‘Hell Freezes Over’: The Great Eagles Thaw Of 1994

Fourteen years after Don Henley’s famous quote, the group reunited and returned to the charts.

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Eagles 'Hell Freezes Over' artwork - Courtesy: UMG
Eagles 'Hell Freezes Over' artwork - Courtesy: UMG

It was one of the most memorable quotes of any band split, with one of the most amusing outcomes. In 1980, when the Eagles split after years of multi-million-selling success but increasingly fractious relations between the group members, Don Henley’s answer to the question about when they would play together again was “when hell freeze over.” Fourteen years later, metaphorically speaking, it did.

Hell Freezes Over was the wickedly droll title of the album that emerged from the Eagles’ reunion performance for an MTV special in the spring of 1994. Their first new disc since Henley’s famous statement, it consisted of 11 tracks from that show and four new studio recordings. On the Billboard chart for November 26 of that year, it replaced another MTV-inspired release, Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged In New York, at the top of the album bestsellers.

The band’s 1980 split that followed the album The Long Run was, to say the least, emphatic. All of the group members pursued solo endeavours, with Henley and Glenn Frey achieving international success with their singles and albums; Timothy B. Schmidt made his first three LPs in his own name, while Joe Walsh resumed his solo work with no fewer than six releases, and Don Felder one, amid film soundtrack work. But as the years went by and the tension that had pulled them apart began to calm, thoughts turned to what could still be.

Talk of an Eagles reunion began around the turn of the 1990s, when their manager Irving Azoff persuaded Henley to endorse the idea. It didn’t materialise, but the seed was sown. “I always thought about the Rolling Stones when we were apart,” Schmit told the Washington Post in 2016. “I would see that the Stones were still together even though there was a lot of publicity about Mick and Keith having a lot of problems. That’s what it finally came down to. Let’s do this thing and come together and work again.”

A prompt from the country world

The prelude to their coming together, if not the specific inspiration, lay in the hands of one of country music’s biggest stars of the 1990s, Travis Tritt. The artist from Marietta, Georgia was already three No.1s and 11 Top 10 hits into his career when he recorded a cover of the Eagles’ 1972 staple “Take It Easy.” He then managed the remarkable feat of getting the group to reconvene to appear in its video.

“That’s the first time we had all been in a room together for a while, but I don’t think that precipitated the reunion,” Henley told the Washington Post. “I think enough time had gone by, and Irving had talked to everybody one on one. He realised that we were still a big deal, that we were still popular. We didn’t realise it, we didn’t really think about it.”

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With its immediate and overwhelming reception, the album picked up just where the Eagles had left off. In the 1970s, they had notched three No.1 US LPs in a row with One Of These Nights, Hotel California and The Long Run. The Eagles Live set of 1980 had broken the sequence with a No.6 peak, but Hell Freezes Over underlined that America’s, and the world’s, love of the West Coast country-rock band had only grown during their collective absence. It spent two weeks at the top and was certified for eight million shipments in the US alone.

Key to its success was the combination of live, intimate performances of many Eagles classics, from “Take It Easy” to “Tequila Sunrise” and “Hotel California” to “Life In The Fast Lane,” and the quartet of new songs. Two of those became Top 40 US singles, the uptempo “Get Over It” and the ballad “Love Will Keep Us Alive,” the latter written by the British trio of Pete Vale, former Traffic alumnus Jim Capaldi and hit singer-writer Paul Carrack. Fans also admired the way that the band revisited some key album tracks, such as the Hotel California entries “Pretty Maids All In A Row” and “Wasted Time,” the latter singled out for praise by Rolling Stone in a 2015 Top 10 of their best-ever songs.

The album also secured Top 10 placings in various countries including Sweden, Holland and Japan, was Top 20 in the UK, and paved the way for the eventual completion and release — albeit another 13 years later — of the all-new, two-CD set Long Road Out Of Eden in 2007.

Life in the not-quite-so-fast lane

Before Hell Freezes Over was even released, the reunited quintet were back on the road, embarking on a national and international itinerary that would last not only into 1995 but into the summer of 1996. It saw the Eagles play more than 125 shows in the United States and dates in 13 other countries, emphasizing a bond with their audiences that continues to this day.

Listen to uDiscover Music’s The Eagles Best Of playlist.

As their collaborator and co-writer J.D. Souther said of the 1994 reboot, in that Washington Post article of 2016: “Quite frankly, the thing we don’t hear often enough is that I think they really missed each other’s company and this thing they knew they could do probably better than just about anybody.”

Buy the 25th anniversary editions of Hell Freezes Over.

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