There’s a concept that goes into constructing an album, and sometimes you can take the word ‘concept‘ and literally make the album into what is called, a ‘concept album.‘ Songs often tell stories, and with a concept album, you have a situation where each song on that album connects to the same story. Lets check out one of the concept albums the music industry has to offer!
The concept album I will be talking about is ‘Desperado‘ by Eagles. This is a Western concept album inspired by the outlaws of the 1880s and 1890s in the American West. The gangs featured in this album are the Dalton Gang and the Wild Bunch. For the Dalton Gang, they are famous for a failed robbery attempt on two banks at once in Coffeyville, Kansas, on October 5th, 1892.
Part One – The Story
Before I get to the failed bank robbery, I’ll go over some history of the outlaws. Members of the Dalton Gang included Robert “Bob” Dalton, Gratton “Grat” Dalton, Bill Power, Emmett Dalton, and Dick Broadwell. The Dalton Brother’s older brother Frank, had been a deputy who died in 1988. For the gang the Wild Bunch, the Dalton brother William “Bill” Dalton was more comely known as a member of the Wild Bunch. To go along with the Wild Bunch, some members were George “Bittercreek” Newcomb, and Bill Doolin.
So what exactly happened on the day of October 5th, 1892 in Coffeyville, Kansas? Well, a lot went wrong for a group of outlaws that thought they could pull off two bank robberies at once, in a town that was ready and willing to fight back. The two banks that were about to be part of Old West American History were the C.M. Condon & Company Bank, and the First National Bank. Luckily for the outlaws, both of these banks were directly across from each other, which would make this robbery more ideal to possibly pull off.
As mentioned earlier how the Dalton brother Frank was a deputy before he was killed, brothers Bob and Grat were former lawmen as well. This is until they decided to turn to a life of crime. Before the day of the double bank robbery, the Dalton Gang had been getting away with successful train robberies. As the day came, right away the outlaws had to change their planed way of escape. They wanted to use a hitch post near First National to park their horses for a quick getaway. Unfortunately for them, the hitch post was not there, so a location not so close to the banks would have to do. As the horses were parked, and they had their fake beards and wigs, it was time.
Grat Dalton, Bill Power, and Dick Broadwall made their way into Condon Bank. Grat then orders for employees to fill grain sacks with cash and silver dollars. What happened next was a hoax. Grat ordered for a vault to be opened, and a cashier by the name of Charles Ball said that it is on a time lock, and wouldn’t open for ten minutes. It indeed was a time lock, but it happened to have opened earlier in the day, and was currently unlocked.
Grat was not fully convinced, but Ball continued to bluff Grat with ‘bank lingo.‘ Over at First National, Bob and Emmett were being hoaxed by employees as well. With time passing by, they decide to fill bags with what they could get. With these delays happening, it gave the people of the town time to arm themselves. Stores that supplied guns and ammo were handing them out to all who wanted one, in order to aid with the fight against the outlaws. Civilians, gun store owners, you name it, several townspeople made way to the scene, and took cover around the banks. At First National, Emmett and Bob make it to the sidewalk, but are pushed back into the bank after taking fire.
Meanwhile at Condon Bank, they are frantically trying to figure out how to get out of the situation. As the exit from Condon Bank to their horses begins, Grat drops his money bag, and only leaves with what’s stuffed in his clothes. While volleys of gunfire come their way, the Marshall, Marshall Charles T. Connelly, is killed trying to stop the outlaws. Over at First National, Bob and Emmett make their escape as well, while returning fire at the civilians who are firing back at them.
At a point in the attempted escape, Grat, Broadwell, and Power are wounded and killed. With Power making it to his horse, and being shot off of it. For Bob and Emmett, Emmett makes it to his horse and is shot, while Bob is shot as well, and dies. Emmett survives from his wounds, and is sentenced to life in jail. With some mending, Emmett is eventually released after serving around 14 years, and becomes an actor and writer. From outlaw to actor/writer, what a life!
Aside from the fate of these 5 men, some believe (such as mentioned in an article about the Dalton Gang on historynet.com) Bill Doolin may have been there as a 6th man, holding onto the horses as the rest of them made way to the banks. But was able to escape and get away. Another article on history.com also talks about Doolin’s eventual fate and death in 1896.
Below is a video with photos of the outlaws. At :42 seconds in, you can see a photo of the 4 men who died ‘on display‘ for the townspeople to see.
