Don Henley and Glenn Frey wrote this with Bob Seger and J.D. Souther. When Frey was a 19-year-old in Detroit, Seger took him under his wing and got his music career started. Souther, who is sometimes considered an "Unofficial Eagle," was the first person Frey met when he moved to Los Angeles in the late-'60s. When we spoke with J.D. Souther, he told us how this song started: "Glenn Frey and I had been listening to Sam Cooke records at my house. So we were just walking around clapping our hands and snapping fingers and singing the verses to those songs. The melody sounds very much like those Sam Cooke shuffles. There's not much to it. I mean, it's really just two long verses. But it felt really good." (Here's the full J.D. Souther interview
Bob Seger's contribution to this song was the chorus. Souther told us what happened: "We didn't get to a chorus that we liked within the first few days, and I think Glenn was on the phone with Seger, and he said, 'I wanna run something by you,' and sang it to him, and Seger just came right in with the chorus, just sang it and it was so good. Glen called me and said, 'Is four writers okay on this?' And I said, 'Sure, if it's good.' And he said, 'Yeah, it's great. Seger just sang this to me,' and he sang it to me and I said, 'That's fantastic.'"
According to Seger, he was in the room with Glenn Frey when he came up with the chorus. He told Entertainment Weekly: "Glenn had the verse: 'Somebody's gonna hurt someone before the night is through.' We hadn't been sitting down for more that five minutes and I just blurted out, 'There's gonna be a heartache tonight!' His eyes lit up huge."
The Long Run was the Eagles' last studio album until they re-formed in 1994. There was a lot of tension in the band, and a lot of pressure to make the album perfect. As a result, they spent 3 1/2 years working on the album, which was the follow-up to Hotel California. Frey later explained to Rolling Stone that he learned from the experience: "All one need do was listen to early Stones records to realize that all this striving for perfection is totally unnecessary."
This won a Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance By A Duo Or Group.
Artists to cover this song include Conway Twitty, Tom Jones
(as "A Heartache Tonight"), John Anderson, and Michael Bublé, who did a big band version of the song in 2009.
Bob Seger played this at a memorial service for Glenn Frey in 2016. "He was always a positive force in my life," Seger said.
The distinctive percussion sound was likely "inspired" by the 1978 Andrew Gold song "Never Let Her Slip Away
." J.D. Souther sang backup on that one.
Many fans have clamored for Bob Seger to record and tour with his own version of "Heartache Tonight," but he's unlikely ever to do so. "I don't want to face a lifetime of singing that onstage," Seger explained to USA Today. "It's hard to sing! It's at the highest end of my range, really blasting it. Glenn sang the crap out of that."