The Eagles perform live during their Long Road out of Eden tour in 2008. Wiki­media Commons

If you know one song by The Eagles, it’s probably “Take It Easy.” 

The moody 1970s Cal­i­fornia rock band enjoyed enormous career success with that song from the get-go, success that con­tinues into our own age. Despite a change of band members and a gen­er­ation and a half of newer musi­cians on the market, no one can compete with The Eagles. 

Strangely, however, no one knows their name. 

I tell a friend I love The Eagles, and she hasn’t heard of them. She uses the now-col­lo­quial phrase “life in the fast lane” and knows how to “take it easy,” but both ref­er­ences to Eagles hits are merely good songs to her, iso­lated from their cre­ators. Another friend — a Cal­i­fornia-native, no less — knows the song “Hotel Cal­i­fornia,” but has never really lis­tened to it; when I tell her the story of my sister appro­pri­ating the song’s tune but replacing the key phrase with “Hotel Del Coronado,” she doesn’t get the joke. When I men­tioned my love of The Eagles to a col­league at work, he thought I meant the football team.

The Eagles are a phrase in the Gen‑Z lexicon for which we have lost the ety­mology. While we struggle to identify the name, however, their music has left a lasting impression — an obsession, even — that developed into the genre of “chill.” It draws in equal mea­sures on disco-era key­board riffs and Amer­icana folk. They cap­tured the entire mood of the West in a sound. America has never been the same. 

At the end of the summer, I was reading a Rolling Stones tribute mag­azine, a com­pi­lation of all the articles the mag­azine wrote about The Eagles over the years. Without fail, each article paused to appre­ciate the pure musical excel­lence of each track. “Take It Easy” may have been their original motto, but only a metic­ulous attention to detail and per­fec­tionism — an obsession that almost destroyed the band on mul­tiple occa­sions — created one heck of a feel-good sound in the process. 

“My oh my, you sure know how to arrange things,” Don Henley, half of Eagles lead song­writing duo, croons in “Lyin’ Eyes,” a song about a girl who is cheating on her lover with a man on the other side of town. 

And it’s true: The Eagles had a knack for arranging music that tapped into two dif­ferent realms of nos­talgia, both important to the flavor of American music. Nos­talgia for the ’60s era of music that had just ended (“One of These Nights” could almost be a Bee Gees bop) paired well, it turns out, with nos­talgia for American folklore that was the heart and soul of Western U.S.A. (see “Lyin’ Eyes,” “Peaceful, Easy Feeling”). 

The sig­nature smooth sound of older Eagles songs moved into a heavier rock influence as the ’70s turned into the ’80s, but the folk influence remained, grounding the more heady electric guitar of songs like “Life In the Fast Lane” by harping back to the founding doc­u­ments of American music.

The Eagles mas­tered lyrics, too. Rock is noto­rious for being the music of rebellion — perhaps the reason it took so well in the U.S. — but “Hotel Cal­i­fornia” is a sur­pris­ingly moral­istic song for a band whose members had a history of affairs and even some drug abuse. Henley and Glenn Frey, the duo that remained the Eagles’ con­stant source of song­writing success, detail not simply the destructive nature of a life of excess with an almost Mon­tesquieuian tone, but also its psy­cho­logical trap: “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” 

The Eagles don’t just decry the problems of America’s mate­ri­alism; they also examine the Western easy-breezy vibe which defines so much of their music, and its poten­tially harmful effects. 

“So I called to the captain/Please bring me my wine/He said, ‘We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969.’” 

They play on the word “spirit” and the lack of it in modern American culture. 

Where Spring­steen was the spirited, high-school-drop-out of rock ‘n’ roll, The Eagles brought a more mature rebellion — and with it, a slightly darker tone. Their acute awareness of the times in which they were living made them a col­lective prophet of the tra­jectory of American culture. 

More impor­tantly, however, they pro­duced some of the best feel-good tracks in the repos­itory of rock ‘n’ roll. If rock defines culture, it’s an Eagles’ America I want to live in.