Details of this story Curtsy of: ‘American Gun: A History of the U.S. In Ten Firearms’ by Chris Kyle and William Doyle. The story can be found in Chapter 4 which covers the history of the Winchester 1873 Rifle.
Kyle, Chris, William Doyle, Jim DeFelice, and Taya Kyle. “4.” American Gun: A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms. New York, NY: William Morrow, an Imprint of HarperCollins, 2013. 85-93. Print.
Part Two – The Album
The ‘Desperado‘ Story
Now that the story of Coffeyville, Kansas is over, it’s time to see how the Eagles album ‘Desperado,‘ connects to these outlaws of the Old West.
There are 11 songs on this Western Concept album, and I will be listing each one in order as I go over some of their lyrics. With ‘//’ representing the change in verse or chorus.
1. Doolin-Dalton: The title itself makes the connection very clear, and here you’ll see direct references to the outlaws mentioned in the story. It is also a perfect beginning to the concept album.
“They were dueling, Doolin-Dalton. High or low, it was the same. Easy money, and faithless women, red-eye whiskey, for the pain. Go down Bill Dalton, it must be God’s will, two brothers lying dead in Coffeyville.”
- This begging really sets the scene for a song that might make you think you’re in the middle of an intense outlaw-lawman fight. Note, this makes reference to Bill Dalton. Being that Bill was not at the robbery, his brothers Emmett and Bob are the two dead brothers in Coffeyville.
“Two voices call to you from where they stood. Lay down your law books now they’re no damn good. Better keep on moving, Doolin-Dalton, till your shadow, sets you free, and If you’re fast, and if you’re lucky. You will never see that hanging tree.”
- Here you see mention to how a ‘law book‘ is ‘no damn good‘, representing how outlaws don’t go by the rules. Then there is mention of ‘Doolin-Dalton‘ avoiding the ‘hanging tree.’ This represents a criminal who is evading the law, to avoid a chance at being hanged.
“Well the towns lay out across the dusty plains. Like graveyards filled with tombstones, waiting for the names, and a man could use his back, or use his brains, but some just went stir crazy Lord, cause nothing ever changed.”
- The towns and the graveyards that are ‘waiting for names‘ represents duels, outlaws robbing banks, or outlaws essentially causing havick in a western town. The rest of the lyrics show that an outlaw sometimes has to watch his back, use his knowledge, and avoid going crazy because the life of an outlaw will always be difficult.
“Until Bill Doolin, met Bill Dalton, he was working cheap, just biding time. Then he laughed, and said I’m going, and so he left that peaceful life behind.”
- You aren’t born an outlaw, you have to become one, and that is what these lyrics are saying.
2. Twenty One: Here we have a song about a young outlaw.
“Twenty-one and strong as I can be. I know what freedom means to me.”
- This simply shows he’s a 21 year old outlaw that doesn’t play by the rules.
“I might spend my life upon the road Just trying to add to what I know. Then someday I might settle down, and all my friends will be around. They say a man should have a stock and trade But me, I’ll find another way.”
- The ‘outlaw life‘ references come from the fact that this says the protagonist wants a life on the road, and he doesn’t want a settled down ‘sock and trade‘ job.
3. Out Of Control: This song, well, is about someone heading into what is assumed to be a saloon, and is about to get a little ‘out of control.’
“Come on, saddle up boys we’re gonna ride into town. We’re gonna get a little out of control. There’s a card game in the corner, and the barmaid smiled at me Well, I tipped her a sliver dollar, and she brought me a drink for free. All the town-folk call her the cheap one, and the gamblers call her Flo, come on set ’em up again I got me a friend, and I think I’m getting out of control.”
- Here we have the picture of a saloon, and the 1890s version of a night out at the bar. With a card game going on at this saloon, I hope there’s no cheating or else someone might be gunned down!
4. Tequila Sunrise: This song is about a man who seems to be having a somewhat tough time with a woman. A Tequila Sunrise is indeed a cocktail, while a movie titled ‘Tequila Sunrise‘ was released several years after the release of ‘Desperado’ in 1988 as well.
“It’s another tequila sunrise starin’ slowly ‘cross the sky, said goodbye. He was just a hired hand workin’ on the dreams he planned to try, the days go by.”
- Usually you ‘ride off into the sunset,’ but this cowboy is doing the opposite. This sets up a possible ‘down-lifting’ song. Also, whether it’s referring to the night before, or ‘morning drinking,’ he consumed some tequila at one point.
“Every night when the sun goes down just another lonely boy in town, and she’s out runnin’ ’round. She wasn’t just another woman and I couldn’t keep from comin’ on it’s been so long Oh, and it’s a hollow feelin’ when It comes down to dealin’ friends, it never ends.”
- Here begins the center piece of the song, a man talking about a woman. It turns out this woman is not the woman he wishes she was, and she may have ‘played him.’ A friend also might have been involved, so it is possible she was with the mans friend.
“Take another shot of courage, wonder why the right words never come, You just get numb. It’s another tequila sunrise, this old world still looks the same, another frame, mmm.”
- The ‘shot of courage‘ represents taking a shot of alcohol as a way to give you the courage to go and talk to women. ‘wondering why you never have the right words‘ once again relates to just not ‘being prepared‘ to go up to a woman. In this case, it would also refer to trying to find the courage to confront the specific woman in the song, about what the man is concerned about with her.
“Think I’ll go to Mexico. Down to where the pace is nice and slow, and there’s no one there I know. It’s another tequila sunrise, wonderin’ if I’m growin’ wise, or tellin’ lies”
- The bonus track could have added to the story, that the man wants to slow his life down, meet new people, and grow wiser.
While performing “Tequila Sunrise” live in Voorburg, Holland in ’73, the bonus lyrics can be heard at 7:54 into the video.
5. Desperado: Clocking in at number 5, “Desperado” could possibly be one of the most popular country rock 70s ballads to never have been released as a single (and my personal Eagles all-time favorite). A Desperado is someone who is is usually a reckless criminal, and so this word is sometimes associated with outlaws.
“Desperado…Why don’t you come to your senses. You’ve been out ridin’ fences, for so long now. Oh you’re a hard one, I know that you’ve got your reasons. These things that are pleasin’ you, can hurt you somehow.// Don’t you draw the queen of diamonds boy, She’ll beat you if she’s able, You know the queen of hearts is always your best bet. Now it seems to me, some fine things, Have been laid upon your table. But you only want the ones That you can’t get.”
- The Desperado is ‘riding fences‘ because he can’t make a decision. He also is being told that sometimes the things that give you pleasure can hurt you in the end. He is then being told in a very creatively lyrical way not to ‘draw the queen of diamonds‘ (the flashy woman). But to ‘draw the queen of hearts‘ (the heartfelt caring woman). He is told that the ‘queen of diamonds‘ is going to fail him. While the Desperado is also being reminded that he usually wants what he cant get, so don’t mess this up.
“Desperado…Oh you ain’t getting no younger. Your pain and your hunger, They’re driving you home, And freedom, oh, freedom, Well that’s just some people talking. Your prison is walking through this world all alone.// Don’t your feet get cold in the winter time? The sky won’t snow, and the sun won’t shine. It’s hard to tell the nighttime from the day. you’re losing all your highs and lows, Ain’t it funny how the feeling goes, Away.”
- As years go on, the Desperado is growing older, and losing time to avoid mistakes. The ‘talking about freedom‘ is saying that freedom isn’t something that can be realistic for him. Then his prison is essentially a representation of unrealistic goals. The second verse continues the Desperado’s struggle to be untroubled.
“Desperado…Why don’t you come to your senses? Come down from your fences, open the gate. It may be rainin’, but there’s a rainbow above you, You better let somebody love you (let somebody love you), You better let somebody love you…Before it’s too-oooo-late.”
- As the song comes to a close, the Desperado is being told to ‘get down from the fences‘ and ‘open the gate‘ by making a decision and giving his life some ambition. With the line “it may be rainin,’ but there’s a rainbow above you,” he’s being told that there’s always something to look forward to and enjoy, so look on the bright side. With the last line, the Desperado is told that he needs to give and take with what he can and can’t get, and to just let someone into his life without being particular. There is also a possibility that this goes back to the ‘queen of diamonds and hearts‘ in that he needs to be satisfied with the ‘queen of hearts‘ although that may not be what he had in mind.
Interesting Fact: In 1980, a trucker held a hostage while demanding to hear “Desperado” played on the radio. Once it was on the radio, he let the hostage go. You can read about it on newspapers.com
6. Certain Kind Of Fool: Song number 6 is a song about how ‘the outlaw‘ became an outlaw.
“He was a poor boy, raised in a small family. He kinda had a craving, for something no one else could see. They say that he was crazy, the kind that no lady should meet. He ran out to the city, and wandered around in the street.”
- The intro of the song clearly shows that this soon to be outlaw, grew up in a way the stereotypical outlaw may have grown up. Also, the fact that this man was someone a woman would not want to meet, that is another indication of his outlaw like ways.
