The Facts Don’t Care About Your Feelings: The Eagles vs. Michael Jackson

As someone who writes a fair amount relating to the subject of music history, including the classic rock of the 1970’s [1], I am very familiar with the music of the Eagles.  It would be hard not to be familiar with the music of the Eagles, coming as I did from an area where song after song of theirs was played during my youth, and continues to be played on radio stations all over the country.  I was a teenager when the band, which had famously and acrimoniously broken up in the late 1970’s after their ironically titled “The Long Run” album, joined together for their “Hell Freezes Over” tour and renewed popularity and relevance as a band, and even a new “classic” hit in “Love Will Keep Us Alive.”  Suffice it to say, therefore, that I did not view it as a horror that the band would be considered the act behind the best-selling album in American history with the 38 x platinum “Greatest Hits, Volume 1,” and the third-best selling album with “Hotel California.”  The Eagles are certainly not my favorite band, but they definitely deserve a great deal of credit for finding a solid niche in Americana country rock that resonated and continues to resonate with a huge audience.  It should be noted as well that Thriller has sold more than 100 million albums in “pure sales” worldwide, far more than the Eagles, whose appeal is mostly in the United States, for what it’s worth.

Yet not everyone was happy about this.  A particularly reverse racist “anti-racism activist” tweeted that the Eagles were only liked by older racists and that it is racist to think that any album other than Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” album is the best selling album of all time, even though Thriller only (only!) has gone 33 x platinum, five million copies less than the Eagles’ first hits compilation, and good enough for #2.  Now, I happen to think that Thriller is an amazing album as well, worthy of the praise that it was and is given as well, with an astonishing amount of hits, so much so that the album is itself a Greatest Hits album because everything on it was a popular hit.  If you are looking for a place to start appreciating the music of Michael Jackson, “Thriller” is an obvious choice with some hits that still hold up more than 30 years after their original release.  And if several million more copies of the album sell and the album once again becomes the best selling album in American music history, I will have no objections to it.

Why is this a problem, then?  I do not think that the Eagles’ music is only appreciated by middle-aged and older white audiences, nor is Michael Jackson’s music only appreciated by blacks or those trying to ape his approach (like the Robin Thickes and Justin Timberlakes of the world).  While I think it is easiest for people to relate to certain genres because of familiarity, I also believe that good music is widely accessible to those who have good taste.  Even if I do not approve of everything in the life or music of either artist, it is easy to see how both of these acts made music that resonates extremely greatly with the wider world of music fans.  If the Eagles have sold more copies of their Greatest Hits album than Thriller has, they have the best selling album.  The facts don’t care about my own feelings–indifferent as they are to the matter–or to anyone else either.  The glory of music charts or charts of any kind is that they are supposed to represent reality–the best seller gets the award for selling the most, and those who aim for commercial success know that their sales will be respected.

Only in our contemporary world, there are far too many people that do not want to respect the verdict, for what it’s worth, of the sales data.  When Nicki Minaj’s latest album, Queen, failed to overtake the previous week’s #1 debut “Astroworld,” by Travis Scott, her response was not as gracious as it could have been.  As this is a family-friendly blog, I cannot post what she said verbatim, but it was not very complementary.  Now, no one is denying that there are various ways to game the charts, through “stream trolling,” by which a large number of mediocre tracks of album filler assist an album’s overall sales numbers by contributing their own streaming results to the overall album sales.  Other artists, like Pusha T, Kanye West, and Kid Cudi (who collaborated with Kanye as “Kids See Ghosts”) have encouraged the revival of the mini-album with seven tracks or so per album, as a way of increasing first-week sales numbers and cutting out the fat.  But either way, whether you release seven great tracks or twenty-seven mediocre ones, the data is what it is.  If you sell a certain amount of “pure copies” of albums or have a certain amount of streams, you get credit for a certain amount of sales.  The rules may be tweaked, but they are clear enough and artists and their labels and management can make the best of it.  Ultimately, though, the facts don’t care about your feelings–you just have to make sure to frame the facts correctly, because the framing usually reflects one’s feelings, in music as in so much else.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, History, Music History, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Facts Don’t Care About Your Feelings: The Eagles vs. Michael Jackson

  1. Sandy says:

    Great post! One thing I still can’t understand though, is why a LOT of people absolutely hate the Eagles?

  2. Catharine Martin says:

    I was introduced to the group by my dorm counselor at church camp in the early 70’s and was drawn to their easy listening, melodic vibe. I later bought their Greatest Hits album and knew just about every song by heart. I didn’t have much money, so I had a scant collection of records and owning one meant a great deal. Many of the groups during that particular time period lyricized their political statements or they crafted multi-leveled messages within their songs. Different groups have different purposes and each performs according to its truth. The Eagles kept it simple and flowing, and many, unfortunately, dismiss them as being nonessential and vapid. Just as we can’t understand the hatred, they can’t–or won’t– understand our appreciation for a well-turned phrase set to a melodic chord.

    • To be sure, many of Don Henley’s solo material has a great deal of political messaging that the Eagles songs did not, one of the reasons I prefer the Eagles discography to that of Mr. Henley, but I agree that there is a great lack of understanding for many of the joys of simple lyrical and musical tunesmithing.

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