The Heart Of The Matter

Album: The End Of The Innocence (1989)
Charted: 21


  • Mike Campbell wrote the music and produced this track. As a member of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Mike writes tracks for many of Petty's songs. He first collaborated with Henley in 1984 when he wrote and produced "The Boys of Summer," which he came up with on a 4-track tape recorder in his house.

    Campbell told us how this came together: "That was a couple of years later, by then I had upscaled my home studio to a 24-track. I cut the track at home and played it for him (Henley). He wrote some words, I think he got some help from J.D. Souther on some of the lyrics. He changed the key to fit his voice, then we went in and basically recreated the demo. I know he was especially proud of that one. He told me that lyric was something he had been trying to write for a long time and it finally came out the way he liked it, something he really wanted to sing. A lot of people like that song."

    Campbell played guitar on this and another track on the album, "The Last Worthless Evening." Here's our full Mike Campbell interview.
  • Henley wrote the lyrics with J.D. Souther, who was a frequent collaborator with the Eagles. The song is about a man who finds out his former lover has found someone else, which is exactly what they were both going through at the time. In our interview with J.D. Souther, he explained: "At that particular moment it was an easy song for both of us to work on, because we had both, within the last year or so, broken up with our fiancées. We'd both been in love and engaged at the same time and both his relationship with his girl and me with mine ended in the same few months. And it's pretty much what the song says, they had both taken up with somebody else. And that's not easy to hear, but at the time it made a good source material for that song, because it seemed to be really universal and it seemed the only way to really survive your first reaction to hearing news like that or having those kind of feelings is to remember that the first person to benefit from forgiveness is the one who does the forgiving. And, actually, that was Don's idea. I have to give him full credit for that forgiveness theme. The first time he sang that forgiveness chorus over and over to me, I didn't get it. Kind of went, 'Yeah, I guess.' And then it sort of sunk it that it was exactly the point of the song."
  • The line "The flesh will get weak and the ashes will scatter" is a biblical reference, coming from Matthew 26:41: "The spirit is willing enough, but the flesh is weak."
  • India.Arie recorded this in 2006 on her album Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship; her version hit #79 in the UK and #33 in Canada.
  • What are those voices outside love's open door
    Make us throw off our contentment
    And beg for something more?

    Lorde, who went through a big Don Henley phase before recording her second album, called this, "the most incredible f--king question of the universe."

Comments: 32

  • Rosy from San DiegoAlthough the song is clearly about a break up between lovers, the rest can still apply to all other relationships where anger and brokenness have caused such hurt. For me, I remember my father...the man who was to be the model for my future husband. But he chose so wrong and so selfishly that he broke my mother’s heart and the hearts of all his children, too. Yet in the end - the Heart of the Matter - he is the only father I know, and in spite of his frailties, I love him and forgive him ...following the example my mother had set. If she whom he hurt and betrayed so much could still love him and forgive him after all that, I have no excuse to hang on to my anger. So I forgive. I love you, Dad. Rest easy and rest in peace.
  • William from GhanaDiscovered "The end of the innocence" and "The heart of the matter" at the same time and for me these are rock anthems delivered by a legend. Then I got to know it was that same voice which delivered "Hotel California". Lyrics wonderful, delivery peerless.
  • Markantney from BiloxeJul 2015,

    Can't add a word to the great comments, only after listening to the song a Gadzillion Times, the backing vocals are freakin perfect.

    Also, with the Beef with Feder Supporters and claims against Henley and or Frey being "Arrogant",... I disagree.

