It's not a bad time to be a hipster who loves "yacht rock," or album-oriented rock, or whatever term you want to use to describe the kind of breezy soft rock that rules the airwaves of classic-rock stations and mellow VH1 Classic programming aimed at adults (read: old folks). Everyone from Fleetwood Mac to Steely Dan is getting name-checked in record reviews about hip indie acts like Midlake, Fleet Foxes, and Neko Case. Michael McDonald is even showing up on Grizzly Bear tracks. The elitist indie kids at the Smell in Los Angeles are trading tapes consisting of "Baby Come Back" by Player and other golden AM classics. It's a good time to be breezy and cheesy.
Yet, while name dropping Seals and Crofts may be acceptable at the Trunk Space, and winking an eye while blasting "Tusk" at YOBS is fine, it remains resolutely not cool to like the most definitive standard bearer of mellow, cool sounds: The Eagles. While nearly all their peers have amassed some fashionable cred, The Eagles (currently comprising songwriters Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Joe Walsh, and Timothy B. Schmit) and their crystalline harmonies, billowing acoustic guitars, steady bass work, and California mystique have yet to capture a chunk of the elusive "cool" market.
Not that it matters. Their best-of, Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975), remains one of the best-selling albums in U.S. history, moving over 29 million copies. Look long enough and you'll find a copy in your dad's record stack. Your mom probably has a copy in her car. The hits of that collection, and those released after it, remain inescapable. You've shopped to "Life in the Fast Lane" at Whole Foods. You probably can play the chords to "Hotel California" on a guitar. Yet for all their universal recognition, it's never been "cool" to like The Eagles. When punk rock reared its transgressive head in the late '70s, it was The Eagles and their ilk who seemed to be dead in the sights.
While plenty of punk's enemies have earned revised histories, The Eagles have remained suspect in the eyes of pop culture. Perhaps Seinfeld is to blame. Can you imagine anyone less with it than Elaine's boyfriend, shushing her as "Desperado" plays? Maybe it's The Big Lebowski to blame, with his eternally quotable "I fucking hate The Eagles, man" catchphrase. Rock critics have never been on board, either; in the eyes of many, their lucrative commercial take on the "cosmic Americana" of Gram Parsons has always reeked of phoniness and mimicry.
Though that may be true, I'm swallowing my pride and coming out with it: I like The Eagles. I won't try to justify it with a smug music geek response or even claim some blue-collar folksiness, insinuating that my liking the Eagles puts me in the company of millions of hardworking Americans. I'll simply point to the songs. Have you heard the bass line and harmonized distorted guitars in "One of These Nights?" Can you find me a better blue-eyed soul ripper than "I Can't Tell You Why?" What about "James Dean," an underrated power pop masterpiece, and how its rocking shuffle is an instant bad-mood fixer? What about "New Kid in Town," one of the rawest, most poignant looks at fame's fleeting nature, a tune that its writers actually lived? Perhaps pointing to the band's take on a tune by Tom Waits, a truly respected old-school hipster if ever there was one, is most appropriate. Sure, they didn't write it. Sure, they didn't earn it. But, damn, if they didn't sell it — in all the ways that matter.
Wed., April 21, 8 p.m., 2010