Change was in the air for the Eagles. Bernie Leadon was tired and invited Don Felder to join the group as a second guitarist to provide insurance should he decide not to tour or to leave the group for a time. Felder would end up as his permanent replacement, ultimately pushing the group in a rock direction. His arrival would also foreshadow the dual guitar sound that he would eventually provide alongside Joe Walsh.
Perhaps just as important at the time was their decision to switch producers. Englishman Glyn Johns was replaced two tracks into the recording sessions by American Bill Szymczyk who would prove to be a perfect match for the group.
In many ways, On The Border, released in March of 1974 was a transitional album. Country/rock now shared equal billing with pop/rock. Their harmonies and catchy music remained intact as they moved toward a sound that would sell more albums than all but a few groups in music history.
It is ironic, though, that their breakout song was one of the two tracks produced by Glyn Johns. “Best Of My Love,” the album's third single, was not issued until November of 1974, yet it would quickly rise to the top of the charts in the United States, setting the stage for the huge commercial success that would follow. The song was a ballad rooted in country/rock, with Don Henley’s voice floating about the harmonies as Leadon’s pedal steel guitar provides support.
I consider “Already Gone” as one of the perfect Eagles’ songs and up-tempo pop rock at its best. Felder and Leadon provide a dual lead guitar attack and Glenn Frey’s vocal leads the harmonies on a song that was meant to be played loud. A quarter of a century after its release it still makes me feel good.
There is a lot of other terrific music contained on this album, too. “Midnight Flyer” has a bluegrass feel as Randy Meisner gives one of the best vocal performances of his career. Frey’s slide guitar and Leadon’s banjo combine to create a memorable sound. “Good Day In Hell” — an all-out rocker fueled by Felder's guitar work — is one of the more underrated songs in the band's catalog. Tom Waits can be a quirky songwriter and it’s difficult to interpret his material. The Eagles get his song, “Ol’ 55,” just right, though, as they make the song their own through the use of a double lead vocal by Frey and Henley.
On The Border find the modern day Eagles beginning to emerge. As such, it remains essential to their body of work. The table was now set and the Eagles were about to cash in.