Desperado (song)

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This article is about Eagles song. For other songs with the same title, see Desperado.
Song by Eagles from the album Desperado
Released April 17, 1973
Recorded Early 1973
Genre Soft rock[1]
Length 3:33
Label Asylum
Writer(s) Glenn Frey and Don Henley
Producer(s) Glyn Johns
Desperado track listing
"Tequila Sunrise"
"Certain Kind of Fool"
Music sample

"Desperado" is a ballad by Eagles, an American rock band, written by group members Glenn Frey and Don Henley, and sung by Henley. It first appeared on the 1973 album Desperado, and has later appeared on numerous compilation albums. Although "Desperado" was not issued as a single, it would become one of the Eagles' best known songs; the song was ranked No. 494 on Rolling Stone's 2004 list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time".[2] Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.[3]


According to Don Henley, the song was based on something he wrote in 1968 with a different title, but the same melody and chords. The song Henley wrote originally had lyrics about a friend of his named Leo, which began with "Leo, my God, why don’t you come to your senses, You’ve been out ridin' fences for so long now."[4]

In 1972, after they had recorded their first album Eagles in London, Glenn Frey and Henley decided that they should write songs together.[5] Soon after returning from London, Frey went to Henley's place where Henley played him his unfinished tune and said: "When I play it and sing it, I think of Ray Charles — Ray Charles and Stephen Foster. It’s really a Southern gothic thing, but we can easily make it more Western."[4] Jackson Browne had previously suggested a Western theme for the songs of their next album. Frey then helped with the lyrics and gave it structure, and the song became "Desperado". Henley said of the writing of "Desperado" with Frey: "And that was the beginning of our songwriting partnership ... that’s when we became a team."[4]


The song was recorded at Island Studios in London, with musicians from the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The orchestra was conducted by Jim Ed Norman, Henley's friend from his early band Shiloh, who also wrote and arranged the strings for the song.[6][7] Henley sang the lead vocal on the song, but would later express regret that he did not sing as well as he could.[8] Henley said of the recording in a large studio with an orchestra: "I was so intimidated that I didn't sing my best. Our producer Glyn Johns, who is still a friend of mine, I think, wanted to get the album done quickly and economically, and he didn't let me do many takes. I wish I could have done that song again."[9]


"Desperado" is now considered one of the Eagles' best songs, and it was ranked No. 494 on the Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time" in 2004 (the only other Eagles song listed was "Hotel California" ranked at No. 49).[2] The song however was moved out of Top 500 in the 2010 revision of the list after newer songs were added to the list.[10] It was also ranked the No. 2 Eagles song in a poll of Rolling Stone readers.[11] The song was listed by MOJO magazine in 2000 as one of the greatest songs compiled with contributions from songwriters such as Paul McCartney and Hal David and Brian Wilson.[12] It was ranked No. 14 in the list of the Top 100 Western songs in a survey of the members of The Western Writers of America.[3]

William Ruhlmann of AllMusic judged the song one of the strongest songs on the Desperado album,[13] and one of Eagles' major compositions. He thought it a "sad, beautiful Eagles ballad" that "could be interpreted as a call to an outlaw to give up his criminal activities", but may also be "interpreted as concerning a sex-and-drugs lifestyle and its consequences."[14] Paul Gambaccini of Rolling Stone felt that it was Henley's rough voice that made the song memorable.[15] Although the song is one of the Eagles' best-known songs, their recording never charted on Billboard until the death of Glenn Frey, when it reached No. 20 on the Rock Digital Songs chart.[16]


Cover versions[edit]

Charted versions[edit]

Other versions[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

The Eagles' version of the song was featured in the Seinfeld episode "The Checks" when Elaine's boyfriend Brett became transfixed whenever the song came on the radio.[27]


  1. ^ Horn, David; Shepherd, John, eds. (2012). Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World. 8 – Genres: North America. Continuum. p. 174. ISBN 978-1-4411-6078-2. 
  2. ^ a b "The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on December 17, 2006. 
  3. ^ a b Western Writers of America (2010). "The Top 100 Western Songs". American Cowboy. Archived from the original on 10 August 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c Cameron Crowe (August 2003). "Conversations With Don Henley and Glenn Frey". The Uncool. 
  5. ^ Travis Smiley. "Glenn Frey Tribute – Part 1". PBS. 
  6. ^ Graeme Thomson (May 21, 2014). "The Eagles on Desperado: "We were quite taken with the idea of being outlaws..."". Uncut. 
  7. ^ Paul Verna (July 10, 1993). "Eagles Songs Get Country Coverage". Billboard. 
  8. ^ Bob Doeschuk (September 21, 2015). "10 Things We Learned From Billy Joel's Interview With Don Henley". Rolling Stone. 
  9. ^ a b "Desperado by Eagles". Song Facts. 
  10. ^ "Rolling Stone Magazine's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". 
  11. ^ "Readers' Poll: The 10 Best Eagles Songs". Rolling Stone. July 29, 2015. 
  12. ^ Colin Blackstock (July 13, 2000). "Beatles head list of greatest songs". The Guardian. 
  13. ^ William Ruhlmann. "Eagles: Desperado". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. 
  14. ^ William Ruhlmann. "Song Review - Eagles: Desperado". AllMusic. 
  15. ^ Paul Gambaccini (May 10, 1973). "Desperado". Rolling Stone. 
  16. ^ "Rock Digital Songs". Billboard. February 6, 2016. 
  17. ^ "Johnny Rodriguez: Awards". AllMusic. 
  18. ^ "Country Playlist: Volume 27, No. 1" (PDF). RPM. Library and Archives Canada. April 2, 1977. 
  19. ^ "Hot Country Songs: November 27, 1993". Billboard. 
  20. ^ "Country Tracks: Volume 58, No. 24" (PDF). RPM. Library and Archives Canada. December 25, 1993. 
  21. ^ Brian Mansfield (September 22, 2014). "Premiere: Diana Krall covers 'Desperado'". USA TODAY. 
  22. ^ "Jazz Digital Songs". Billboard. October 11, 2014. 
  23. ^ Brian Cantor (May 24, 2016). "Chance The Rapper, Alisan Porter, J Balvin Score Debuts on Bubbling Under Hot 100". Headline Planet. 
  24. ^ "Digital Songs". Billboard. June 4, 2016. 
  25. ^ History of the Eagles. 2013. Event occurs at 54:15–54:45. 
  26. ^ Sophie Schillaci (December 30, 2015). "Miranda Lambert Covers The Eagles' 'Desperado' In Show-Stopping Kennedy Center Honors Performance". Entertainment Tonight. 
  27. ^ Dave Tobener (December 23, 2014). "The Best One-Time Character in 'Seinfeld' History". The AP Party. 

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