Behind the Album: How the Eagles Scratched and Clawed Their Way to One More Hit Album with ‘The Long Run’

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Chuffed at the unprecedented success of their 1976 masterpiece Hotel California, the Eagles decided their next release would be a double album. When it finally appeared, The Long Run would in comprise just a single disc, and the struggles to put even that together had hastened the demise of the group.

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Because it didn’t live up to the nosebleed heights of its predecessor, it’s easy to forget just how successful The Long Run was, at least by normal rock-band standards. Let’s take a look back at the highs and lows of the creation process and contents of this album.

A Band with No Songs

When the Eagles assembled in early 1978 to begin the process of making what would become The Long Run, they had already promised that it would be a double album, which would be the first of its kind in the band’s career. And why wouldn’t they double down? Hotel California, released in 1976, ratcheted the band up into rock royalty status thanks to its stunningly assured assessment of hard living and loving on the West Coast.

In truth, the band were already starting to fracture before they headed into the studio. For the second album in a row, they would be breaking in a new member. A worn-out Randy Meisner decided he’d taken it as far to the limit as he could go during the Hotel California tour in 1977. The Eagles tabbed Timothy B. Schmit to step into the void.

As for the double-album idea, there was just one issue: The band had zero finished songs in tow when they headed into the studio. Thus began a process of trying to band songs into shape on the fly. That might have been viable had the band been getting along better, but the pressures of following up Hotel California served to expose the fraying relationships between group members. Heavy drugging and drinking didn’t help.

One Album is Better than None

To their credit, the Eagles managed to claw and scratch to the finish line. After a torturous recording process that encompassed just about a year and a half, they delivered the finished product. The Long Run showed up on shelves in September 1979 as a single disc of 10 songs. It hit No. 1 on Billboard‘s U.S. album charts and featured a leadoff single in “Heartache Tonight” that topped Billboard as well. Two more Top Ten singles followed.

Not a bad commercial result. The hits (“Heartache Tonight,” “The Long Run,” and “I Can’t Tell You Why”) might not have been as deep as the ones on Hotel California, but they still featured winning vocal performances (from Glenn Frey, Don Henley, and Timothy B. Schmit, respectively) and snappy writing. As for the album cuts, the brooding “Those Shoes,” the Joe Walsh showcase “In the City,” and the elegiac “The Sad Cafe” all displayed the band still at the top of their game.

Still, the four remaining tracks fell squarely into the filler category and betrayed a certain sourness that had seeped into the songwriting. As a whole, The Long Run felt like contract fulfillment rather than inspired artistic statement. That it came out sounding as accomplished as it did was testament to the skills of the band. But the fire seemed to have been doused.

Running on Empty

Touring to support The Long Run likely filled the Eagles’ coffers, but did little to improve the long-term prospects of the group. Simmering animosities began to rise to the surface. A benefit concert where Frey and Don Felder openly threatened each other on stage was the last straw. They went their separate ways, barely on speaking terms.

Of course, hell eventually did freeze over and the band reunited. They even gave us the double album they’d failed to deliver with The Long Run when Long Road Out of Eden arrived in 2007. Although the band still tours, Frey’s death in 2016 pretty much closed the book on any further studio output from the Eagles.

As for The Long Run, it’s hard to separate the music from the struggle it took to make it, in part because that struggle is evident at times throughout the record. Nonetheless, the high points still showed that the Eagles could still come together and make great music, even if they were breaking apart at the seams in all other ways.

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Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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