R.I.P. Glenn Frey, Father of the Neon ’80s
Clearly, the gods are angry with us: In just eight days we lost David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Celine Dion’s husband, and now Glenn Frey. If any more celebrities pass away, we’ll have to start a continuous In Memoriam section here at Unicorn Booty! However, despite the alarming rapidity with which these celebrity deaths are occurring, each one should be treated as its own separate — and tragic — loss.
Regarding Glenn Frey’s passing, he was a much-loved musician from a bygone era… at least for those who remember him. But a depressing number of millennials today have no idea who Frey was (including my twenty-four year old coworker, who inspired this article). While that’s not entirely surprising — Frey’s influence was far less pervasive than say, David Bowie, but he was still an acclaimed singer, songwriter, guitarist, and occasional actor whose body of work touched millions of lives. To get everyone up to speed, here’s a non-exhaustive crash-course on Frey’s storied career to help introduce him to a younger generation.
1. Glenn Frey was in the Eagles
Any discussion of Frey’s career must always center around his time with the Eagles. Originally Linda Ronstadt’s backing band the Stone Poneys, the Eagles branched out on their own with 1972’s “Take It Easy.”
The song, co-written by Frey and Jackson Browne, was a hit; shortly thereafter, the Eagles hit their stride, scoring five number one songs, including soft-rock staples, “Best of My Love” and “One of These Nights.” But the Eagles are best known for their seminal, Grammy-gobbling Hotel California album.
Thanks to that album’s tremendous success, the Eagles ended the ‘70s as one of the most critically-acclaimed and best-selling artists, ever. Future generations are divided on the Eagles’ status as one of the all time great bands (a number of contemporary music critics and The Dude from The Big Lebowski absolutely hate the Eagles), but numbers do not lie: Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 is the second-best selling album of all time in the US, only behind Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
Frey’s contributions to his band were fundamental to their success, as he sang, played guitar, and/or co-wrote most of the band’s biggest hits. Further, while the band rotated through seven different members, Frey was always a mainstay. Don Henley, the Eagles’ drummer, put it best when he called Frey the band’s “backbone” in his eulogy.
2. He had a noted solo career
The Eagles self-destructed in the early ‘80s, as tension between band members boiled over into seemingly irreconcilable hatred. While the Eagles may have been done for the time being, the individual members used the opportunity to explore solo careers. Henley had the most successful run of hits outside of the band, but Frey’s solo career in the ‘80s was nothing to spit at, as he scored seven top forty singles. Part of Frey’s solo success was attributed to crafty alignments with successful movies: “The Heat is On” from the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack is the most notable example, as the added silver screen exposure pushed the song to number two in the charts (the highest peak of any song by a solo Eagle-member).
He had another number two hit with “You Belong to the City,” which was written specifically for the Miami Vice soundtrack.
3. One of his songs inspired a whole episode of Miami Vice
While it’s a campy pastel-explosion by today’s standards, Miami Vice was the show to be on in the mid-’80s, with artists on both ends of the cool spectrum (Miles Davis, Phil Collins) testing their thespian skills. Taking part in the show, in any capacity, was seen as a quick, valuable way to boost one’s popularity. Frey’s involvement was ridiculously meta: He had written a song, “Smuggler’s Blues,” and filmed a subsequent MTV-Video-Music-Award-winning music video that was inspired by the popular television show (bad Hawaiian shirt and all!).
Then, Miami Vice wrote an episode called Smuggler’s Blues, inspired by the song. Frey played a pilot in the episode, ultimately helping the main characters, Crockett and Tubbs, nab the bad guy. The episode was cheesy and ridiculous, but it’s also a perfect relic of the ‘80s.
4. He was in one of the biggest musical reunions of all time
Thanks partly to country singer Travis Tritt, and his cover of “Take It Easy” — the video of which reunited the original Eagles for the first time in over a decade — the Eagles got back together in 1994.
The ensuing Hell Freezes Over tour (named after Henley infamously said the band would reform “when hell freezes over”) was a colossal success, grossing over $150 million; additionally, the resultant live album hit number one, spun off two top 40 singles, and gave the Eagles an MTV Unplugged session in 1995. Having firmly reestablished themselves in the public eye, the Eagles have been a touring force ever since. Their comeback was further cemented by their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, as well as the release of their last studio album, Long Road Out of Eden, which hit number one in 2007. Often a band reforms only to be a shadow of their former selves; however, the Eagles came soaring back, better than ever.
5. He was a pretty good actor
Aside from his guest spot on Miami Vice, Frey also did guest appearances on Nash Bridges (as a cop) and Arli$$ (as a political candidate), winning praise for both roles. But his most notable role was as the recalcitrant Arizona Cardinals manager in Jerry Maguire. Tom Cruise, Renee Zellweger, Cuba Gooding Jr., and little Jonathan Lipnicki were the big stars in the movie, but Frey’s character was the catalyst for the plot, as he ultimately signed Gooding Jr.’s character.
Also, Frey was pragmatic about these relatively small roles, going so far as to say that, “I don’t think I could get into acting all the time. There’s too much discipline involved in it. You can’t stay in bed late when you want to,” in 1985. He was dabbling his toes in the water, but he knew music was his true gift to the world.
So, despite the fact that Glenn Frey was not as beloved as Alan Rickman, or as universally praised as David Bowie, his passing still casts a dark shadow on the world of music. His contributions as a singer and songwriter to some of the biggest songs from the ‘70s legitimizes his place as a legend in his own right.
RIP, Glenn Frey: we’ll look for you at the corner of that great big Winslow, Arizona in the sky!
(Featured image via Steve Alexander)