    Because, if I could write and/or sings songs like this; I'd probably walk around Naked, barely bathe, or brush my gums,.. and tell everyone else,.."You're the one with the Problem(s)":):)

    Between this song, "The End of the Innocence", "Boys of Summer", "I Can't Tell You Why", oh and "One of These Nights",...great, great lyrics.
  • Ken from Louisville, KyJ.D. Souther was Glenn Frey's roommate and duo partner pre-Eagles. He, along with Jackson Browne, became "unofficial" Eagles in the early days of the group. For some reason Souther and Frey had a falling out later in the 1970's. Souther has said he was shocked and pleasantly surprised when Don Henley asked him to help write some of the songs for the "The End Of The Innocence" album. He said he had gotten along fine with Henley but they never were particularly close during the 70's.
  • Ken from Louisville, KyAt this time, all of Don Henley's relationships with women had ended badly. Either he broke their hearts or they broke his. That was the inspiration behind this song. Not long after, though, Don met a female dancer/model from Texas (his home state) who was hired to perform in one of his music videos. They hit it off right away and were married a few years later - and are still married to this day (with 2 children).
  • Roxanne from Brisbane, AustraliaThis song has meant so much to me over the years,it can apply to so many situations,forgiveness for a lost love,a lost friend,parents of my favourites
  • Jim from Long Beach, CaThis song always gets me. It is so true you must forgive and move on becouse if you don't you will have a lot of anger. Life is too short for that,but a failed love affair is not fun but it is better to be loved than never been loved..OK..LOVE STINKS!!!LOL!!
  • Lagenomai from Margaritaville, OnI agree with a few here. TO me, this is the greatest sing ever written. I know Mike Campbell initiated the project, and Henley made it his own, with JD's assistance,..... but I would LOVE to know how Henley felt the first time the hammer hit on this one.
  • Kim from Anchorage, AkI have loved this song from the moment I first heard it. I believe it's about everyone. We all have one or maybe like myself, several Heart of the Matter moments in our lives. We are all much richer thanks to Don Henley and his co-writers for
    jotting it down & attaching the music. I can't imagine living my life without it.
  • Tiffanny from Florida, FlThis song is beautiful!!..I am a singer and everytime i sing this i get chills and have to hold back the tears although i never can as i am going thru a divorce that is extremely painful we both were unfaithful and we both lost ourselves and eachother..And now i am trying to forgive myself and him and all the unpleasant situations that came about...And the line about all my friends semm to scatter..How true then you realize they were never really friends. I still love my husband soon to be ex....But too much pain, lies and hidden agendas and lost time away from eachother makes the end of this book inevitable...This song touches me and helps me more than anyother right now..Beautifully written.
  • Dave from Easton, PaThis song can bring me to tears, it's so well written and performed with such feeling. The line where Henley sings," I'm learning to live without you now, BUT I MISS YOU, BABY..." he kinda sounds choked up...that's the line that gets me every time.
  • Jeff from Casa Grande, AzForgiveness . . .. suppose it is the Heart of the Matter? In order to get along, or to get by? To let go some past horror. Letting go and forgiving. Sounds a bit like what Jesus was preaching two thousand years before. Or, Confuscious or Zoroastrious, etc.
  • Oldpink from New Castle, InYet again, Henley turns in some beautiful lyrics, and sings them so well.
    The subject matter is fertile ground for some of the best songs ever.
  • Elizabeth from Ithaca, NyIT'S NOT ABOUT STEVIE NICKS!!!! if you want to hear a song about both Stevie Nicks and Don Henley, listen to "Leather and Lace"
  • Elizabeth from Ithaca, NyI believe this song was written for Maren Jensen. Don Henley had a long relationship with her.
  • Chris from Indianapolis, InObviously being a song about a couple who has broken up, it's beautifully written about forgiving each other even if they aren't in love anymore -- because he realizes the importance of forgiveness over all things, and the need to do at as soon as possible because "the flesh will get weak and the ashes will scatter" (meaning death is too late.)

    Also a great line about when you're sad or lonely, how the people in your life seem to forget about you when you need them the most.. "and my friends seem to scatter."

