Overdue Review | Better Late.


Published on May 28th, 2014 | by Andy Sedlak

‘The End of the Innocence’ – Don Henley [1989]

‘The End of the Innocence’ – Don Henley [1989] Andy Sedlak

Summary: Henley shifts between veteran grump and reflective 40-something. Long, layered songs border on epic, but filler is filler. Not even Henley can sell it.


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Length: 53:11  |  Released: June 27, 1989

Top 40 U.S. Singles: 3  |  Peak Position on Billboard Album Chart: 8

Producers: Don Henley, Danny Kortchmar, John Corey, Bruce Hornsby, Mike Campbell, Greg Ladanyi, Stan Lynch

Label: Geffen


Don Henley with his signature ’80s ponytail.

The End of the Innocence was one of the last hit albums of the 1980s –a decade that ended with a bit of an identity crisis.

It all wrapped up with the speckled year of 1989. The decade’s biggest pop acts were hanging around. Although grunge was still a couple years away, there was foreshadowing of the coming alt-rock invasion as REM’s “The One I Love” had become a hit. Hair metal was hanging on by its fingertips but hits now were of the monster ballad variety – Poison’s “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn was a hit in late 1988. Bon Jovi’s “I’ll Be There For You” and Skid Row’s “I’ll Remember You” followed in its wake and were both big successes in 1989.

New Jack Swing rose to prominence as hip hop was entering a very awkward stage. The genre had hung around just long enough that there was almost a debate to either acknowledge it as an established musical movement or to dismiss it as a trend that was just different enough to linger.

Ultimately, the songs that spent the most time atop the Billboard Hot 100 were Janet Jackson’s “Miss You Much” and Phil Collins’ “Another Day in Paradise.”

Then you had David Hasselhoff and Milli Vanilli.

Madonna’s “Like A Prayer,” released that March, will probably be remembered as 1989’s most lasting contribution.


1989 saw David Hasselhoff, Madonna and Poison hit the charts.

Don Henley’s The End of the Innocence, released in June of 1989, had enough gusto to become his best-selling album. It moved 6 million units, which towers over the 3 million copies his previous release, Building the Perfect Beast, sold. But The End of the Innocence stands apart from its predecessor, which ranged from dark and evocative (title track and “Sunset Grill”) to dryly humorous (“You’re Not Drinking Enough”) to first-person character studies (“A Month of Sundays”).

Indeed, The End of the Innocence steps into the light with lengthy, layered songs and at times Henley goes into crooner mode, pushing the borders of over-romantic. All of the album’s hits were ballads except “The Last Worthless Evening,” which we could generously describe as “mid-tempo.”

When Henley cranks it up, he stays within the established parameters of the decade. The result is an album that looks back more than it looks forward – both sonically and thematically.

“The End of the Innocence” live at Farm Aid 1990.

Meanwhile, many of Don Henley’s contemporaries were on a creative roll in 1989. Hot off of his success with the Traveling Wilburys, Tom Petty went solo and scored the biggest album of his career with Full Moon Fever. Despite how you might feel about Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” which was also released in 1989, you have to admit it was different.

Bob Dylan shrugged off the ’80s gloss that had been weighing him down and partnered with producer Daniel Lanois to record the darkly murky Oh, Mercy. The Rolling Stones rebounded from 1986’s Dirty Work – and countless press clippings of infighting – to record the still-fresh Steel Wheels. Mick and Keith produced that gem alongside Chris Kinsey, who had produced Peter Frampton and INXS.

So who was at the helm of The End of the Innocence?  The album credits seven different producers, including Henley. Still, part of what makes The End of the Innocence an intriguing listen is that you can sense the work that went into it. Look at the personnel list, for starters.

Henley and Axl

Henley plays drums with Guns N’ Roses in 1989, filling in for Steven Adler.

Axl Rose (they were labelmates) lends his vocals to the faux-hard rock “I Will Not Go Quietly.”

Timothy Drury (Whitesnake’s keyboardist) contributes keys and vocals.

Mike Campbell and Stan Lynch (both of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers) play guitar and drums, respectively.

Sheryl Crow and Melissa Etheridge sing.

Bruce Hornsby plays keyboards, produces and sings.

David Paich and Jeff Porcaro (both of Toto) contribute vocals, strings, keys and drums.

J.D. Souther (who I met once in New York City, but that’s neither here nor there) lends his vocals.

