Remembrances of the life and work of Glenn Frey have been plentiful since his passing just a week ago. When recalling his music with the Eagles, many retrospectives have listed the incredible string of hit songs the band ripped off in the ’70s and yet also noted the fact that these chroniclers of California excess and ennui were rarely critical darlings. It’s an odd conundrum, one that the band addressed in part on “New Kid In Town,” the chart-topping lead single off their 1976 masterpiece Hotel California.
Frey wrote the song in tandem with bandmate Don Henley and frequent Eagle collaborator J.D. Souther. In the liner notes to the Eagles compilation album The Very Best Of, Henley recalled the dual meaning of “New Kid In Town”. “It’s about the fleeting, fickle nature of love and romance,” he said. “It’s also about the fleeting nature of fame, especially in the music business. We were basically saying, ‘Look, we know we’re red hot right now but we also know that somebody’s going to come along and replace us — both in music and in love.”
The insight about their standing in the rock world could have come off as snarky, but Frey’s compassionate lead vocal removes any chance of that occurring. As the “talk on the streets” subtly advances from praise of the song’s “Johnny come lately” to shunning him in favor of somebody new, Frey’s vocal captures every nuance. Even when things are going well, he’s there to warn about the tricky business of “great expectations”: “Everybody loves you/ So don’t let them down.”
In the second verse, the song concentrates on romance, particularly a tender dance between two lovers, as Henley comes aboard for high harmonies. The line “Hopeless romantics, here we go again” subtly hints at both failure and boredom. This foreshadowing is seen through when the girl looks elsewhere, leading to one of those simple, yet deeply bittersweet lines the Eagles seemed to produce in abundance pulled off better than anybody thanks to those pristine harmonies: “It’s those restless hearts that never mend.”
After the bridge leaves the protagonist with “tears on your shoulder” and an eloquent guitar solo by Don Felder clears the air, the final verse shows how easily praise can turn to jealousy: “You’re walking away, and they’re talking behind you.” The closing refrain completes the kid’s journey from hero to has-been, from lover to loser: “Where you been lately? There’s a new kid in town/ Everybody loves him, don’t they?/ Now he’s holding her, and you’re still around.”
By that time the walled harmonies are soaring all around Frey, leaving him to deliver the stinging punch line which highlights both the disposability of fame and the ephemerality of romance: “Just another new kid in town.” Frey’s vocal performances were often understated, sweet and soulful on the slow songs or rambunctious and rascally on the fast ones. On “New Kid In Town,” he brings down the house.
The fact that the Eagles were self-aware enough to beat the critics to the punch on a song like “New Kid In Town” didn’t temper the vitriol they faced at the time, but none of that matters now. What matters is a body of work that’s unassailable and how much music fans have lost now that Glenn Frey, creator and performer of much of that work, is gone.