History of the Eagles (2013)

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For the Eagles it was a risky venture breaking out from the shadows of Linda Rondstadt. For a time they were her back up group, and were going to stay that way. That is, until they decided that they had much more to offer the music world than back up vocals for someone as amazing as Rondstadt. In the end, standing up for themselves and breaking apart from Linda Rondstadt proved an incredible but successful risk for the group. Unlike the Pips, they managed to show the world they were much more than back up vocals. For many years they had to show everyone that they were a true rock band, a true group of artists and truly contributors to the mythos of classic rock much like The Who and Led Zeppelin.

“History of the Eagles” begins with a series of interviews with group founders Glenn Frey and Don Henley, as they happily discuss what it’s like to work on a concert, and what the rush of gradual success is like. At the end of a concert, they rush in to a limo, down a few beers and smile at the camera, discussing what it’s like to work on music they love. Cut to another concert performance of the five Eagles. As their performance ends, they stand side by side smiling as the audience applauds, and under their breaths they can be heard muttering threats, insult, and angry words at one another. They’re smiling for their fans, but behind the scene they’re bitter enemies prepared to murder one another if pushed far enough. How did the band that worked toward proving themselves get to become such bitter enemies?

“History of the Eagles” will be a treasure trove for loyal Eagles fans like yours truly. True, it’s not a masterpiece, but it’s still a compelling and very entertaining documentary for fans of the band. Clocking in at almost four hours in length, Allison Ellwood leaves no stone unturned, focusing on many aspects of the Eagles conception and the legacy they’ve left on music that lives on to this day. From the origins of founders Glenn Frey and Don Felder, to their days working on garage bands, right down to the creation of their many hits including Hotel California. “History of the Eagles” takes its time in building the momentum for introducing the group, and how they began as mere men for hire whom eventually wanted to break out on their own and become a rock band of their own.

The history behind the band is filled with many an interesting turn, and explores the creative side of the band more often than it does the scandalous. While the scandals and fighting are very much a focal point, most of the documentary thankfully chronicles the stumbling blocks for Glenn Frey and Don Felder, and how the pair learned to write music, and create their own hit music. Frey speaks about how he learned about creating music from the legendary Jackson Browne when they lived together in a run down apartment complex, and how Frey became a protege to Bob Seger, who showed him the ins and outs of the business. Ellwood also focuses on how the Eagles originally began as the band named Felicity, and were discovered by begging Kenny Rogers to come to a concert of theirs, which led to their slow discovery and troubled relationship with record executives, and producers that refused to take them seriously for quite some time.

There are some great looks in to the making of their hit songs including “Take it Easy” which originally was an incomplete song, “Lying Eyes” which was inspired by the group’s meetings with gorgeous but married women, and “Hotel California” which garners an interesting back story as an instrumental that turned in to a song, and features a guitar off in the finale between band mates. All of the Eagles band members, as well as their friends are interviewed, and we’re able to get their own versions of what led to the band’s ultimate demise. Much of the blame is placed on Don Felder, who becomes the general boogeyman of the documentary. Depicted as an egomaniac, ungrateful and stubborn, Don Henley and Glenn Frey barely acknowledge their own faults and egomaniacal natures, and pit most of the blame on Felder.

“History of the Eagles” is entertaining for a good time up until the final half hour, where the documentary begins to feel more like a press kit for the band’s new music. Exploring the making of their new albums, and their creative process becomes redundant and tedious, especially when they gloss over their “Hell Freezes Over” tour, which was a big reunion at the time. There’s also a lot of name dropping for foundations and charities the band members are working for and have founded, which never feel like genuine looks at how they’ve fared after the music ended, and tend to feel as if it’s all just one big promotional tool for the men. “History of Eagles” is certainly not a perfect documentary, but it succeeds in being an engrossing and compelling look at the legendary band that proved they could be more than back up vocalists in the end.