Song Review by

"Desperado," the centerpiece and title song of the Eagles' second album, took some time to be recognized as one of the group's major compositions. Following their debut release, Eagles, in 1972, they wrote and recorded a concept album, Desperado, as its follow-up. The LP had an Old West theme and was given over to songs about outlaws, particularly the Dalton gang. The ballad "Desperado," a stately tune played on piano, with strings entering halfway through the first verse, followed by drums and backup vocals in the second half of the second verse, found a narrator addressing the title character and advising him to change his way of life. "Why don't you come to your senses?" he asked at the outset, concluding, "You better let somebody love you before it's too late." In the context of the album, the song could be interpreted as a call to an outlaw to give up his criminal activities. But the Desperado LP was also tacitly about being a rock & roll musician, and in that context the song could be interpreted as concerning a sex-and-drugs lifestyle and its consequences. In that sense, lines like "These things that are pleasin' you can hurt you somehow" acquired a new meaning. The album concluded with a reprise of "Desperado" that gave the album an ambiguous ending: The desperado's fate was now sealed, and yet the final words were "maybe tomorrow." Desperado was released on April 17, 1973, and reached the Top 30 in July. But it was less successful than the Eagles' debut album, probably because, unlike its predecessor, it failed to spawn a major hit. Eagles had contained three Top 20 singles, but the best Desperado could do was "Tequila Sunrise," which scraped into the Top 40, followed by "Outlaw Man," which didn't even do that. Amazingly, "Desperado" was not released as a single. Nevertheless, the song began to attract attention on its own. In the fall of 1973, Linda Ronstadt covered it on her Don't Cry Now LP. Her emotional reading gave the song a whole new dimension. Sung by a woman, "Desperado" became a song about a woman's desire for the title character, not merely the advice of a friend. Karen Carpenter gave the song a similar interpretation when the Carpenters covered "Desperado" on their Horizon album in 1975. March of the following year saw the release of Eagles/Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975, which contained "Desperado" even though it had never been a single. Divorced from the concept album, the song worked as a sad, beautiful Eagles ballad, helping the compilation to its eventual status as the best-selling album of the 20th century. Though it was closely identified with the Eagles, "Desperado" earned several cover versions over the years, notably in the country market. In 1977, Johnny Rodriguez finally turned it into a hit single, taking his version into the country Top Five. The same year, Kenny Rogers covered it. And in 1993, it was sung on the tribute album Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles by Clint Black, whose version also made the country singles charts. The Eagles, meanwhile, put the song on both their 1980 Eagles Live concert album and their 1994 Hell Freezes Over reunion set.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Desperado 1973 Elektra / Asylum 3:34
Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 1976 Rhino 3:33
Hotel California/Desperado 1976 Take 2 3:36
No Image 1982 Asylum
The Very Best of the Eagles [1994] 1994 Elektra 3:34
The Very Best of the Eagles [2001] 1994 Warner Elektra Atlantic Corp. / Elektra 3:37
Selected Works 1972-1999 2000 Elektra 3:32
Desperado/Hotel California/The Long Run 2003 Warner Bros. 3:36
The Complete Greatest Hits 2003 Warner Music 3:33
The Very Best of the Eagles [Rhino] 2003 Elektra / Rhino 3:33
The Very Best Of [2003] 2003 Warner Music 3:33
Eagles [Box Set] 2005 Warner Music 3:57
The Studio Albums 1972-1979 2013 Elektra / Rhino 3:37
Their Greatest Hits, Vols. 1 & 2 2017 Elektra / Rhino 3:36
Legacy 2018 Elektra / Rhino