In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
One night in 1975, Bernie Leadon dumped a beer over Glenn Frey’s head. That was how Leadon quit the Eagles. Leadon, a former Flying Burrito Brother, was the Eagles’ closest link to the world of country music; his sobbing pedal steel is really the only thing that ties “Best Of My Love,” the Eagles’ first #1 single, to the genre. But the Eagles were moving away from country, and Frey had big plans to take them further away, to attempt to rock harder instead. Leadon was sick of it. Leadon himself has said that his decision to exit the band was bigger than his own genre preferences, and that’s probably true. But you don’t drench someone in beer after carefully considering your options. That’s the sort of thing you do when you’ve hit your breaking point.
Leadon’s breaking point was One Of These Nights, the album that turned the Eagles into one of America’s biggest bands. The band had added another member, guitarist Don Felder, and they’d drifted in the direction of glossy, hyper-commercial rock. Financially, this was a smart move. One Of These Nights sold four million copies, making it the biggest Eagles album yet, though plenty of the records that came later would dwarf that number. And with the album’s title track, the Eagles had their second #1 single, just five months after their first. And yet, listening to “One Of These Nights,” it’s not hard to hear why Leadon wouldn’t have wanted to be in this band anymore.
The span of time between “Best Of My Love” and “One Of These Nights” is negligible, but the two songs sound years removed. On “Best Of My Love,” the Eagles were making definitively chill ’70s rock, but they were working with ’60s influences: folk-rock jangle, Beach Boys dreaminess, Nashville countrypolitan. “One Of These Nights,” on the other hand, sounds like a rough draft of the processed and anonymous studio-rock of the late ’70s and early ’80s, the Journeys and Bostons and Foreigners of the world.
Glenn Frey said that he was listening to a lot of soul when he and Don Henley co-wrote “One Of These Nights,” and the song supposedly shows the influence of things like Al Green and the Spinners. I don’t hear that. I do hear the influence of the Bee Gees, who were sharing a Miami studio with the Eagles and who were right in the midst of their own fantastically lucrative rebranding at the same time. (The Bee Gees will reappear in this column very soon.) “One Of These Nights” doesn’t strut the way the latter-day Bee Gees records do, but it relies on the same pinched falsetto yowl, which Don Henley couldn’t do as convincingly as Barry Gibb. And I guess “One Of These Nights” has a beat? It has a nicely sinister bassline from Felder, anyway.
Lyrically, “One Of These Nights” attempts the classic-rock trick of making horniness seem weighty and poetic: “I’ve been searching for the daughter of the devil himself / I’ve been searching for an angel in white / I’ve been waiting for a woman who’s a little of both / And I can feel her, but she’s nowhere in sight.” It looks truly ridiculous on paper, but Henley sells it with a certain level of windblown weariness, and Felder’s spiky guitar solo does add something. But the song never really goes anywhere. It’s an ugly little lurch-groove with none of the energy or life of the best ’70s dirtbag-rock. It’s a sign that the Eagles had effectively become a full-on rock band but that they hadn’t yet figured out what that meant.
In any case, things were really just beginning for the band. When Leadon spilled his beer and took his leave, the Eagles replaced him with former James Gang guitarist and good-time charlie Joe Walsh, who turned out to be a much more natural fit. They’ll be back in this column before too long.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s Yelawolf rapping over a “One Of These Nights” sample on his 2008 mixtape track “Brown Sugar”: