Don Henley‘s vocal performance on the Eagles classic "Desperado" is widely considered one of the most untouchable lead vocal performances of the rock era, but there’s just one small problem: Henley doesn’t think so. In fact, he disavowed his lead vocal on that track in an interview with Billy Joel in 2015, saying he wishes he could sing it all over again.
The simple, evocative piano-based ballad is backed by strings, and as Henley explained in talking to Joel in front of an audience at the 92nd Street Y in New York City on Sept. 20, 2015, he felt very intimidated by the circumstances and didn’t feel that he had done his best.
"That was recorded in London, England, in a cavernous studio with the London Symphony Orchestra,” he recalled, adding, “I was terrified, and they were just bored sh-tless."
Producer Glyn Johns "wouldn’t allow us to do more than four or five takes," Henley recalled, despite the fact that he wanted to keep singing.
The older orchestral musicians were so bored, in fact, that "they had brought chess boards with them," Henley related. "Each pair of players would set a chessboard up between them, and when we weren’t doing any takes, they would play chess. That’s how bored they were."
To make matters worse, some of the snobbish classical musicians were even openly derisive of the song, Henley said.
"Once in a while I would hear a remark from back in the back," he recalled, faking a British accent to say, ‘I don’t feel like a desperado.’”
"So that vocal was not my best work, and I wish I had the chance to do it again," Henley said, adding, "But that’s okay … Linda Ronstadt did it just fine."
Henley teamed with Glenn Frey to write "Desperado," which served as the title song for the Eagles’ second album. Released in April of 1973, the album was certified Gold on Sept. 23, 1974, after spawning two singles with "Tequila Sunrise" and "Outlaw Man." Though "Desperado" was not a single from the album, it’s since become a radio staple and one of the group’s most enduring songs.