Seriously, talk about pervasive: Not only is the album the first long-player to be certified platinum by the RIAA, it currently has sold more than 29 million copies.
Yet the Eagles’ original hits package is so much more than just a popular record; it is one of the quintessential soundtracks to modern American life. People have come of age, lost their virginity, broken up, partied until dawn and cruised down every inch of blacktop while the album blasted from their speakers.
The Dude may have famously proclaimed his hatred of the Eagles in The Big Lebowski, but there’s no denying their SoCal-drenched fusion of country, rock, soul, funk, and everything in between, is embedded in our cultural DNA.
When it was released February 17, 1976, nobody had any idea — least of all the Eagles themselves, as well as their savvy manager, Irving Azoff — that Their Greatest Hits would become one of the most beloved records in the history of music.
As detailed in Steve Knopper’s piece for Rolling Stone, “How the Eagles’ ‘Greatest Hits’ Invented a New Kind of Blockbuster,” Asylum Records created the compilation as a way to satiate fans until the Eagles, in the midst of a world tour, could manage to record the highly anticipated follow-up to 1975’s One of These Nights, their first No. 1.
The Eagles, despite being a fantastic singles band, considered themselves an album-oriented outfit first and foremost
It was a clever commercial move as the band’s next full-length, the legendary Hotel California, wouldn’t see the light of day until December 1976, 18 months after One of These Nights first hit record stores. It was, up to that point in their history, the longest the Eagles took between albums.
The fact Their Greatest Hits was nothing more than what the music industry likes to call a “stopgap release” certainly lends an air of unexplainable mystery to how exactly it wound up becoming such a towering presence in the rock ’n’ roll canon.
AllMusic’s William Ruhlmann conceded as much in his album review: “There may be no explaining that, really, except to note that this was the pervasive music of the first half of the 1970s, and somehow it never went away.”
Moreover, the irony should not be lost on any student of rock history that the biggest selling record of the decade, and one deeply intertwined with its mythos, is a mishmash of previously released singles and radio hits.
After all, the ’70s were a time when the self-consciously conceived studio album (and not the single) represented the de facto format for consuming rock music.
The Eagles, despite being a fantastic singles band, considered themselves an album-oriented outfit first and foremost — both Desperado and Hotel California are full-blown concept albums.
Interestingly enough, Their Greatest Hits doesn’t play out like a greatest hits package. Rather than present its 10 cuts in the order they were released, the band and label based the sequencing on how the cuts sounded next to one another. Mood trumped chronology, in other words.
This gives the collection a sense of flow that’s more like an actual album. The way the blue-eyed tour de force “Take It to the Limit” crescendos then achingly gives way to the sumptuously laid back “Peaceful Easy Feeling” feels so natural and intended that it’s hard to imagine that three years separates the two.
The segue between “Desperado” and “One of These Nights” is even more unforgettable. Though each paints a radically different backdrop (the former a sprawling Southwestern desert, the latter a sleek Los Angeles disco), each are united in their ruminations on loneliness and emotional desolation.
Possibly the most intriguing aspect to Their Greatest Hits is to be found in what it lacks. That’s right: no “Hotel California.” The Eagles’ definitive hits collection is missing their definitive song. Perhaps it’s only fitting for a release that on every conceivable level it refuses to conform to our cherished notions of what an iconic rock album should sound like.