Ranking the 5 Best Songs on Don Henley’s Classic Solo Smash ‘Building the Perfect Beast’

Don Henley thrived in his solo career because of his willingness to branch out from the country-tinged lanes that his former band the Eagles most commonly traveled. After a somewhat tentative solo debut (I Can’t Stand Still in 1982), Henley perfected the formula on Building the Perfect Beast in 1984.

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Featuring Henley’s typically sharp songwriting and his embrace of then-common sounds such as brassy synthesizers and mechanical rhythms, the album dealt out two Top 10 singles and officially cleared the artist of any Eagles’ hangover. Here are our choice for the record’s five best songs.

5. “All She Wants to Do is Dance”

Henley’s reputation for solemnity wasn’t completely eradicated with Building the Perfect Beast. But this single did show a slightly different side of him. He had thrown some humor into his first big solo single “Dirty Laundry,” but it was mostly the bilious kind. “All She Wants to Do is Dance” lets Henley throw in some sly commentary about the geopolitics of the day. But it does so in the context of a guy whose girlfriend doesn’t want to hear anything about it. It felt like his way of deflating the bubble around his image, and it gave him an unlikely hit in the process.

4. “Not Enough Love in the World”

Henley’s chief collaborator on the album was Danny Kortchmar, who helped compose a lot of the music and produce. Benmont Tench, a founding member of Tom Petty’s band the Heartbreakers, also added a songwriting assist on this one while providing the soulful keyboards as well. The musical setting is one in which Henley has always thrived, that of a guy taking stock of a relationship that has run its course. It’s surprising the song wasn’t a bigger hit when released as the album’s third single, but maybe its charms were too subtle for the radio audience. In any case, it’s a great performance of a solidly written song.

3. “A Month of Sundays”

We love our vinyl, but the best versions of Building the Perfect Beast are on CD and cassette. Why? Because the vinyl omits this mournful, deeply affecting ballad. Like many artists of the era, Henley became concerned about the plight of farmers in America. His writing on “A Month of Sundays” suggests somebody who either knew the territory well or else did some crackerjack research. Benmont Tench appears here as well, nailing the gloomy piano part. This track served the dual purpose of appealing to both the minds and hearts of those unaware of the issue at hand.

2. “Sunset Grill”

If Henley was going to go all-in on synths on this album, he was at least wise enough to employ folks who knew what they were doing to help him out. The legendary Randy Newman constructed the wall of synths that renders “Sunset Grill” so potent. When those bold sounds fade away, however, you’re left with a personal story told with heart and grit by Henley. The narrator and his girl use the titular location as a kind of refuge from the world they see changing all around them, only to face the reality the place itself might soon become a relic as well.

1. “The Boys of Summer”

Tom Petty heard bandmate Mike Campbell’s demo and just couldn’t envision what he could bring to such a synth-heavy track. Henley heard the pathos and pain within it, and found the lyrics to fit perfectly. The end result is one of the finest singles of the ’80s. You can appreciate the story in many ways. On the macro side, it’s about faded youth and withered ideals. But on a small scale, it’s a song about a guy who’s clinging to a fantasy of a relationship, one that he believes will magically rekindle once the seasons change, even as every listener knows he’s toast.

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Photo by John Shearer/WireImage

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