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Jackson Browne, J.D. Souther and Jack Tempchin Settle Eagles Royalties Suit

The three, who wrote or co-wrote hits that appeared on the Eagles’ Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975), claimed publisher Warner Music owed them millions:

    Plaintiffs’ lawyer Larry Iser said on Friday that an agreement resolving the dispute had been reached, but as is typical in such cases, details of the settlement were kept confidential. Lawyers for Warner could not immediately be reached for comment.

    ….The three songwriters claimed that Warner Bros. Music, the predecessor to Warner-Chappell, licensed the songs to sister record label Elektra/Asylum/Nonesuch under a “sweetheart deal” for use on the Eagles’ 1976 mega-selling greatest-hits collection.

    Under that deal, the “mechanical royalty” — paid to songwriters each time a song is played — was set at fixed rate of 2.4 cents per song rather than under a formula that would allow it to rise with inflation over time, the suit said. As a result, the plaintiffs claimed lost royalties in excess of $10 million in more than 25 years since the album’s release.

    ….The three plaintiffs earned songwriting credits on a total of four of the album’s 10 tracks. Browne, who became a major recording star in his own right, co-wrote the hit “Take It Easy” with the Eagles’ Glenn Frey. Tempchin wrote “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and shared credits for “Already Gone.” Souther collaborated with Frey and Don Henley on “Best of My Love.” [Reuters]

I will take this opportunity to pontificate on the Eagles, to wit: The Eagles evolved from a highly personal, touchingly sincere Western-rock band (“country-rock” is a misnomer) to a collection of jaded superstars. This evolution played against the band’s strengths and shined harsh light on their weaknesses. Ask any filmmaker: lighting is everything.

From the Eagles’ original position as a pleasant, unimposing, and lightweight outfit, they could slip in truths without seeming heavy, contrived or pretentious. They had charm. By the time of their highly publicized recruitment of guitar hero Joe Walsh, the Eagles could no longer creep up on anyone.

The Eagles went from overachieving upstarts to defending champions. This is a familiar transformation in sports: the underdog rises through the pack and becomes champ. Every other team gets particularly geared up to play the champions – every team sends its best pitcher against them, even on three days rest. Beating the champs gives a struggling team hope.

The defending champion mentality affects the champs as well: they feel the pressure of heightened expectations. They don’t play to win, they play not to lose. The joy of playing gets lost somewhere. The team may bring in high-priced hired hands to shore up perceived weaknesses, but they also may forget how they got to the top in the first place.

All of the above happened to the Eagles, the first rock band of the free agent era. The problem wasn’t Walsh per se, it was the “now they’ll really achieve greatness” mentality that accompanied him into the group. There was an ease to the pre-Walsh Eagles. They moved as a unit. They functioned as a pack. The latter-day Eagles felt more like high-priced session men backing up each other’s projects than a group of peers.

The band’s sound changed along with its mentality. Their pre-Walsh albums (up through One of These Nights) breathed. There are spaces in the surface of the music which afford clean, dry ventilation, like cotton or fine spun wool. The holes closed up on Hotel California and the material didn’t breathe: it was slicker but caused discomfort in the long run.

The band changed stylistically as well. When they traded the bluegrass-based Bernie Leadon for the ’70s-rock based Joe Walsh, they lost their contact with the desert: their source of high-lonesome inspiration. Gone were the banjos, the pedal steel, the fancy finger picking that informed even their most un-Western material. The falsetto R&B vocals of “One of These Nights”
were “Western” R&B vocals.

When the Eagles looked out over the city lights of L.A. in “Lyin’ Eyes” or “Hollywood Waltz’” they saw the city for what it really was: an irrigated desert. They saw the ancient smoke of the indian’s campfires backing up against the San Gabriel Mountains. The Eagles traded this view for a windowless luxury suite at the Hotel California.

About Eric Olsen

  • Bill

    Great article!! But you may as well include the first album so you can have “Train Leaves Here This Morning” and “Take the Devil”. Everything they did with Bernie was great.

  • Eric Olsen

    Thanks Bill, you’re right about the first one – I just didn’t think it was quite as consistent and the very best tunes are on the Greatest Hits, but it’s well worth having as well.

  • Hazy Dave

    So, I wonder what evidence of accounting irregularities, greed, corruption and avarice are being suppressed here? I don’t blame Jackson, Jack and J.D. for letting themselves be bought out, since there’s no way they could muster the resources to take on the Time Warner AOL legal department. To say nothing of the executive management, sales, auditing and accounting departments… But I wonder how much they settled for?

  • fran leadon

    i wanted to let you know bernie leadon has a new solo record coming out later this month. it’s available now at his website…. it’s his first solo record since 1977! produced by ethan johns, features emmylou harris.

  • a. guy

    it’s not really that important, in the larger scheme of things. the national debt is 14.3 trillion dollars.that’s important.
    medical research–that’s important. baby
    boomers grew up ascribing inflated importance to their entertainment. good luck.