Album of the Week, March 9: I Can’t Stand Still by Don Henley

ICantStandStillBorn in Texas in 1947, Don Henley moved to LA in 1970 to record with his band, Shiloh. He quickly plugged in to the local music scene and got a gig in Linda Ronstadt’s backup band. Finding like-minded musicians there, he formed the Eagles with Glenn Frey, Bernie Leadon, and Randy Meisner. That band became one of the most successful and volatile bands of the 70s, turning out hit singles and albums at a breakneck pace. By the end of the decade, he and Frey were the only original Eagles left and the band — reduced to a set of soloists with a shared name — disintegrated. Henley began preparing for a solo career, guesting on a single by Stevie Nicks and pulling together his talented friends. The result was a stunning solo debut, honing his work with the Eagles and emphasizing his distinct musical and lyrical personality.

Title I Can’t Stand Still
Act Don Henley
Label Asylum Release Date August 13, 1982
Producer Don Henley, Danny Kortchmar & Greg Ladanyi
U.S. Chart  24 U.K. Chart  n/c
Tracks
[US Hot 100]
  1. I Can’t Stand Still [#48]
  2. You Better Hang Up
  3. Long Way Home
  4. Nobody’s Business
  5. Talking to the Moon
  6. Dirty Laundry [#3]
  7. Johnny Can’t Read [#42]
  8. Them and Us
  9. La Eile
  10. Lilah
  11. The Unclouded Day

At his best, Henley comes across like Warren Zevon’s more blunt cousin. (Yes, that’s a compliment.) He has a fine political voice, a knack with a clever lyric, an old west sensibility blended with a distinctly urban consciousness, and a stunning array of buddies to jam with. I Can’t Stand Still makes the most of all of these things, introducing a solo talent with clear vision and a joyous workman’s approach to music.

The title track kicks things off with an angry but touching bit of jealous rage. The music is tightly wound and Henley alternately aches and seethes at the thought of his former love with another man. Laden with subtle menace, dark deeds loom at the edges of this great song. The theme continues with You Better Hang Up, a more rollicking track that capitalizes on his country rock roots. It’s a fine song, but risks a bit of sounds-the-same syndrome with its placement. Things shift dramatically with the aching Long Way Home. Unabashedly sentimental in all the best ways, it’s a lovely song that shows off Henley’s vocal strengths. He kicks back into high gear with Nobody’s Business, the best urban-old-west track he’s ever done. A paean to independence with just the right accent of “screw you,” it puts more musical diversity into the mix. Side one quiets down again for perhaps the album’s finest moment. Talking to the Moon is reminiscent of his best Eagles ballads but distinctly his own. An aching song of lost love, it mixes his mournful vocals with lovely natural imagery, creating a calm, if tragic oasis in the middle of the album.

Side two of the original vinyl kicks off with Henley’s biggest solo hit. A screed against tabloid journalism, Dirty Laundry is an amazing song that is just bitter and angry enough. Built around a stunning, surging keyboard line provided by Toto’s Steve Porcaro, it rocks and rages in equal measure. Henley heaps on the politics with the equally angry but less charming Johnny Can’t Read. Controversial at the time for its lyrics, it’s a solid indictment of the American educational system that suffers slightly from its placement. Sequencing almost sinks this otherwise great album with a third political track, the ham-fisted Them and Us. Yeah, we get it Don, nuclear war is bad.

As if realizing that things needed mixing up, Henley steps aside for La Eile. Performed on tin whistle by Paddy Maloney of the Chieftains, it shows another tradition that more subtly influences Henley’s music. It also is the perfect introduction for the bittersweet Lilah. A losing-the-farm song worthy of any country luminary, it’s anchored by the singers’ clear sense of suffering and need. It’s one of the most personal of the songs on the album and lends a needed air of humanity. Things wrap up with the modern hymn The Unclouded Day. It could be cheesy, but Henley delivers it so straight up that it feels like a true ray of hope shining into the broken world he’s shared with us.

Don Henley would go on to bigger-selling albums (with more Top 40 hits on each) and an eventual Eagles reunion. Every solo disc has something to recommend it, but he somehow lost the inventive spirit that shines through this first solo effort. A lovely mix of politics both global and personal, a nice sense of musical accomplishment, and just enough hope and humanity to leaven the dark observations make for one of the best albums of the 80s and the single highlight of Henley’s long, accomplished career.

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About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

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