The Eagles are the definitive American rock band. One would argue that no band has managed to capture the essence of the ‘American Dream’ so perfectly within their songs. While CSNY may come into the conversation, when you note just how sporadic their career was, and how one-quarter of the band, Neil Young, is Canadian, the argument quickly falls apart.
The interesting thing about The Eagles and CSNY is that they are linked – but only slightly. There is a big claim to be made that The Eagles filled the massive hole that CSNY left when then imploded in 1970. The Eagles were formed in 1971 out of Linda Ronstadt’s touring band, and from the release of their debut album, Eagles, in 1972, in terms of American music, they would claim the decade as their own until around 1978, a time when things started to fall apart due to the most obvious reasons.
The extent of just how prolific The Eagles were over such a short amount of time is remarkable. Their 1976 compilation Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) is one of the best-selling albums in the US, selling over 38 million units. To have a record-breaking greatest hits album only five years after their formation reflects the point clearly. The release of the record preceded the release of the band’s magnum opus, Hotel California, which remains the third best-selling album of all time in America.
Everything about The Eagles just screams America. They make a strong claim alongside Bruce Springsteen for being the quintessential American artist, sorry Bob Dylan. One would argue that they’re certainly the quintessential American band of the ’70s, perfectly soundtracking the California-centric, drug-addled haze of the time, but nothing past that, as by 1980, the band had gone their separate ways and they wouldn’t reunite until 1994.
Even their name is symbolic of the country from which they hail – and, duly, there is a story behind how they got it. In fact, there’s three. The most famous one is that the idea for taking the name ‘Eagles’ came during a peyote and tequila influenced group trip out in the Mojave Desert. However, the accuracy of this account has been questioned.
A drug and alcohol-infused trip would seem fitting, given that the band members were remnants of the counterculture and that this was California during the ’70s. However, former member Don Felder thinks that another former member, Bernie Leadon, thought of the name whilst recalling a story he had read about the Hopis people’s reverence for the winged animal.
J.D. Souther, who co-wrote many of the band’s biggest hits and also worked with Linda Ronstadt, claims that the idea came when another ex-member, Glenn Frey, shouted “Eagles!” when they saw the birds flying above them.
On the other hand, legendary comic Steve Martin claims it was actually he who suggested the name ‘The Eagles’. In his autobiography, 2007’s Born Standing Up, Martin recalled the times that he and the band would hang out at one of LA’s most hallowed venues, The Troubadour. The comic claims the name was his idea, although Glenn Frey has always maintained that the band’s name is simply ‘Eagles‘, which would suggest it was actually he who came up with the name, per Souther’s account.
Regardless of whether you use ‘The’ before the band’s name or not, it’s clear that the band are intrinsically linked to the majestic bird of prey. It seems as if a trip to the desert was where they took their inspiration, even if it wasn’t the peyote laced one that resides in all the biographies. The name was perfect for the band and augmented their all-American, all-rock ‘n’ roll image.
Given the fact that excess underpinned the band’s iconic period, and that it was so long ago, it’s likely we’ll never know for sure where the name came from.