The album provides a balanced document of the band's musical history, recorded in two phases. Five of the tracks were recorded in October 1976, during three performances at The Forum in Inglewood, California. The other 10 tracks were recorded in July 1980, from three shows at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and one at the Long Beach Arena in California. The band had different line-ups in 1976 and 1980 as Timothy B. Schmit only joined later replacing the original bassist Randy Meisner. Five lead singers are featured in the 14 vocal songs on the album (excluding the brief musical interlude of "Doolin Dalton (Reprise II))": Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh, Meisner, and his replacement Schmit. Songs from each Eagles studio album except one (On the Border) are included, as well as two Walsh solo tracks and one cover song: the acoustic harmony-laden "Seven Bridges Road."
However, by July 1980, the band was already in the process of breaking up. During a concert in Long Beach, California that served as a fund-raiser for then-Senator Alan Cranston's campaign, bandmates Glenn Frey and Don Felder nearly came to blows backstage. Frey then refused to join the band to record overdubs or even speak to his former bandmates, the recording was therefore done piecemeal. Frey was in Los Angeles while the rest of the band were in Miami with Don Henley overseeing the post-production sessions, and tapes were sent back and forth between the two locations so that the album may be completed. The producer Bill Szymczyk said: "I had my assistant in Los Angeles with Glenn, and I had the rest of the band fly to Miami. We were fixing three-part harmonies courtesy of Federal Express." Five different lawyers were thanked in the liner notes.
The Eagles also rejected a $2 million offer from the label to record two new songs for the album. The only previously unreleased song in the album is a version of "Seven Bridges Road". The song was a showcase for the band's close harmony singing, as the first and last verses feature a cappella vocals from all five members of the 1980 lineup including Don Felder, the only member of the band not to have a solo vocal on the album.
The album cover is the image of a band-equipment storage chest used during a concert tour. It includes two elements hinting at the Eagles' breakup (which was not officially announced until May 1982): The number 86 on both sides and "MIA" written on air-freight stickers on the back.
The record labels were custom, showing a bird's nest filled with eggs and hand grenades.
Original pressings of this double-album had text engraved in the run-out grooves on each side, as had been the band's tradition since their 1975 album One of These Nights:
Side 1: Is it illegal to yell "Movie!" in a firehouse?
Side 2: "Hello, Federal? ... Ship it!"
Side 3: Not Tonight, thanks ...
Side 4: ... I've gotta rest up for my monster
The run-out groove of the fourth side did not fade to silence as was customary. Instead, the crowd noise continued into the final-loop groove. Thus, for those listening on manual turntables, the applause would not end until the listener removed the stylus from the disc.