When the Eagles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, Glenn Frey addressed the speculation that the band responsible for one of the best-selling albums in US history was one that had been riddled with contention.
“We got along fine,” declared Frey, “we just disagreed a lot.”
Or he did anyway, according to a superb, new two-part documentary, “History of the Eagles,” airing Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. on Showtime.
HISTORY OF THE EAGLES
We will stop right here to say that if you are a fervent detester of the band — one of the most polarizing in rock — nothing in this documentary will change your mind, so move along and take it easy.
But if you fell under the sway of the Eagles’ beguiling country-rock hybrid, brimming with pristine harmonies and eminently singable melodies, you’ll want to settle in for the long run.
How revelatory the three hours, directed by Alison Ellwood and produced by Academy Award winner Alex Gibney (“Taxi to the Dark Side”), are will depend on the viewer’s level of fandom.
The first part of the doc — chock full of excellent archival footage — chronicles their rise in an LA scene that included friends and collaborators like Linda Ronstadt and Jackson Browne, their wild “third encore” bacchanals (with lines on mirrors and terminally pretty companions), the making of the classic “Hotel California” album, and their eventual implosion in 1980 after a fight that simmered onstage boiled over and off of it.
The second part briefly touches on Frey and Don Henley’s solo careers, and then picks up steam with the band’s reunion in 1994, up through the recording of their first new album in 28 years, 2007’s multiplatinum “Long Road Out of Eden.”
Many fans likely assumed that the oft-discussed friction in the group — famous for a jukebox full of ubiquitous classic rock hits like “Hotel California,” Take It Easy,” “Witchy Woman,” “One of These Nights,” “Heartache Tonight” — was between its co-captains and primary songwriters, guitarist-singer Frey and drummer-singer Henley.
It turns out that their relationship remained fairly solid, but that Frey, who confesses to having a temper back in the day, clashed with every member who ended up leaving. This included original guitarist Bernie Leadon (who dumped a beer on Frey’s head), bassist-singer Randy Meisner (whose insecurity undid him), and most explosively, lead guitarist Don Felder (who objected to making less money then Henley and Frey when the band reunited, an arrangement instigated and insisted upon by Frey). Whatever his real or perceived crimes, Frey at least has the good sense to say at one point, “I sang less and less. It was intentional, we had Don Henley.”
The filmmakers interviewed all of the principals and many of their cohorts — from producers to photographers to songwriting collaborators J.D. Souther and Jack Tempchin — gifted storytellers with surprisingly clear memories and a sense of perspective about the hard times. Although it is heartbreaking watching Felder choke up near the end after discussing his eventual settlement out of court with his former friends.
There are many highlights. Guitarist-singer Joe Walsh — whose career was robust before, during, and after his tenure as an Eagle — talking about receiving tutelage in hotel room destruction from the master Keith Moon. His bandmates getting Walsh into the rehab he credits with saving his life. Bassist-singer Timothy B. Schmit, who replaced Meisner not only in the Eagles but also his former band Poco, confirming what most suspected of his joining the group at its most fractious: “I was just really happy to be there.” And anytime that any configuration of the group is filmed creating those shiver-inducing harmonies, either a cappella or with just acoustic accompaniment.
Plenty of ground goes unplowed, both personal (there is almost no discussion of wives or family), and business (including the era of exorbitant ticket pricing they helped to usher in), but there’s enough here to give Eagles fans a captivating “History” lesson.