“He saw it in a window, the mark of a new kind of man. He kinda liked the feeling, so shiny and smooth in his hand. He took it to the country, and practiced for days without rest, and then one day he felt if, he knew he could stand with the best. They got respect, oh yeah, he wants the same, oh yeah, and it’s a certain kind of fool who Like to hear the sound of his own name.”
- At this point the outlaw is enjoying his outlaw ways, and is dedicated and respected.
“A poster on a storefront, the picture of a wanted man. He had a reputation, spreading like fire throughout the land. It wasn’t for the money, at least it didn’t start that way. It wasn’t for the runnin’ , but now he’s runnin’ everyday.”
- As the song ends, the outlaw is now a well known outlaw who is wanted by the law. He originally wasn’t in it for money, but as time went on, his intentions of being an outlaw changed, and now he’s on the run.
Prior to performing “Certain Kind of Fool” during a live concert in ’73, Frey says “We got to doing this outlaw album, and we had eight song finished, and we needed two more. An idea Randy came up with was how the guy became an outlaw, or how he became a guitar player.” It Begins at 14:11 into the video.
7. Doolin-Dalton Instrumental Version: This is :47 seconds long, featuring the banjo.
8. Outlaw Man: As “Outlaw Man” clocks in at number 8, this song is literally what the title says. It is about a man who is the son of an outlaw, and so he is an outlaw himself.
“I am an outlaw, I was born an outlaw’s son. The highway is my legacy on the highway I will run. In one hand I’ve a bible In the other I’ve got a gun well, don’t you know me, I’m the man who won//(chorus) Woman don’t try to love me Don’t try to understand. A life upon the road Is the life of an outlaw man.”
- The song’s first verse introduces that the outlaw’s Dad was an outlaw, and this life was his calling. The bible and gun represents an outlaw that is conflicting with his faith, and criminal ways. When we see the chorus, the outlaw is trying to tell his woman to understand that the life of an outlaw is what it is, and there’s nothing that can be done.
“First left my woman, it was down in Santa Fe. Headed for Oklahoma, I was riding night and day. All of my friends are strangers, they quickly come and go and all my love’s in danger, because I steal hearts and souls.”
- This verse mentions that he can’t settle down for one woman and ends up leaving them, you also see that his fellow outlaw-men continue to die.
“When you got no life to lose then there’s nothing left to gain.”
- Clearly when you’re an outlaw, the simple life is no more.
9. Saturday Night: This is a fine piece of acoustic music with a pleasant harmony. It is about a man who lost his chance with a woman. (My personal 2nd all-time favorite Eagles song)
“Seems like a dream now, it was so long ago. The moon burned so bright, and the time went so slow, and I swore that I loved her, and gave her a ring. The bluebird was high on the wing.//(Chorus) Whatever happened, to Saturday night, finding a sweetheart, and holding her tight? She said, “Tell me, oh, tell me, was I all right?” Whatever happened to Saturday night?”
- These lyrics start off with the protagonist thinking about the past, and the relationship he had with a woman. A ‘blue bird‘ symbolizes happiness, and so these thoughts include the cheerful times in this past relationship. ‘Saturday night‘ merely seems to represent a specific time in this relationship, and the protagonist is questioning what may have happened, and wondering if he did an OK job.
“The years brought the railroad , it ran by my door. Now there’s birds on the windows, and dust on the floor, and she passes the time at another man’s side, and I pass the time with my pride. What a tangled web we weave, go around with circumstance. Someone show me how to tell, the dancer, from the dance.//(Chorus) Whatever happened to Saturday night, choosing a friend and loosing a fight? She said, “Tell me, oh, tell me, are you all right?” Whatever happened, to Saturday night?”
- Here the situation becomes clear that the woman is already with another man, and the protagonist may have lost his chance. The line ‘what a tangled web we weave,’ is another way of saying how difficult the relationship was. Doug Reside writes in an article on nypl.org saying, “In William Butler Yeats‘ poem “Among School Children” the poet famously asks “How can we know the dancer from the dance”? Many interpret this line as an observation that some creative acts are so intimately connected to the artist who created them that separating the two is almost impossible.” This may represent the protagonist’s difficultly in understanding what it was that separated him and the woman, from having a relationship that could work out.
