One of the most famous songs of all time, “Desperado” was written by Don Henley and Glenn Frey in 1973. The Eagles have performed the song during all their concerts, and it’s often the encore track. Sadly, it was the last song they performed together, at the end of their 2015 tour “History of the Eagles.” Glenn Frey passed away a few months after the concert.
What does the title mean
The title refers to a cowboy who is an outcast. In popular culture, especially the ‘western’ genre of films, a desperado is often seen as someone who lives outside the norms of society.
The title conveys a sense of lawlessness. In the contemporary context, after the Black Lives Matter movement and the subsequent interrogations of law enforcement, this word brings institutional oppression to mind. Society often creates arbitrary rules and privileges those who have power. Within such oppressive systems, people who think differently are often labeled outlaws just because they don’t bow down to conventional or stereotypical ways of thinking. The title suggests that the song’s protagonist is someone who has been criticized or even persecuted for their choices.
Verse 1 – What does it mean
“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 got your reasons
These things that are pleasin’ you
Can hurt you somehow”
These lines set up an interesting relationship between the singer and the desperado. It feels as though they may be close friends, or perhaps more. The singer is trying to persuade the desperado to settle down. The desperado is a “hard one,” a weathered and experienced person who has seen a lot of hardships.
These lines also convey the meaning that the singer thinks that the desperado’s choices may end up being harmful to them. This is a relatable sentiment. It’s always hard to know whether the things that please us can have negative consequences.
What does the chorus mean
“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”
These famous lines set up an analogy between relationships and characters in a pack of playing cards. The lines refer to the queen of diamonds and the queen of hearts. In this context, the queen of diamonds most likely refers to wealth, power, and prestige. The queen of hearts refers to love and other non-material things. The singer is clearly advising the desperado here that love is more important than material wealth, which is fickle.
The idea of betting also reminds us that we often gamble with our lives. We make impulsive choices that may or may not be beneficial to us. As the song goes, we only want things that we can’t get. The value of the things we do have are usually lost on us. We constantly strive to get the things that are outside our reach, forgetting to appreciate the things that we already have. Going by the idea of relying on the queen of hearts, these lines also remind us that we often take love for granted. If we undervalue those who love us and take them for granted, it may be loo late by the time we realize what we had all along.
Verse 2 – What does it mean
“Desperado, oh, you ain’t gettin’ no younger
Your pain and your hunger, they’re drivin’ you home
And freedom, oh freedom well, that’s just some people talkin’
Your prison is walking through this world all alone”
This verse seems to take off from the idea of taking love and home for granted. These lines present the image of someone who is exhausted and longing for home.
These lines also boldly interrogate the notion of freedom. ‘Freedom’ is something that is celebrated by all independent and self-governing nations. However, as this song convincingly points out, it’s just a word that doesn’t have much meaning for most common people. Loneliness and isolation can be metaphorical prisons, even if one is supposedly free.
What does the bridge mean
“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 night time from the day
You’re losin’ all your highs and lows
Ain’t it funny how the feeling goes away?
These lines might refer to how one’s feelings get numb and inaccessible when one is depressed. The desperado can’t tell the difference between day and night, and their feelings have gone away.
These lines have very significant philosophical implications. Opposites such as day/night and highs/lows can indicate binary ways of thinking. We are often taught that ideas such as right and wrong are absolute as well as mutually exclusive. But reality is never absolute or black and white. For instance, Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean series is both a pirate and a good person. By saying that the differences between so-called opposites are no longer obvious, the singer is also drawing our attention to unrealistic expectations that are often imposed on us.
Verse 3 – What does it mean
“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 late”
Interestingly, by saying that the desperado should come down from their fences, the singer is actually suggesting that the desperado should pick a side. The desperado is someone who lives outside the norms of society. They have a better perspective on conventional and binary ways of thinking than most people. Their friend who is singing the song to them seems to have a more conventional mindset. They seem to want the desperado to settle for a conventional relationship and forget their unique ways.
This iconic song has multiple perspectives and interpretations. At the heart of the song is the conflict between individual desires and societal demands and expectations. The song lyrics seem to represent the point of view of someone who is afraid to make the same choices as the desperado. The image of the rainbow in the last verse could also be a reference to the LGBTQ+ community, which is often maligned for being unconventional. It could even suggest the meaning that the singer is in love with the desperado but afraid to show it.
Like other well-known works such as Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” the song seems to be about individual choices. The desperado is clearly someone who has taken the road not taken. Their friend wants them to return to normative society and find someone to settle down with, but this does not seem to be the desperado’s choice.
This song is not only a rock classic but also immortalized in popular culture. Although Glenn Frey is gone, this is one of the songs that have cemented his legacy as a legendary musician. It will forever be remembered as one of the most successful songs in the history of music.