    One of my top 10 songs ever.
  • Leslie Ann from Port Of Spain, Trinidad And Tobagothis song is so clear and concise and just what i just an affirmation for me while i emerge from a 2yr relationship split...not a marriage but it meant alot to the end such is life and i forgive myself and him.the song is so theraputic.thnx henley xoxo-lct.Trinidad&Tobago.West.Indies
  • Craig from Oz, AustraliaA great song my 9 yr old boys love's it , just show's how good Henley is.
  • Jennifer from Louisville, OhI saw an interview with henley where he said that after recording this song he felt he needed to take his own advice and reach out to glenn frey and mend their broken relationship. I am glad he did because it meant the return of the eagles and finally a new album. If you haven't heard any of it, you should. Waiting in the weeds is one of the best songs I have ever heard and it proves that Henley/Frey still have that special magic of writing songs together~
  • Kelly from Carver, Mn"forgiveness"-wondering who Henley means to forgive, himself or the past love. Either way, it's a great song with some of the best lyrics ever put to music.
  • Alan from Singapore, SingaporeEverything that Justin said was spot on. I do not know why I get a lump in my throat everytime I hear this song. In the Hell Freezes Over DVD, Don Henley says that he wrote it with Mike Campbell and J.D. Souther. He said that it was a song that took about 42 years to write and 5 minutes to sing. This song rates up up there with one of the ten best songs ever written.
  • Eric from Melville, NyI remember when I first bought that album. I sat back and listened to the whole album. When "The Heart of the Matter" finished, I was numb. Right then, I knew that Don had written his masterpiece. Don had always wanted to write songs as purposeful as Jackson Browne, this one is.
  • Sc from Redlands, Casimply an amazing song. you can feel the pain of the failed relationship. henley hints at unconditional love as the only thing that will get him thru this. this is deeper than boyfriend/girlfriend. we're talking about a failed marriage perhaps also humanity. what a tonic for my troubled soul
  • Tina from Monterey, Caagree w/ Justin, THE BEST love song ever!
  • Stefan from Sarasota, FlIn the lyrics:
    I've been tryin' to get down to the heart of the matter
    "Because the flesh will get weak"
    And the ashes will scatter...
    I believe it is: "Before the embers die" and the ashes will scatter. not a big change but it makes more sense. could be wrong. thanks.
  • Ray from Stockton, Njthis song is very good and proves that Don Henley is one the best drummers ever. Songwriter(as a solo artist and with the Eagles), lead singer(The Eagles and as a solo artist), and just a great drummer, It all adds up to make a great drummer.
  • Steve from Fenton, MoWhen I saw the Eagles in concert, Henley sang this song and introduced it as a song that was 20 years in the was worth the wait. Agree with Justin.
  • Clarissa from Dallas, TxThe Eagles also sang this song on the Hell freezes over tour.
  • Melissa from Seattle, Wahaaha.i always thought this song was about don henley's past relationship with Stevie Nicks..
    the line that made me think that was " An old true friend of ours was talking on the phone she said she found someone new" " i thought of all the bad times and the struggles we went through"
    " how i lost me and u lost u" .... i dont know i just always thought he was talking about their past with each other.. they have such a history and i think this song fits it.
    But any way i love this song no matter what i love don henleys voice
  • Drew from Portage, InThe lyrics and title MAY have been inspired by the novel "Heart of the Matter" by Graham Greene. The novel is about a working man whose wife goes away on a holiday and he ends up falling in love with another. The lyrics of the song seem to tell the same tale.
  • Justin from Felts Mills, NyI believe that this is one of the best love-lost songs ever written, if not THE best. The lyrics are beautiful and powerful, and everyone can identify with the situation depicted in the song (someone finds out that their lover, a person they still long for, has found another). The song has great pluses, due to Mike Campbell's soaring guitar and Henley's aching voice. It is no wonder that Mike Campbell was right when he said that "a lot of people like this song."
  • Thomas from Pittsburgh, PaSeveral otherwise successful musicians actually sang backup on this album, including Patty Smyth, Melissa Etheridge, and Axl Rose.
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