Those that explore the writing credits while listening to music might already be familiar with the name J.D. Souther. Those who are aware of the songwriter’s catalog will know just how integral his contributions to the ’70s rock scene were.
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For the less inquisitive listener, we’re here to give you an introduction to Souther’s work for the likes of the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Kenny Rogers, and more.
While he has written songs for himself, he is most known for his work for other artists—primarily the Eagles. By the mid-’70s, Souther had helped define country rock alongside the band, securing writing credits on hits like “Heartache Tonight,” “Doolin’ Dalton,” “New Kid in Town” and more.
In recognition of Souther’s incomparable songwriting efforts, we are revisiting just a few of Souther’s biggest tracks. Uncover the stories behind these timeless tunes, below.
1. “Best of My Love” (Eagles)
Written by J.D. Souther, Don Henley, and Glenn Frey
Souther has a storied history with the Eagles. He helped pen many of their most enduring hits including “Doolin’ Dalton,” “Heartache Tonight,” and the song we’re looking at for this list, “Best of My Love.”
Souther sat down with Don Henley and Glenn Frey to help compose this track for the Eagles’ 1974 album, On The Border. “Glenn [Frey] found the tune [for “Best of My Love”]; the tune I think came from a Fred Neil record,” Souther once recalled. “I can rarely tell you where I get inspiration. When I’m writing music it’s something that’s swirling around in my head or happens to live on scraps of paper or a score paper that’s sitting on my piano. That’s a long non-answer. I have no idea where the inspiration for that song came from.”
Henley remembers it differently though, saying the lyrics were inspired by a break-up he went through with his then-girlfriend. “That was the period when there were all these great-looking girls who didn’t really want to have anything to do with us,” Henley once said in a conversation with Cameron Crowe. “We were just scruffy new kids who had no calling card. We could be cocky at times—which was really just a front—but we weren’t very sophisticated or confident. We were typical, frustrated, young men.”
“A lot of the lyrics were actually written in Dan Tana’s at a booth we liked to sit in, on the front side of the bar area,” he continued. “J.D. Souther wrote the bridge and it was perfect.”
And coming apart at the seams
We try to talk it over
But the words come out too rough
I know you were trying
To give me the best of your love
2. “Faithless Love” (Linda Ronstadt)
Written by J.D. Souther
Linda Ronstadt is the glue that connected Souther and the Eagles and subsequently allowed the songwriter to deliver his most enduring hits. Ronstadt and Souther dated from 1972 to 1974, during which time the Eagles were beginning to form from players in Ronstadt’s band—Frey, Henley, Bernie Leadon, and Randy Meisner.
“They used to rehearse in my house, where I was living with J.D., ’cause we had a bigger living room than they did,” Ronstadt recalled to Billboard. “I remember coming home one day and they had rehearsed ‘Witchy Woman’ and they had all the harmonies worked out, four-part harmonies. It was fantastic. I knew it was gonna be a hit.”
While Souther’s connection to Ronstadt proved lucrative through his work with the Eagles, he did write and record music with the songstress as well—notably “Faithless Love.”
“Faithless Love” appeared on Ronstadt’s 1974 album, Heart Like a Wheel. It has since been covered by countless artists, including Glen Campbell, Rita Wilson, Wendy Moten, and Vince Gill.
Faithless love like a river flows
Raindrops falling on a broken rose
Down in some valley where nobody goes
And the night blows in like the cold dark wind
Faithless love like a river flows
3. “I’ll Take Care of You” (Kenny Rogers/The Chicks)
Written by J.D. Souther
Outside of the Eagles camp, Souther penned a track for Kenny Rogers’ album, Love Will Turn You Around, titled “I’ll Take Care of You.” Though the track and the accompanying album only did middling well, “I’ll Take Care of You” did receive a rebirth in 1998 when The Chicks recorded the song for their album, Wide Open Spaces.
Souther once feted the trio’s version, telling The Standard Times, “[The Chicks] surprised me with a beautiful three-part harmony version of ‘I’ll Take Care of You.'”
Nights are long and dreams are cold
If they’re all you wake up to
But should you rise with crying eyes
Then I’ll take care of you
So let them talk about us
Let them call us funny things
People sometimes do
I don’t care as long
As you know I love you
Oh, and you know I do
4. “The Heart of the Matter” (Don Henley)
Written by J.D. Souther, Don Henley, and Mike Campbell
In addition to writing cuts for the Eagles as a whole, Souther also penned hits for individual members. Souther teamed up with Henley and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Mike Campbell to write the soft rock staple “The Heart of the Matter.”
Campbell kicked off the writing process. “I cut the track at home and played it for him [Henley],” Campbell explained to Songfacts. “He wrote some words, I think he got some help from J.D. Souther on some of the lyrics. He changed the key to fit his voice, then we went in and basically recreated the demo.
“I know he was especially proud of that one,” he continued. “He told me that lyric was something he had been trying to write for a long time and it finally came out the way he liked it, something he really wanted to sing.”
Souther once described the song as a matured meditation on forgiveness in the wake of a breakup.
“I certainly could not have come to that place in my twenties,” Souther once told American Songwriter. “Difficult? Well, yes, it seems improbable if not impossible to find perspective when you’re hurting. But forgiveness is sacred and the first one to benefit is the one who forgives.”
I’m learning to live without you now
But I miss you sometimes
The more I know, the less I understand
All the things I thought I knew, I’m learning again
I’ve been trying to get down to the Heart of the Matter
But my will gets weak
And my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it’s about forgiveness
Even if, even if you don’t love me anymore
. Photo by Tommaso Boddi / WireImage