Born and raised in Texas (he attended North Texas State) Henley was taken under the wing of country superstar Kenny Rogers in 1970. Rogers encouraged him in the creation of his early band Shiloh and in California he teamed up with Glenn Frey as part of Linda Ronstadt’s backing band. That was the catalyst for forming The Eagles, once Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner were hired to complete a legendary quartet. Henley and Frey assumed a major controlling interest in the band’s development – operating under the theory that a benevolent dictatorship would accomplish far more than a full fledged democracy, and Don’s methodical raping vocal style and underrated drumming underpinned everything from ‘Desperado’ and ‘Witchy Woman’ to the gloriously romantic ‘Best of My Love’ and its polar opposite ‘Hotel California’, a song which couldn’t really have been sung by anyone other than him.
Don’s debut solo album, the self-explanatory I Can’t Stand Still, was extremely well received. Tracks like ‘Dirty Laundry’ and ‘Johnny Can’t Read’ (a sideswipe against American educational standards) pleased critics and piqued public interest. But it was Building the Perfect Beast (1984) that persuaded everyone – here was an artist who was far more than an Eagle, let alone a drummer. The disc has sold over three million copies and established a brilliant partnership with Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers men Mike Campbell, Stan Lynch and Benmont Tench. The stand-out song ‘The Boys of Summer’ is a Henley/Campbell collaboration which won Don the Grammy Award for Best Male Vocal Performance in 1986 but it’s the startling lyrics about youth and mortality that make it so resonant. The lyrical reference to the Deadhead bumper sticker spotted on a Cadillac gave the number instant appeal to generations of listeners and wry as the observation was it also made a valid point about one time rebellion becoming a consumerist normality – albeit with a perfect up tempo rhythm offset by an entirely downbeat delivery. Stellar assistance on this classic album arrives via Lindsey Buckingham, bassist Tim Drummond, Jim Keltner’s kit and Jerry Hey’s moody horn parts but there are also surprise contributions from a fellow sardonic in Randy Newman (synthesiser) and the late great English drummer Ian Wallace, a member of Henley’s touring band.
Don follows that three years later with The End of the Innocence whose title track is another brilliantly conceived account of impending middle age. This time he colludes with pianist Bruce Hornsby (ironically then a member of The Grateful Dead) and the video is shot by the celebrated movie director David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club) is startling black and white. The track ‘I Will Not Go Quietly’ (written with long time pal Danny Kortchmar) finds space for Axl Rose’s backing vocals, making it a collector’s piece, and the not to be overlooked gem ‘New York Minute’ has a slick apocalyptic arrangement augmented by Toto maestros David Paich and Jeff Porcaro: this has a distinctive whiff of Steely Dan about it. Other notables in the ranks are Edie Brickell, Valerie Carter, Sheryl Crow and Wayne Shorter, as well as those Heartbreakers. The End of the Innocence is a top-notch example of peerless West Coast rock cut though with acerbic lyrical wit.
Augmenting these two fabulous discs we have Actual Miles: Henley’s Greatest Hits (1995). Another Platinum affair this collates material from his first three solo discs and adds new tracks – ‘The Garden of Allah’ (a Hollywood Babylon epic on a par with his finest writing), ‘You Don’t Know Me at All’ and a superb cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Everybody Knows’ whose mordant lyrics reference everything from AIDS to social unrest and religious turmoil. All a far cry from The Eagles’ ‘Take it Easy’.
With Henley back in the driving and drumming seat with his parent group Inside Job (2000) was another well-received release but we point you towards The Very Best of Don Henley, available in a deluxe version that contains extra bonus audio and DVD. This came out in 2009 but it’s unlikely to be the last word on his idiosyncratic take regarding the American condition from Mr Henley. He remains one of the most insightful commentators on modern society viewed through a rock star’s eyes that we have. Turn up the Don Henley, the neighbours are listening.
Words: Max Bell
Released in 1989, The End of the Innocence is the third album by Don Henley. It is his best selling album, selling over 6 million copies in the United States, peaking at #8. The album released three Top 40 singles "The End of the Innocence", "The Heart of the Matter", and "The Last Worthless Evening". Those singles reached #8, #21, and #21 respectively. The album also featured "New York Minute" which reached #48 on the charts and was recorded by Henley and the Eagles for the live album Hell Freezes Over in 1994. Henley won another Grammy and an MTV Video Music Award for the title track. In 2003, the album was ranked number 389 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
The song "I Will Not Go Quietly" features Axl Rose, a member of Henley's then-labelmates Guns N' Roses.
Building the Perfect Beast is the second album by Don Henley, released in 1984. The album became a huge hit for Henley, making him a solo star, and was critically acclaimed. The album reached #13 on the charts and sold three million copies. It also released four Top 40 singles including "The Boys Of Summer", which won Henley numerous awards and became one of his most popular songs. "The Boys Of Summer", "All She Wants To Do Is Dance", "Not Enough Love In The World", and "Sunset Grill" reached #5, #9, #34, and #22 respectively. Henley won a Grammy for "The Boys Of Summer" and four MTV Video Music Awards. The album is notable for the fact that three-fifths of the then line-up of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers contributed to the writing of the songs - guitarist Mike Campbell, keyboard man Benmont Tench and drummer Stan Lynch, the latter of which would later collaborate with Henley in composing the Eagles' song "Learn to Be Still".
Actual Miles: Henley's Greatest Hits is a greatest hits album by American singer/songwriter Don Henley, released in 1995. The album was the first compilation album released by Henley and it covered hits from all three of his solo albums throughout the 1980s. The album features three new songs, "The Garden of Allah", "You Don't Know Me At All", and Henley's cover of "Everybody Knows". The collection peaked at #48 on the charts and reached platinum status. "The Garden Of Allah" reached #16 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.
The Very Best of Don Henley is the second compilation album by Don Henley, released in 2009 and his first release since Inside Job in 2000. A deluxe version containing extra bonus tracks plus DVD material is also available.
Long Road Out of Eden is the seventh studio album by the Eagles, released in 2007 on Lost Highway Records. Nearly six years in production, Long Road Out of Eden is the first studio album from the Eagles since 1979's The Long Run, and along with the four original tracks on 1994 Hell Freezes Over, and two songs in 2003 ("Hole in the World") and 2005 ("One Day at a Time"), the only original material since.
The album produced two singles on the Hot Country Songs charts: a cover of J.D. Souther's "How Long" and "Busy Being Fabulous", both of which were Top 30 hits on the country charts as well as Top 20 hits on the Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks charts. The album produced five straight hits on the Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks charts with "How Long", "Busy Being Fabulous", "No More Cloudy Days", "What Do I Do With My Heart", and "I Don't Want to Hear Anymore".
The album debuted at #1 in the U.S. and won the band two Grammy awards for "How Long" and the instrumental "I Dreamed There Was No War". The album became the band's sixth #1 album and was the highest selling album of the year. It has since sold 3.5 million copies in the U.S. alone. Being a double album with length exceeding 90 minutes, the album was certified 7x Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America for shipments of 3.5 million discs.