On May 1, 1972, the Eagles released their first single, “Take It Easy”. Though the track would become one of the band’s signature tunes, it originally belonged to a different artist.
In the late ‘60s, Jackson Browne emerged as a rising songwriter – first as a member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band before branching out as a solo performer.
In 1971, Browne was prepping his self-titled debut solo album (which would eventually arrive in ‘72). Inspiration would strike for the aspiring rocker when he decided to hit the open road during a break in recording. “I took a road trip in this old beat-up Willys Jeep and I went to Utah and Arizona,” Browne recalled to Uncut magazine in 2010. “On that trip I started to write ‘Take It Easy.’”
When he returned to Los Angeles, the musician continued working on the song. Though he liked what he’d created, the tune was causing him grief. When close friend Glenn Frey decided to stop by the studio, Browne played him his latest song idea.
“Glenn happened to come by to say hi when I was in the studio and I showed him the beginnings of that song and he asked if I was gonna put it on my record and I said it wouldn’t be ready in time. He said, ‘Well, we’ll put it on, we’ll do it,’” Browne later recalled in a radio interview. “But it wasn’t finished, and he kept after me to finish it.”
Though this may have been the first time Browne played the song for Frey, it wasn’t necessarily the first time Frey had heard it. At the time, the musicians were neighbors in Echo Park, Calif. Frey had the upstairs unit, while Browne was on the lower floor.
“I used to sit and listen to Jackson,” Frey later admitted. “Jackson was very pragmatic, he wrote every day. That blew my mind. Every night he would be working on a song of his. And I would hear him working on all the stuff for his first album through the floorboards.”
Browne’s recollection was that he eventually gave the song to Frey after the latter musician “offered to finish it himself” on several occasions. In a conversation with Cameron Crowe, included in the Eagles 2003 Very Best Of compilation, Frey recalled the circumstances around “Take It Easy” slightly differently.
“I told [Browne] that I really liked it,” Frey remembered, looking back on the first time he heard the song. “He started playing it for me and said, ‘Yeah, but I don’t know — I’m stuck.’ So he played the second unfinished verse and I said, ‘It’s a girl, my lord, in a flatbed Ford, slowin’ down to take a look at me.’ That was my contribution to ‘Take It Easy,’ really, just finishing the second verse. Jackson was so thrilled. He said, “Okay! We cowrote this.’”
Regardless of exactly how the co-write materialized, the result was the same. “Take It Easy” was the Eagles first single and the opening track of the band’s self-titled debut album. Released on May 1, 1972, the track quickly became popular with listeners, who were drawn to its distinctive country rock sound. The single would peak at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, becoming the first hit of the Eagles’ career.
Reflecting on the song decades later, the songwriters were sure to credit each other.
“It’s certainly more of him,” Frey said of Browne’s contributions, likening the version he originally heard of “Take It Easy” to a “package without the ribbon.” “He already had the lines about Winslow, Arizona. He’d had car trouble and broken down there on one of his trips to Sedona. He spent a long day in Winslow.”
Likewise, Browne insisted Frey made the track whole. “He finished it in spectacular fashion. And, what’s more, arranged it in a way that was far superior to what I had written.”
In the end, it’s the tune’s legacy that mattered most to both men. “I don’t know that we could have ever had a better opening song on our first album,” Frey confessed. “Just those open chords felt like an announcement, ‘And now … the Eagles.’”