Desperado was a concept album released by the Eagles in April of 1973. It was an ode of the Old West as it followed the exploits of the Doolin-Dalton gang. Under the surface, however, it told of the trials and tribulations of a rock ‘n’ roll band.
It's almost a perfect country-rock album. The harmonies, the production, the lyrics, and the musicianship are impeccable and have a polish that was unprecedented in country or rock music in its day. Sometimes, though, I feel that it's almost too perfect as it's an album that demands my respect but over the years I've not played it as often as a number of other Eagles releases.
What strikes me about this album and the band's first release as well was the importance of guitarist and vocalist Bernie Leadon to their early sound. He brought a gentleness to their music that kept them squarely in the country/rock tradition. Guitarists Don Felder and Joe Walsh were waiting in the wings, but they would take the group in very different directions.
Desperado is most remembered today for its stunning ballads. The title track would become one of their signature songs and is still used as a concert closer over 35 years after its release. Don Henley’s voice always has purity to it but here he gives one of the best performances of his career. This haunting tale of living on the edge with love always in sight but never attainable may be one of the top ten ballads of all time. “Tequila Sunrise,” which precedes it on the album, is a gentle song with a subtle lead vocal by Glenn Frey. “Saturday Night” is a beautiful outing with what may be the best harmonies that the original four-man incarnation of the group would produce.
Two rockers form a nice counterpoint to the slower material. “Out Of Control” is an apt title as it is about as ragged as the usually technically adept Eagles would get. I can’t help but wish that they would have tried this formula more often during their career. “Outlaw Man” was more under control but still presents the Eagles at their rocking best.
In the final analysis, the best way to describe Desperado is majestic and elegant — and yes, maybe a little too perfect.