This Just In: Hell Really Does Freeze Over

The 25th anniversary reissue of an iconic Eagles album recalls old animosity

The Eagles circa 1994

It’s not entirely surprising that the Eagles stoked such animosity in certain quarters. Although they’re still considered one of the most successful bands in the history of popular music — indeed, their greatest hits album reigns as one of the best selling albums of all time — the backlash they received then lingers even now.

In theory, the vinyl re-release of Hell Freezes Over ought to put some salve on those wounds. The second live album in an often tempestuous career, it offers ample cause for renewed appreciation. The performances are as tight and precise as the original studio renditions and serve as a reminder of why the Eagles were such stalwarts on the radio. Two hit singles were culled from the album — “Get Over It (aptly named due to the fact that the album marked the first time in 14 years that the band had reconvened after a bitter break-up) and the lovely “Love Will Keep Us Alive” — with the rest of the set featuring popular renditions of material that made up their classic catalogue.

Naturally, the album went to number one in the Billboard album charts, no surprise really considering their earlier string of successes.

Still, that didn’t calm the scorn. The fact that the live tracks replicated the studio selections so precisely fueled the criticism and contention that the group lacked spontaneity and were merely going through the motions. That’s not a fair critique ,of course — concert audiences generally don’t want a band to mess with the arrangements they’ve already grown to know and love. Plus, one could question if it’s really right to criticize a group based on their astute instrumental skills.

The Eagles Hell Freezes Over, Warner Bros. 1994

There were other reasons as well why some wanted to take the Eagles down back in ’94. Success often breeds contempt. Jealousy is frequently a prime factor. Likewise, some resented the fact that the Eagles achieved their fame on the backs of those who first created the template for the country rock crossover. Bands like the Flying Burrito Brothers, Poco and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band all of possessed the skill and savvy that the Eagles brought to the fore, but failed to achieve the same level of mass adulation compared to the riches and rewards garnered by their successors.

Perhaps the band brought some of it on themselves. Don Henley’s rock star persona left a somewhat snarky impression. Joe Walsh’s ode to his own ambitions, “Life Is Good,” reminded those who were struggling and bereft of good fortune that certain people do revel in entitlement and live a pampered lifestyle. Likewise, when Henley insisted that the band had never broken up,  but were instead taking a 14 year vacation, some bristled at the fact that they could barely afford one or two weeks away from work themselves.

Still, one has to credit the band for maintaining their sense of humor. The album title comes from a remark Henley made when they parted ways in 1980 — “We’ll play together again when hell freezes over.”

Ironically, there was still a lingering chill. Guitarist Don Felder was unceremoniously booted from the band seven years later and it would be another 13 years before a full studio successor to 1979’s Long Run appeared, marking a gap of three decades between their studio sets.

Perhaps absence does make the heart grow fonder. We sure as Hell can only await the renewed response.

 

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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