We know you’ve heard the song 611,231 times. We know that The Dude hated the Eagles, man, and that millions of gullibles have followed his lead since the film’s release in 199…whenever. We even know the images ingrained in your mind when you think of the track: Mutton chop sideburns and perms, cowboy plaid, coke dust in the nostrils, nine limos waiting outside the stadium to whisk Don Henley and Crew back to their Hollywood Hills estates, Gram Parson’s cosmic Americana hi-jacked by corporate goons, cowboy jocks chasing Devo fans down in the lawless streets of the 1970s. It’s a visceral, negative sensory overload, and that’s a shame because there’s an important fact lost in this maze of bad vibes: “Take It Easy” is a fucking great song.
Go ahead and try to come up with a chorus as simple and catchy as Glenn and his homey Jackson Browne came up with here. No seriously, we’ll wait. It’s one of those choruses that’s simply immortal, ear-worming its way into the brains of the haterz until they’re forced to hum it against every fiber of their will. Check out how the lyrics on the verses read as laid back/sunny/footloose/fancy-free on the surface but truly desperate and searching with just a little digging. After all, Glenn and Jackson aren’t just looking for an earth momma’ to spend a faded night with in Joshua Tree here. They want to know if her love is going to “save” them. They’re on the run here, desperate, pre-fame, outriders on the sinking, flame-out oil tanker of the hippie years, mere shadows ready to be swallowed up in the maw of the early ‘70s. Out-and-out dissoluteness bleeds through every groove of this track, but The Boys were smart enough to dress it up in major chord Southern Cali sunshine crescendo goodness, hitting like a Vitamin D/Colitas rush so strong you can’t help but be swept up in it.
It’s also a funny song. Jackson was never able to truly let his humor shine on his solo records, but when messing around on someone else’s track (which he most likely thought would never be heard), suddenly it’s girls, girls, girls, my Lord, in their hotbed Fords slowing down to take a look at this young pinup singer. His partner-in-crime, Mr. Frey, does him one better with his essential math equation about those four hippie exes who want to own him, the two that want to stone him, and the lone one who claims to be a friend (seven in total, humble brag). It is this mix of breezy humor, bittersweet romantic and cultural confusion, and unstoppable pop instincts that made “Take It Easy” into the absolute juggernaut that nobody has been able to silence for four straight decades.
So who gave this Classic FM, washing your Trans Am in the warm sunshine banger best? Well, The Eagles of course. But since we’re in the final stages of Democracy, we can still open this up to the Niche Appeal posse to look into other alternatives such as Jackson’s own solo crack at it from his second record, plus the grab bag of covers that have emerged from the ether over TIE’s Many Years Reign.
Lighten up while you still can, kids.
David C. Casey: With these questions about who performs a song better, I’m almost always going to side with the singer-songwriter; they’re basically the character actors of the music world. They can go deeper and harder with their humanity than arena-packing acts. When you think about a really moving performance, do you think of Philip Seymour Hoffman, or Bruce Willis? Yeah… Don’t answer that.
The basic format of “Take It Easy” never changes, from original to cover to cover. The Eagles basically dropped it in a finalized form, with the right amount of humor, the right amount of dread, and the right amount of hope. Now, Jackson B. was there for the writing of the song; we may never know who contributed what parts. Even Browne refers to it as an Eagles song when he plays it. However, there was something that drove him to make his own version of his co-written song, just a year later. (And both he and the Eagles used it to kick off their respective albums. It’s a song that says, “The jam is ON!”)
As futile as it may be, I prefer Jackson Browne’s rendition. He has a stronger voice than Glenn Frey, who has always sounded a little half-hearted to my ear, despite his having lead vocals on many of the Eagles low-key bangers. “Take It Easy” is, after all, a first-person story, and Jackson brings his fine mist of grit to the tale, emphasizing the highs and the lows of emotion with ease. A line like “Don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy” really packs a weary punch from his lonely delivery. If a complaint could be brought against The Eagles, it’s that their tremendous harmony game makes every song sound like it’s coming from a collective rather than from a single person. Does that serve the song, or does it just make it more radio friendly? Also, Browney drops the random “OoooOOOooooo” bridge at happens at the 02:52 mark of Frey’s original, much to the benefit of the entire song. Also, gone is the sudden spastic banjo breakdown, which, let’s face it, is the greatest mystery of the original tune. Did they know that banjo guy was back there, just wailin’ away like the story’s set in the Appalachia of Arizona?
Props to the originals, but Jackson Browne is truly the handsome man getting peeped by the flat-bed Ford lady. No one was fooled, Glenn.
Dave DeLuca: Interesting dare-like proposal here. Upon what criteria could one possibly judge a superior version of “Take it Easy”? Performing this tune in any more blissful a manner would just lead to camp. Heading in the opposite direction, any attempt to perform a more solemn version would only lead to the loss of the original message and charm. Either way, the performance can only come across as novelty for novelty-sake. (There’s a huge caveat here, that I’m writing purely from conjecture, as I don’t believe I’ve ever heard another version. A quick peek at the interwebs does suggest only a small handful of cover versions, the majority oddly from Dutch-Scandinavian lands.)