1986 Record magazine - Henley

A 1986 Record magazine cover showcasing Henley’s burgeoning solo career.

Question: Is The End of the Innocence is as bloated as its personnel list? Only three songs are under five minutes long (one is 4:55). Three are over six minutes. And nothing really represents the snackable tunes that populate the Eagles’ Greatest Hits.

Looks like we better roll up our sleeves and dive into this thing.

The record opens with the reflective title song, penned by Henley and Bruce Hornsby. It’s a grownup tune that thankfully leaves the syrup behind. What does it show us? That the thorn comes with the rose.

Who knows how long this will last

Now we’ve come so far, so fast

But somewhere back in the dust

Is that same small town in each of us

I need to remember this

So baby, give me just one kiss

And let me take a long last look

Before we say goodbye

Henley and his fellow Eagles talk with 60 Minutes in a 2007 piece.

We know where Henley is taking us after “How Bad Do You Want It?” It simply cements the era. That buzzy little sax line? Just campy enough to be fun. We come nose to nose with ’80s industrial synths in “I Will Not Go Quietly,” featuring Axl Rose on the chorus.

It’s curious that, thematically, Henley shifts back and forth between wistful and all-knowing. Maybe it’s something we all do.

I like the premise of “The Last Worthless Evening,” but it seems lyrically tossed off. Like the whole thing was written over a distracting lunch hour. It’s ultimately unexciting.

This is the last worthless evening

That you’ll have to spend

Just gimme a chance

To show you how to love again

This is the last worthless evening 

That you’ll have to spend

‘Cause it won’t be long

‘Till your little heart is on the mend

Henley Grammy 1990

The End of the Innocence won the Grammy for Best Rock Performance.

Henley’s a good writer, but lethargic choruses are found on not only “The Last Worthless Evening,” but also “I Will Not Go Quietly,” “Shangri-La,” “Little Tin God,” “If Dirt Were Dollars,” and “Gimme What You Got.”

That is, most of the non-single tracks.

One of the album’s heavy hitters, “New York Minute,” is smoky and intriguing and wouldn’t be out of place on Building the Perfect Beast. The chorus is a ray of light, and the single is strong. In terms of narration, we’re looking back again. We’re once again wistful.

…it’s a sentiment abruptly abandoned in “Shangri-La.”

Hey! There’s a lot of people

Wondering who you are

They think you walk without a care in the world

But they’ve been wrong so far

Radio DJ Mojo Nixon talks about Henley and his 1990 track “Don Henley Must Die”.

At this point in the record – six songs in – we’ve heard from five of the seven producers. “Little Tin God” is the ultimate throwaway. “Gimme What You Got” continues its bland righteousness.

You can arm yourself, alarm yourself

But there’s nowhere you can run

Cause a man with a briefcase

Can steal more money than any man with a gun

“If Dirt Were Dollars” picks things up before the finale. The great J.D. Souther (“You’re Only Lonely,” among other under-the-radar classics) lends a hand and received a co-writing credit. I’m not sure whose lines were whose, but Souther’s creativity may have boosted Henley’s energy.

I was flyin’ back from Lubbock

I saw Jesus on the plane

Or maybe it was Elvis

You know, they kind of look the same

Henley Kermit

Henley with one of the few artists who didn’t collaborate on “The End of the Innocence.”

“The Heart of the Matter” closes the album on a cinematic high note. It’s one of Henley’s strongest tracks and a masterpiece of the era. It’s also a reminder that, more often than not, it’s important to let a song breathe.

Henley switches between wistful romantic and all-knowing music business vet. He’s grumpy, and there’s moralistic outrage. But too often, it sounds like Henley’s falling asleep to a movie. Maybe he had plans at the Chaetae Marquee. In 1989, it was a little tough to tell with Don.

We ultimately can’t deny Henley’s genius, though. The Texan is one of America’s truly unique vocalists, and is responsible for many of the hits that probably line your iPod. But when you zero in on his biggest solo album, it’s evident that it’s nowhere near air-tight. And although many of his contemporaries found success by splitting off into a separate direction, the sound of Henley’s record was ultimately influenced by what worked earlier in the decade.

Bottom line? Much of the album belonged to a schizophrenic 1989.

But the hits belonged to us.

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About the Author

Andy Sedlak is a former television reporter who lives in Dayton, OH. He grew up in a household that pumped Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel every weekend. He instantly became a new man when he discovered Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” in junior high.

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