They may not be your first choice when asked what artist recorded the highest selling album of all time, but The Eagles enjoyed a steady stream of success in the 1970s that few artists rival. With nearly 100 million units sold through the end of 2004, the only groups that have outsold the California band are The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. The Eagles Greatest Hits, released in February 1976, has sold more than 28 million copies alone besting former champ, Thriller by Michael Jackson.
Linda Ronstadt’s touring band after she left The Stone Poneys included future Eagles Glenn Frey and Don Henley. They were joined by future bandmates Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon for the album Linda Ronstadt and soon formed their own band that featured California country-rock harmonies that were the descendants of the marriage of Beach Boys harmonies and singer-songwriter pop.
Glyn Johns was the studio wizard who helped shape that sound in the beginning. Johns had engineered some of the best known records in rock music, including work with The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. He had also produced albums for Steve Miller and Who’s Next by that other British band.
With Johns behind the boards, the Eagles scored 3 hits off their debut album and soon had a rabid following. Various personnel changes occurred, such as when guitarist Don Felder was added to the lineup or when Joe Walsh replaced Bernie Leadon. Perhaps no change was as significant, however, as when The Eagles replaced Johns with producer Bill Szymczck, another pedigreed producer who had worked with luminaries such as Quincy Jones and B.B. King.
More hits followed, The Eagles released a studio album every year for five straight years, all spinning off hits. The studio followup to Greatest Hits was Hotel California, a concept album that is also among the top 10 best sellers of all time. That album and The Long Run capped a period where The Eagles scored five number one singles between 1975 and 1979. They also won four Grammy awards during that period, but split in 1981. Most of the members tried new projects, but only Don Henley enjoyed a successful solo career, charting 3 Top 10 hits and 2 Grammy Awards between 1985 and 1989.
Riding a wave of baby boomer nostalgia, The Eagles reunited in 1994 for the wildly successful tour and album titled Hell
Freezes Over. That album, a mix of live and studio cuts, resulted in several more hits, and The Eagles were flying high when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.
The always turbulent Eagles soon began experiencing troubles. Don Felder sued the group in 2001, claiming he was improperly dismissed. Meanwhile, singing drummer Don Henley caused worldwide headlines when he testified in hearings regarding radio payola – the practice of paying radio station personnel to play or “break” music. Henley and other Eagles were also involved in the investigation surrounding underpayment of artist royalties.
Even other artists were touched by the rocky Eagles times. Jackson Browne, Jack Tempchin and J.D. Souther all sued Warner Chappell Music (although not The Eagles themselves) for more than $10 million. Their suit alleged that they were paid 2.5 cents rather than 7.5 cents for co-writing such early Eagles hits as Take It Easy, Peaceful Easy Feeling and Best Of My Love.
After several wildly successful tours, The Eagles had reunited as of early 2005 with plans for a mammoth North American tour.