Hate the Eagles? Blame Lee Abrams
Countless tributes from musicians, actors, and fans lit up the social media world yesterday in the wake of the death of Eagles founding member Glenn Frey . There was also a fair share of people quoting The Dude Lebowski, Jeff Bridges' character in the cult classic film The Big Lebowski, who protested hearing "Peaceful Easy Feeling" on a cab radio by saying, "I hate the (bleeping) Eagles, man." ( Here's a clip of that infamous quote . WARNING: contains profanity.) If you're one of those who share The Dude Lebowski's disdain for the Eagles, don't blame them.
Blame Lee Abrams instead.
And you're probably wondering just who Lee Abrams is. Further, why would someone who never had any remote connection to the band be responsible for the Eagles incurring the wrath of so many people.
The answer is pretty simple: Lee Abrams invented the "superstars" format in FM rock radio.
To explain, let me take you back to the heyday of the Eagles, the mid-70's. The playlist at most FM stations was wide open. I received an A-Z education in music thanks to FM radio in the 70's: I heard everyone from Joan Armatrading to Warren Zevon. It was nothing to hear a set of music that included "Loan Me a Dime" by Boz Scaggs, "About to Make Me Leave Home" by Bonnie Raitt, "The Late Show" by Jackson Browne, "Alison" by Elvis Costello, and "Old Folks' Boogie" by Little Feat alongside songs by Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and the Beatles. (Additionally, the Zep, Floyd, Stones, Who, and Beatles songs weren't the same four songs. Many Pink Floyd fans are surprised when I tell them my favorite Pink Floyd song is "Pigs" from Animals . Where did I hear that song if I've never owned a Pink Floyd album? FM radio.)
This wasn't that different from what was happening on the AM side of the dial. (For you youngsters, there used to be music on AM radio, not just sports and talk and religion stations.) "Top 40" radio included everything from Barbra Streisand to Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Alice Cooper to John Denver, and Waylon Jennings to Marvin Gaye. It was all on the SAME STATION. That's just the way music was back then: diverse .
Then along came Lee Abrams. He developed, and pitched, a format to FM radio stations that removed the lesser-known acts like Little Feat, Zevon, Randy Newman, and Raitt (who would have to wait a decade to reappear on FM radio when she had the Grammy-winning Nick of Time album). It was called the "Superstars" format, and by the early 1980's it was the rule, not the exception, in FM rock radio. (And, understand, this was before all the stations were owned by Clear Channel and Cumulus.) ( Here's the Wikipedia entry on Album-Oriented Rock and Lee Abrams' role in destroying FM radio popularizing it.)
What it basically meant: the "free-form" days of FM rock radio were gone. More significantly, the bands who were getting airplay were having fewer and fewer songs out of their discography played. Queen is a good example: before Abrams, it was nothing to hear songs like "Sheer Heart Attack," "Tie Your Mother Down," and "Sleeping on the Sidewalk." After the "Superstars" format took hold, if the DJ said he was going to play a Queen song, you knew it would either be "Bohemian Rhapsody" or "Killer Queen." A similar thing happened with Fleetwood Mac: before the Superstars format I heard things like "Hypnotized" and "Emerald Eyes" (from Mystery to Me ), the original version of "Sentimental Lady" (from Bare Trees ), and the classic "Oh Well" (a 1969 song from the original Fleetwood Mac lineup) alongside nearly every song on Rumours and Fleetwood Mac . After the transition, it was "Dreams and "Rhiannon."
And that brings us to the Eagles. In the 70's, when the band was the biggest American act on the charts, they got plenty of quite diverse airplay. Among the non-hit songs I heard on the radio by the Eagles: "Nightingale" (from Eagles ), "On the Border," "Ol' 55," "James Dean," and "Good Day in Hell" (from On the Border ), "After the Thrill is Gone" (from One of These Nights ), and everything except the "Wasted Time Reprise" and "Try and Love Again" from Hotel California .
From that diversity, "Hotel California" -- which, let's be honest, wasn't the best song on the 45 (the B-side was Joe Walsh's beautiful "Pretty Maids All in a Row") -- became the third most (over)played song in FM rock radio history (behind only Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" and Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven"). Now when the DJ says, "Coming up, we've got the Eagles," you know what they're playing: "Hotel California" or "Take It Easy."
Lee Abrams, therefore, took a band with a SIXTY-SONG DISCOGRAPHY and distilled it down to two measly songs. And then the FM rock stations played those two songs to death .
So yes, it's easy to understand why people in this day and age, stuck with hearing two songs played in a 130-minute loop with the same three Led Zeppelin songs, the same four Beatles songs, the same three Who songs, the same two CCR songs, the same three Doors song, the same one Janis Joplin song, and the same Meat Loaf song, could find it so easy to hate the (bleeping) Eagles, man.
But it's not their fault that some industry executive decided their entire career should be represented by two songs.
Image Credit » The Eagles. From Wikipedia: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eagles.jpg