How Randy Meisner’s ‘Take It to the Limit’ Fractured the Eagles
Eagles notched a third consecutive Top 5 hit from One of These Nights, then watched as "Take It to the Limit" tore apart their original lineup.
Singer Randy Meisner began the tune as he usually did, scribbling out a few lines after an Eagles performance at the Troubadour. Glenn Frey and Don Henley then joined the collaborative process. "I'd get a verse or two, and I'm done," Meisner said in The History of the Eagles documentary, "and they would help fill in the blanks."
Then something unusual happened: "Take It to the Limit" became the first Eagles single not to feature either Frey or Henley singing lead. Unfortunately, it also became the only one to showcase Meisner.
To some degree, the song was a victim of its own success: "Take It to the Limit" had quickly become a concert favorite, with fans keying on Meisner's soaring vocal. "They went crazy when Randy hit those high notes," Henley said in The History of the Eagles. But Meisner's relationship with the song was changing, and he'd begun to dread the moment when he was meant to shine.
"I was always kind of shy," Meisner later told Rolling Stone. "They wanted me to stand in the middle of the stage to sing 'Take It to the Limit,' but I liked to be out of the spotlight."
Everything came to a head in June 1977 when the Eagles reached Knoxville, Tenn., as an ailing Meisner refused to sing his song. That led to an angry confrontation with Frey.
"We've been out for a total of 11 months and everybody was starting to feel the strain,” Meisner told biographer Marc Eliot. "My ulcer was starting to act up, and I had a bad case of the flu, as well. Still, we all sounded great onstage, the audience loved the show and we were being called back for another encore. 'No way,' I said. I was too sick and generally fed up. I decided I wasn't going back out."
Listen to Eagles' 'Take It to the Limit'
Frey reportedly called Meisner a "pussy," and Meisner took a swing at him. They were eventually separated, but the damage was done.
"When the tour ended, I left the band," Meisner said. "Those last days on the road were the worst. Nobody was talking to me or would hang out after shows or do anything. I was made an outcast of the band I'd helped start."
Founding member Bernie Leadon was also never featured on another Eagles single; Joe Walsh replaced him before 1976's Hotel California. Timothy B. Schmit then took over for Meisner, as he settled into a lengthy estrangement from the group.
"They came to Los Angeles for a show a few years ago and I asked if I could sit in," Meisner told Rolling Stone in 2008. "I didn't get much response. I thought it would be nice to sit in with Timothy B. Schmit and sing 'Take It to the Limit,' but they pretty much gave me a 'no' in a roundabout way. I can't blame them. They have to keep their band the way it is."
The ice had broken by the time Eagles geared up for a series of huge anniversary tours between 2013-15. Leadon took part in those shows, but Meisner was dealing with health issues that kept him off the road.
Frey continued handling the vocal duties for "Take It to the Limit," until Vince Gill followed after Frey's death in 2016. Along the way, the song's hopeful initial theme became darkly ironic for Meisner.
"The line 'Take it to the limit' was to keep trying before you reach a point in your life where you feel you've done everything and seen everything – sort of feeling, you know, part of getting old," Meisner said in The History of the Eagles. "And just to take it to the limit one more time, like every day just keep punching away at it. ... That was the line, and from there the song took a different course."
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