There are relatively few bands less cool than the Eagles. Even before The Big Lebowski, I explained a romantic break-up by justifying that “She was more Eagles, and I was more Bowie”. That said, “Take it Easy” may admittedly be the perfect song. You may not throw an Eagles album on the turntable to delve into their deep tracks, but you’re going to have a hard time convincing me that speedometer doesn’t creep by up least 10 mph when this track comes on during a road trip.
We at the Niche offices pride ourselves into being able to delve into the deepest, darkest corners of the musical lexicon to discover a hidden cache of sonic gold. But more so, we pride ourselves on being able to tell the truth. And the (ugly) truth is that there can be no better version of “Take It Easy”.
(So I guess this makes us Eagles fans, kinda, sorta…?)
Daniel Falatko: As the individual who penned the opening spiel to this particular Who Did It Better, ya’ll already know I bow and worship at the sun-dazzled alter of the original Eagles version. They own this song in a way that makes it near impossible for even the most savvy interpreters to find an interesting angle. Even co-writer J. Motherfuckin’ Browne couldn’t utilize his considerable charms to overpower his homey Glenn’s glittering, sweeping, all-conquering version that comes on like the first rush of a cocaine high but deftly sidesteps the comedown. The Eagles were way into harmony, man, and they float their version on so many intricate tonal layers it couldn’t do anything other than conquer the the FM charts and the world beyond. Unlike, say, “Take It To The Limit” which at least left some room for amazing interpretations, “Take It Easy” is like Mike Tyson in the 90s, laying waste to any, ahem, pretender dumb and brave enough to take it to the ring.
But this isn’t to say there hasn’t been some valiant attempts over the decades, two of which deserve at least a dim spotlight here.
First up we have tragically-balding pop country cornball Travis Tritt. Yes, Travis Tritt will now officially have a tag on Niche Appeal. But the man deserves it because his sleek, revved-up “Take It Easy” take is not only unoffensive but actually quite good. The Eagles have always gotten a ton of flack for stealing the whole Gram Parsons sadsack whiteboy country thing and dumbing it down for mass consumption, but why does that have to be a bad thing? Bands like The Eagles and The Doobie Brothers were the boldest of visionaries, recognizing that cowboy boots and plaid, snap-button shirts were going to go a whole lot further in the heartland than the fringe and tie dye acid jams that were hip at the time and easily endure any challenges from androgynous spiders from mars or safety pins and leather along the way. These bands perfected the template for the populist popco that now rules the nation from those thousand watt Clear channel stations in Nashville, so it was only natural for good ol’ T. Tritt to bring it on back home with this glossy cover in 1993. As a matter of fact, this version was so on point that it actually brought the long-warring Eagles back into the same room for the first time since their bad blood “when hell freezes over” breakup. And you can’t blame them if you dare to peep the below video. “Hey boys, ya’ll wanna’ get up off your asses and come on down the pool hall with your boy Tritt and a whole bunch of video vixens? We’ll have some beers and make ya’ll a whole bunch of money.” That’s all it took to get the Eagles wings a’ flappin’ once more, and for that reason alone The Trittster’s version deserves its place as the best recorded cover of this most difficult-to-tackle track.
The other notable “Take It Easy” interpretation hasn’t even been released yet. But it’s coming. Oh yes, it’s coming. For reasons I don’t remember or possibly have blacked out for my own good, sometime in 07 or 08 I found myself at an acoustic Evan Dando solo show at Mercury Lounge. Everyone’s fave ’90s man-child was clearly inebriated and even more clearly bored to death singing his old Lemonheads songs that night, quickly strumming through them with a detached disdain that was interesting to behold. After casting off a large portion of his catalog, however, The D Man got down to real business and starting digging into the covers. The Misfits were tackled. Charles Manson received a nod. I seem to recall a Monkees song in there somewhere as well. And then it happened: A slow-rolling, pained, fully-realized take on “Take It Easy” that managed to win over even the bros who had been shouting in vain for “Mrs. Robinson” all night. In Evan’s hands, TIE veered more in the direction of “Friend Of The Devil” or “A Song For You”, stripped of its sheen, its hopeful soar, standing naked as a hushed, mythic confessional. It was goosebumps time for three minutes at the Mercury Lounge that night. This being 07/08, nobody had their phones out so no footage exists, but in doing research for this piece I was heartened to learn that Mr. D. has a covers record coming out later this year and that one of the tracks is suspiciously named “Take It Easy”. So unless its an obscure cover of some late ’60s doom metal band, the planet is mere months away from being blessed with an innovative “Take It Easy” interpretation.
And it’s only taken 40-plus years.
Tina Romano: “Take It Easy” has become my mantra in this negative-news-soaked world. Jackson Browne is a fine writer but his stoner vocals never did anything for me. I was into “The Pretender” but he definitely lost me at “Lawyers in Love”. And that video. Wtf? Plus I heard some nasty rumors abut how he treated Daryl Hannah, who really isn’t my favorite since she stole Neil Young from his family. Oh dear God, TMZ. I don’t actively search these things. They are sadly there. Which is why I like to know nothing about artist’s personal lives. But back to the only point that matters: The Eagles absolutely own this song forever and evermore and on into eternity.
When I want a good woman