Collectibles: “Henley’s Opus”

Don Henley and Glenn Frey were the Lennon/McCartney of The Eagles. Sharing songwriter credits.

A Multitude Of Tunes

Few can legitimately deny the abundantly clever storytelling lyrics of “Hotel California,” “Lyin’ Eyes,” “Desperado,” “One Of These Nights” and a multitude of other tunes written and performed by The Eagles. Attempting to select the best of the Don Henley/Glen Frey collaborations would probably be considered wasted effort. However, high among my personal favorites is “The Last Resort,” a tune written and recorded in 1976, then released on the highly successful “Hotel California” album in 1977. Later that year it was coupled with “Life In The Fast Lane” and released as a single.
One of the best selling albums of all time. “Hotel California” has sold over 32 million copies worldwide.

Creating A Songwriter’s Environment

For me, “Last Resort” is particularly satisfying because of the inventive poetry of its lyrics and the insightful story they tell. Begin with those exceptionally well fashioned lyrics, combine with an equally solid musical presentation and you simply leave no room for anything other than attracting my full attention and gratifying my musical sensibilities.
Don Henley has said of “Last Resort,” “It is still one of my favorite songs … that’s because I care more about the environment than about writing songs about drugs or love affairs or excesses of any kind.” In a separate discussion of “Resort” Henley said, “The music and the words for that song are my own and in a way that was different from other (Eagle) tracks. It was my baby and it was me standing apart from the Eagles and trying to shape a story.” Henley then concluded those thoughts with, “But, more simply, it’s about the quest for a better life, a personal search for self and success: ‘She went west.’ a lot of stories begin that way.”
Glenn Frey wrote many of the Eagles hits in collaboration with Don Henley.

Reality Squared

Glen Frey gives most of the credit for “Last Resort” to Don Henley and has referred to the song as “Henley’s Opus.” The song did not go without criticism however, with at least one critic feeling it “sketches a broad, pessimistic history of America that borders on nihilism.” Others considered it as an updated version of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi,” but felt that “it was even more weary and despairing.” Nevertheless, for me personally, the song hits reality square on the nail head.

Please Take A Number

I make no attempt at presenting this as a platform for debate about “what is the best Eagles song ever,” because in my view all their better compositions are equally significant. However, in 2016 the editors of Rolling Stone magazine rated “The Last Resort” as the Eagles #27 greatest song. Then, subsequently in a Rolling Stone “Readers Poll” of The 10 Best Eagles Songs” participating readers rated it #4, just below “Hotel California” at #1, “Desperado” at #2 and “Take It Easy” at #3. Significantly, Don Henley has always claimed the 1976 epic as being one of his best works.
L: Songwriting pals Don & Glenn  •  R: Joe Walsh, Timothy B. Schmit, Don Henley, Glenn Frey & Don Felder
So, what are these lyrics that I’m personally enamored with and Don Henley feels are among his absolute best?   Well, his musical essay, which gives his perception of how the west was lost, begins with a pretty girl preparing for a journey west by leaving her hometown … which just so happens to share its name with the divine … and leads us to somewhere that is far less than paradise.
So let us, before we hear Don and the rest of this terrific Los Angeles band perform this stellar Eagles’ classic, take a look at the poetry of:

“The Last Resort”

Don Henley – Glen Frey
She came from Providence
One in Rhode Island
Where the old world shadows hang
Heavy in the air
She packed her hopes and dreams
Like a refugee
Just as her father came across the sea
She heard about a place
People were smilin’
They spoke about the red man’s way
And how they love the land
They came from everywhere
To the Great Divide
Seeking a place to stand
Or a place to hide
Down in the crowded bars
Out for a good time
Can’t wait to tell you all
What it’s like up there
And they called it paradise
I don’t know why
Somebody laid the mountains low
While the town got high
Then the chilly winds blew down
Across the desert
Through the canyons of the coast
To the Malibu
Where the pretty people played
Hungry for power
To light their neon way
Give them things to do
Some rich men came and raped the land
Nobody caught ’em
Put up a bunch of ugly boxes
And Jesus people bought ’em
They called it paradise
The place to be
They watch the hazy sun
Sink into the sea
You can leave it all behind
Sail to the Lahaina
Just like the missionaries did
So many years ago
They even bought a neon sign:
“Jesus is coming”
Brought the white man’s burden down
Brought the white man’s reign
Who will provide the grand design?
What is yours and what is mine?
‘Cause there is no more new frontier
We have got to make it here
We satisfy our endless needs
Justify our bloody deeds
In the name of destiny
And in the name of God
And you can see them there
On Sunday morning
Standing up and singing about
What it’s like up there
They call it paradise
I don’t know why
You call someplace paradise
Kiss It goodbye
The prolific songwriter from Linden, Texas
Don Henley was born in Gilman, TX and raised in the small town of Linden (pop. 1,988) in the Northeast corner of the state, which, according to historians is also the birthplace of ragtime composer Scott Joplin and blues guitarist and singer T-Bone Walker. Henley was only 29 years old when he wrote his opus. He continues to this day to be a vigorous advocate for the environment.
Now, from their successful 1994 “Hell Freezes Over” • Eagles tour, with Don Henley’s excellent lead vocals, here are the Eagles with “The Last Resort”:
The Last Resort: The Eagles (live), Run time 7:33
L to R: Joe Walsh, Timothy B. Schmit, Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Don Felder.
The Eagles have sold over 150 million albums worldwide, won six Grammy Awards, had five #1 singles, seventeen top-40 singles and six #1 albums. They were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 and are the highest selling band in American history.
Donald Hugh Henley will be 74 on July 22nd. He and his wife Sharon have been married 26 years. They have 3 children, 2 girls and a boy.

