ever got to Dark Side Of The Moon era Pink Floyd and I like Dark Side Of The Moon. I like it now, although I was too scared to even countenance thinking about listening to it for years. And that’s it, really so I don’t suppose you could say that I do like The Eagles very much at all. Having typed that last sentence, I find myself more relieved than I thought I would be. Ne’er mind, eh?
Check the video out. There’s nothing outrageous, compared to The Dr Hook video and this one is a live version, but they’re still slicker than owl shit, The Eagles and you’d be hard pressed to find anything remotely clunky about this performance, it’s only the lack of studio polish and cleanliness of the space between the notes that tells you it’s live. They’re like a machine and, in a way, I quite admire that. On the other hand, there’s no danger of it falling apart either which is generally seen as a positive, but there’s something to be said for a band who’re on the verge of collapsing at any point makes for an exciting experience, the downside of which is when they do fall apart and can’t get going again. Take your pick, I suppose. I expect Yacht Rock is similarly shiny and efficient, hence yachts, I suppose.
Anyway, this is Glenn Frey singing with his eyes tightly closed, which means he means it. This is The Eagles mark ii, having lost Bernie Leadon (pictured above) and having gained Don ‘Fingers’ Felder, who wrote the music to Hotel California and got kicked out during the reunions for complaining that Frey and Don Henley – the other singer (and drummer) – were getting too big a slice of the pie and it should be equal. The appallingly nicknamed ‘Fingers’ Felder pays the country lead guitar on this and he’s great at it, especially if you do that gum rubbing thing and shake your head meaningfully with your eyes shut while you’re listening.
But if you did that, you’d miss, well, you wouldn’t miss anything much, apart from a very middle of the road Country Rock band playing a song in which there’s quite a lot of crying, extremely competently, with immaculate harmonies. Other than that, it’s as laid back as a boneless badger on a bunk bed.
Sylvia’s Mother and Ruby are both sung in the first person and both singers are feeling the pain, if you know what I mean. In Sylvia’s Mother, he’s feeling sad, in Ruby, he’s feeling self-pity and suppressed, impotent rage. In Lyin’ Eyes, the narrator is the third person, unless he’s the ‘boy she knew in school‘. Like I said, Frey sounds like he means it, but what ‘it‘ is, I’m not entirely sure. I suppose he sounds sad about it but he’s telling a sad story in which everybody eventually has a bad time and that’s fair enough. By the time the chorus is reached though, he’s singing to the girl with the lyin’ eyes and admonishing her for not doing a great job at hiding them. And having a thin smile that also didn’t do her any favours in the being economical with the truth department.
So, it could be seen as a bit of a sneering song and it sort of is, except it’s worse than that. Don Henley said, “They’d be there from 8 O’clock until midnight having drinks with all of us rockers, then they’d go home because they were kept women.” You could infer a couple of things from that and I’ve already mentioned sneering, and the other one is bitterness.
On the choruses though, the tone isn’t really a sneer and they don’t sound especially bitter: they sound disappointed which, given what the words are, suggest that the narrator thinks everything in this scenario is peachy creamy except she ought to work on how convincing a liar she is. The words are admonishing, but they don’t sing it in a very finger wagging way. Even “Fingers” Felder. That’s right. Ma’am.
Lyin’ Eyes is the story of a girl who marries an old duffer for his money but realises later that it probably wasn’t such a great idea because she doesn’t really like her sugar daddy. Not like that anyway, and what she’s giving him in return for his money and lifestyle isn’t scratching her own itch in that way.
First line, “City girls just seem to find out early / How to open doors with just a smile...” is good set up and it also tells you a lot with a little. While it implies that city girls learn cynicism early and are quite happy to (at least) flirt to get what they want. The girl’s introduced, how she went looking for a sugar daddy and now having snared one in a loveless marriage – on her part at least – she tells her husband she’s going to a girlfriend’s house, “But he knows where she’s goin’ as she’s leavin’ / She’s headed for the cheatin’ side of town.” It’s cute as hell, isn’t it? “The cheatin’ side of town…” Almost making it sound less bad than it really is, which would certainly tie in with the words of the chorus. Which come because the husband knows she’s lying. Because of her eyes. And her thin smile.
Her boyfriend who lives on the cheatin’ side of town – which must be handy for people looking to have affairs – has “… fiery eyes and dreams no one could steal…” and reminds her of what it feels like to be having it off with someone who you actually like and then she lies to the fiery eyed lad as well, telling him that she’s going to leave her husband for him, but he can tell she’s lying too. For the same reasons as her husband can, handily for the repeating chorus.
Then she goes home and gets pissed so she can tolerate being with her husband and thinks back to her younger days and how different everything might have been if only she’d gone out with “that boy from school...” and then the last verse implies that the narrator is that boy and that she cheated on him too, and he could tell in the same way. Which has the handy – for Glenn Frey at least – effect of implying that he’s a man with fiery eyes and burglar proof dreams too.
So, it’s another finger pointing song really and, while it does involve everybody crying because of the cheating girl with the lyin’ eyes, it’s more of a variation on the old ‘be careful what you wish for‘ theme as written by Alan Partridge, doing his old “…naturally, I had the last laugh…” thing. Maybe he’s got fiery eyes and unstealable dreams too. Who knows?
I’ve not really thought about it before, but it is an Alan Partridge sort of song, lyrically at least, it’s all sneering bitterness poorly concealed by sarcastic, self-righteous pity that ends with the singer pointing out how great they are and how shit everybody else is. Maybe that’s why the 70s was the “me” decade. I don’t know that either. The Eagles were a big deal in the 70s and maybe part of the reason why was that they just suited it.
So, it’s ostensibly similar to Ruby in that it’s about a philandering woman married to a man who can’t give her what she wants and/or needs, but set later on, after the hurt has been inflicted on the narrator and the result is wisdom through hindsight and that wisdom culminating in a kind of told-you-so sneer that tells us that he’s still bitter about it. You know, “She makes everybody unhappy because she tells everybody lies, like she always did. She wishes she’d stuck with me, you know but it’s too late now. Ha! She should have stuck with what she had and now it’s too late.” And fair enough, in a way, you know?
But for a group who embodied the laid back Californian attitude of the hippy era, it’s not a song with a very laid back feel, is it? Maybe that’s the point: The Eagles might sound like they’re the grooviest cowboys in the world but actually, they’re bitter enough to write songs about women who cheated on them during school.
I don’t know why you’d want that, it sounds a bit too much of a conspiracy theory to be true to me. The Eagles obviously were very uptight people who were canny operators with an eye on the bank balance at all times. Fair enough, but it’s the opposite of the image they presented to the world. Glenn Frey sings nicely enough, even if it’s without much in the way of genuine feeling because, like a Bob Dylan with almost none of the lyrical ability, his personality was that of a sneerer and probably would have found being an angry young man a rather better fit for him, if not his voice.
Frey’s singing voice is always, as far as I can tell, pretty relaxed sounding and, as a bitter, greedy fellow, he’d have to think about that and maybe put on a persona of a kind, concerned observer who wasn’t going to get uptight about anything.
As I said at the start, Glenn Frey sings with his eyes tightly shut, so we can’t really see if he’s got lyin’ eyes and he’s not smiling a thin smile because he’s singing, but we can still tell he’s lying because he doesn’t sound like he means what he’s singing. He’s trying a bit too hard, isn’t he?
Again, all of which would suggest that I don’t like Lyin’ Eyes and, having just realised most of that, now I like it considerably less. Well done me, eh?