8:54 into the video, prior to performing “Saturday Night,” live in Voorburg, Holland in ’73, Frey says “We got this new album we made in London, we just got done doing it. It’s called ‘Desperado,’ and it’s all about outlaws, and about the 1890s in Kansas, and somehow or another that’s got something to do with rock n roll. Because you cant rob banks for very long and get away with it, and you cant play rock n roll for very long and get away with it. This is a song called ‘What Every Happened To Saturday Night.”
10. Bitter Creek: As mentioned during Part One, George Newcomb of the Wild Bunch had the nickname ‘Bittercreek.’ Aside from the direct reference to the Wild Bunch member, “Bitter Creek” takes the narrative of a place, not a person. With that said, “Bitter Creek” is a place the protagonist wants to avoid.
“Once I was young and so unsure. I’d try any ill to find a cure. An old man told me, tried to scold me. “Whoa, son, don’t wade to deep, in Bitter Creek” (Bitter Creek). Out where the desert meets the sky, Is where I go when I want to hide.”
- As the album almost comes to an end, you can look at this song as an outlaw whose’s life of crime is taking a toll on him. Here he is getting advice to avoid “Bitter Creek.”
“She tried to show me (tried to show me), you know there aren’t no cause to weep, at Bitter Creek.”
- At the same time, he’s being told to suck it up, and deal with his stress.
“We’re going to hit the road, for one last time. We can walk right in, and steal them blind. All that money (all that money). No more running (no more running), I can’t wait to see the old man’s face, When I win the race.”
- As these lyrics approach in the song, it seems as if the group of outlaws are about to go do some robbing, in an attempt to get money, and hope that one day they have enough money to be able to stop running and being on the move all the time. This can trace back to “Twenty One,” when the young outlaw mentions he is always on the road.
The End to the Beginning
11. Doolin-Dalton/Desperado – Reprise
“Doolin-Dalton/Desperado – Resprise” is the last song on this Western Concept Album that ends the story of the outlaw life by ending the story of the songs “Doolin-Dalton” and “Desperado.”
“Well the stage was set the sun was sinkin’ low down. As they came to town to face another showdown. The lawmen cleared the people from the streets. “All you blood-thirsty bystanders, will you try to find your seats?” Watch ’em duelin’ (duelin’), Doolin-Dalton (Dalton), High or low, (high, low), it’s all the same. Easy money, and faithless women, you will never, kill the pain.“
- As the song begins, a duel between the lawmen and outlaws is proceeding in the town, and the bystanders are watching. As you see throughout this album, being an outlaw is no walk in the park. This is why the ‘easy money‘ can not ‘kill the pain.’ In the beginning of “Doolin-Dalton” they take whisky to try and kill the pain, and here you find out the whisky may have failed.
“Go down, Bill Doolin, don’t you wonder why. Sooner or later we all have to die? Sooner or later, that’s a stone-cold fact, four men ride out and only three ride back.”
- The duel between the outlaws and lawmen has ended. It appears there were four men and three survivors. Whether it refers to four outlaws, four lawmen, or possibly two of each, is not clear. In the end, whether you’re an outlaw or a lawmen, you life is always on the line.
“The queen of diamonds let you down, She was just an empty fable. The queen of hearts, you say you never met. Your twisted fate has found you out, and it’s fin’lly turned the tables. Stole your dreams, and paid you with regret, Desperado.”
- The outlaw vs Lawmen story has ended, and next comes the story of the Desperado. It appears the Desperado made the wrong decision, and chose the ‘queen of diamonds,’ even after being warned. A ‘fable‘ can sometimes mean ‘a myth, and not a fact,’ so it is possible ‘the queen of diamonds‘ was part of his fantasy. This decision has left him in the corner with dreams that have failed, and remorse.
“(Is there gonna be anything left, is there gonna be anything?) You sealed your fate up a long time ago (Ain’t it hard when you’re all alone in the center ring?). Now there’s no time left to borrow (Is there gonna be anything left?). Only stardust (Maybe tomorrow). Maybe tomorrow, Maybe tomorrow, Desperado….”
- This reiterates the unfortunate situation the Desperado has put himself in, and that there may be now turning back. With nothing that can be done to change it.
The story of the double bank robbery attempt in Coffeyville, Kansas, the Dalton Gang, the Wild Bunch, and the album ‘Desperado,’ all have something in common, and that’s the representation of the untamable Wild West.
Video of the Eagles, Jackson Browne, and JD Souther, ‘playing outlaw‘ during the “Doolin-Dalton“ part of “Doolin-Dalton/Desperado – Reprise.”
Video about the making of ‘Desperado.’ Also includes the making of the video above.