Album Cover Art Wednesday: Desperado

It’s time to enter the rock and roll confessional and admit to liking the Eagles. They were the kings of the charts in the 1970’s but have never been cool among my circle of music geek friends. I used to care about such things but I don’t any longer do. So, yes, I like the Eagles for their superb harmonies and well constructed songs. There, I said it. Now y’all take it easy and get over it.

Another reason my mind turned to the Eagles is that I recently watched History of the Eagles on Netflix. It’s one of the best rock documentaries I’ve ever seen, primarily because of the brutal candor of the band members. Glenn Frey and Joe Walsh come off the best and Don Henley is the pretentious, pompous douche I’ve always thought he was. The story of their 1980 breakup is a classic and has given me a new catch phrase: “Just 3 more songs, asshole.” You’ll  have to watch the film or buy me a beer to hear the story.

Now that I’ve played true confessions, on to Desperado. It was the band’s 1973 followup to their phenomenally successful debut album and it laid an egg. It was a concept album inspired by the band’s interest in Western outlaw culture, which was quite hot after movies like The Wild Bunch, Little Big Man, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It was arguably the last great wave of Western films and the peak of the revisionist Western on the big screen long before Lonesome Dove or Deadwood were on teevee.

Back to the Eagles, the album has two tunes that made their greatest hits collection Tequila Sunrise and the title track but it had no big hit singles. It emphasizes the country side of country rock with Bernie Leadon’s banjo being deployed more than usual. It got good reviews and I quite like it, but it’s not as commercial as most Eagles records.

The pictures for the album were taken by the great LA photographer, Henry Diltz. Here’s a description of  Desperado’s cover concept:

“The reason it worked so well was that 100 years ago these guys would have been outlaws rather than guitar players.” says Henry Diltz of the shoot that produced the famous, grainy shots of the Old West that graced the cover of The Eagles’ Desperado album. “They were restless young men and rock’n’roll kept them out of trouble.”

Diltz and the album’s art director, Gary Burden, took the band to a Hollywood rental store called Western Costumes and kitted them out. Then they bought 1,500 rounds of blank ammunition and headed out on December 18, 1972 to the Paramount ranch in Malibu Canyon.

The original concept was to depict The Eagles ‘gang’ alive on the front cover and dead at the hands of the posse on the back – with pictures of the bank robbery and ensuing shoot-out in which they met their grisly fate displayed across a double spread in the middle. “Then, at the last minute, without telling anybody, David Geffen scrapped the centrefold.” Diltz says. “He was always doing stuff like that to save three cents on the production costs.”

Let’s start with the front cover:

Desperado front

More Eagley stuff after the break.

The back cover is fascinating. It shows what happens to outlaws when they lose, a delicious irony given the relative commercial failure of Desperado:


The picture on the back cover is my favorite thing about the Desperado package. The fake law men are all Eagles associates, including producer Glyn Johns who is the gent in the hat on the far right. The Eagley corpses are joined by their comrades in arms JD Souther and Jackson Browne. Here’s another variation from the same photo shoot:


Finally, here’s the entire LP in play list format:

5 thoughts on “Album Cover Art Wednesday: Desperado

  1. Really? Desperado didn’t do well, was ill-regarded ?

    I hadn’t known. I think it’s the best thing they ever did.

  2. It got good reviews but had mediocre to poor sales for an Eagles album. Just the post to reflect that. Thanks for asking.

  3. Any mention of The Eagles reminds me of an article from the “January 23, 1973” issue of The Onion: Henley, Frey Urge Nation to Take It Easy.

    Favorite excerpt:

    “In keeping with the spirit of their remarks, Henley and Frey cut the press conference short after the unexpected appearance of a girl in a flatbed Ford, who slowed down to take a look at the laid-back duo.

    ‘My Lord,’ Henley said.”

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