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The Don Henley solo classic he was always proud of

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The Don Henley solo classic he was always proud of


Don Henley always saw his music as more than disposable rock and roll. The kind of music that excited him when he was a kid stood the test of time, so why couldn’t he make art that spoke to people like those old country records spoke to him? While he may have succeeded in making the kind of songs that got people to listen to the Eagles, Henley thought ‘The Heart of the Matter’ was one of the major turning points of his career as a writer.

Considering where he started, it looked like Henley would not have that career trajectory at all. Outside of the millions of jokes about drummers getting kicked out of a band when they try to write a song, Henley was more interested in working as a hired hand with Linda Ronstadt before he struck gold with Glenn Frey in the Eagles.

By the time he started putting pen to paper, though, nothing that Henley ever made would be just “good enough”. ‘Witchy Woman’ already had a poetic bend to it, and the kind of characters that populate songs like ‘Desperado’ and ‘One of These Nights’ tend to feel like they’re ripped right out of dramatic novels.

That was always with the rest of the Eagles in tow, and going solo was one of the scariest things that Henley had ever taken on. It might be easy to share the blame for everything with one’s bandmates, but people can only point their fingers in one direction when something goes wrong on a solo record.

Then again, Henley subscribed to the idea of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Collaborating with longtime Eagles co-writers JD Souther, Henley also started working with fellow heartland rocker Mike Campbell, who put together the basis for ‘Boys of Summer’ after it got rejected by Tom Petty during the Southern Accents sessions.

For most of his career, Henley did well at toeing the line between being taken seriously as a songwriter and not becoming too insufferable along the way. He might not have had the lighthearted side that Phil Collins had, but considering how Collins’s lighthearted side turned out, that’s probably for the best.

When he hit The End of Innocence, Campbell remembers Henley thinking he hit a nerve on ‘The Heart of the Matter’, telling Songfacts, “I know he was especially proud of that one. He told me that lyric was something he had been trying to write for a long time, and it finally came out the way he liked it, something he really wanted to sing.”

Considering the countless amount of breakup songs that have to do with two people getting angry and raising a firm middle finger to their ex, Henley goes in a completely different direction. This person may not love him as she used to, but he’s just looking to understand how she feels so that they can both become stronger people. 

It might not be the kind of song that gets people dancing or anything, but that didn’t matter. Henley always put his own heart before everything else, and chances are he would rather write a piece about what love means to him now than try to rewrite ‘Best of My Love’ over again for the rest of his life.

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