Don Henley’s Spot On Prediction About The Music Industry

The creation and consumption of music have always been two firmly linked yet disparate subjects. Creating an album means composing songs that are knitted together using a certain formula so that the record has an intact structure and a well-established concept. Long days and months, perhaps years, are spent making a full-length record, and when the release date comes, the musicians hope their fans will recognize their hard work.

Yet only a handful of songs make it to the music charts and become hits among the fans. The favorites usually overshadow the rest of the album’s songs, and the less popular ones start to fade away. For instance, even today, when someone mentions the Eagles, many think of their 1976 hit ‘Hotel California‘ or 1972 ‘Take It Easy.’

If a listener doesn’t have a certain interest in the Eagles, they often just listen to their hits listed by streaming services and move on, failing to discover their other works. This is what the band’s co-founding member Don Henley predicted in 1976. He knew how important singles were and how the album hits played a significant role in terms of any musician’s popularity.

What Did Don Henley Foresee In 1976?

The release of the ‘Greatest Hits 1971-1975‘ compilation was a milestone for the Eagles as the band reached a wider audience. Even Glen Frey and Don Henley stated that they didn’t expect the record to be a major commercial success, as it had sold only five million copies in a few months. For the pair, releasing the compilation album was a way for the record companies to make more profit.

Later on, Frey and Henley discussed their other top works during an interview with Melody Maker in 1976 and explained how they had detected a seemingly undeniable pattern. Their self-titled first studio album had three hit singles; ‘Take It Easy,’ ‘Witchy Woman,’ and ‘Peaceful Easy Feelings.’ The record was followed by 1973’s ‘Desperado,’ a concept album, but it became the Eagles’ lowest charting work as the songs that could be considered hits, such as ‘Tequila Sunrise’ or ‘Outlaw Man,’ failed to reach the top 50 on the main singles chart.

Then the band’s third studio album ‘One Of These Nights’ had three more major singles; the title track, ‘Lyin’ Eyes’ and ‘Take It To The Limit.’ The three-hits pattern also continued with the release of 1976’s ‘Hotel California’ as the title track, ‘New Kid in Town’ and ‘Life in the Fast Lane’ were major commercial hits. For Don Henley, the connection between the commercial success of the compilation album and the hits was apparent.

Don Henley exclaimed that ‘hit singles are no crime’ because singles are preferred by the audience in comparison to albums, as they are easily consumed. People didn’t need to be Eagles fans to buy the ‘Greatest Hits 1971-1975,’ and they didn’t need to listen to their entire albums to enjoy the hits. It is clear that Henley wasn’t completely against the concept of hit singles but was also aware that the music industry used them to make a profit.

Henley stated to Melody Maker’s Chris Charlesworth:

Hit singles are no crime. Some people view them to be something that can’t be good artistically, and that’s total nonsense as far as I’m concerned. Paul Simon has hit singles, Bob Dylan has hit singles, Neil Young has hit singles, and the Beatles had lots of hit singles.

The way the record business is structured these days… If you don’t have singles you can forget it. You can work for ten years making eclectic and artistic underground albums, and maybe you’ll get the recognition you deserve when you’re half dead.”

What Don Henley remarked in 1976 is still accurate within the contemporary music industry as record companies want to produce singles that can be easily consumed and reach wider audiences, rather than funding artistic albums. Many believe that the music industry has capitalized on art for decades, and Henley predicted the concept almost 50 years ago.