Footnote

The lines in the lyrics to “The Last Resort” about:
They even brought a neon sign
“Jesus is coming”
… have always reminded me of something I often experienced when I lived in LA in the late 60s.  I swear on a stack of the Good Book that this recollection is true.
There was an iconic neon sign atop the Church Of The Open Door at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles campus at 6th and Hope St. in downtown LA.  As you approached the downtown area, on the freeway from Hollywood, you could easily see this iconic sign beaming in the night sky. The sign read, in brilliant red neon letters, “Jesus Saves.” At one point in this drive, the freeway made a slight curve to the right, very briefly revealing an additional neon sign atop an adjacent building just to the right of this brilliantly glowing red iconic downtown Los Angeles neon sign. At that particular moment, if you read both signs in unison it joyously pronounced: “Jesus Saves, Los Angeles Savings & Loan.”
The iconic “Jesus Saves” neon sign, in downtown Los Angeles, was moved to Glendale in 1989, once it’s original location was demolished.
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Author: Jay Hamilton

Jay Hamilton is a veteran disc jockey, program director, music director and radio programming consultant. In the Pacific Northwest, he is best remembered for his time at KMPS AM/FM during the '70s and '80s. Jay is now retired and lives on the Olympic Peninsula. Music, of nearly every genre, has always been an important aspect of his life and he frequently contributes opinions, articles and "Collectibles" to Puget Sound Media.
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3 thoughts on “Collectibles: “Henley’s Opus”

  1. I see the Eagles, currently consisting of Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Timothy B Schmidt, with Deacon Frey (son of Glenn) and multiple award-winning country music star Vince Gill, have put together a 2021 US tour, under the title the “Hotel California” Tour. It begins with 2 concerts (Aug. 22nd and 24th) at Madison Square Garden. Each concert will feature a “Hotel California” set accompanied by an orchestra and choir, following by an additional set of the band’s greatest hits. So far the closest this tour will get to Seattle is 2 shows in San Francisco on Oct. 22nd and 23rd, but they have been adding new dates recently.

  2. Interesting post. That is an Eagles’ song I am less familiar with. They were amazing how they crossed over. The song does not, but the theme or story reminds me of Tar and Cement by Verdelle Smith. Also, Prine did one called Paradise. I think they are right when they say places called Paradise are not. In Whatcom County we have a Paradise half way to Mount Baker. It is a small development and, for decades, it has had many arrests for illegal drugs, car theft, sex crimes, home break-ins and violence. We joke that it was mis-named.

    1. You’re right, Steve, and more to the point, if you designate someplace as “Paradise” (no matter where that “Paradise” is) that’s virtually the death knoll and you can all but “kiss It goodbye”. ~ Also, great observation about John Prine’s “Paradise” from 1971. All about the coal mining town of “Paradise” in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky where they dug their coal till the land was forsaken and Mr. Peabody’s coal train hauled it (“Paradise”) away.
      I’m also reminded of driving from LA to Las Vegas, back in the day when “land scammers” would offer in print ads terrific bargains for land parcels in the new development of “Pair-a-dice”
      Nevada, sight unseen. Driving by the location, smack dab in the middle of the desert, there would be a big billboard announcing your arrival in “Pair-a-dice” which consisted of a few wooden street signs and bulldozed dirt streets posing as city blocks.

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