Keeping on going
“I have a mansion, forget the price
Ain't never been there, they tell me it's nice
I live in hotels, tear out the walls
I have accountants pay for it all
They say I'm crazy but I have a good time
I'm just looking for clues at the scene of the crime
Life's been good to me so far…”
Life’s Been Good was the last song on Joe Walsh’s album But Seriously, Folks... (16 May 1978/ Asylum), but it is likely to be the one forever associated with him. Walsh has formed a part of the James Gang, Eagles, and Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band, and played guitar on Hotel California, but it was his 1978 solo album that produced his anthemic single that peaked at number 12 on the US Billboard Hot 100.
The song tells the story of an out-of-touch rock star, who in some ways hates himself and his insular world. “I wanted to make a statement involving satire and poke fun at the incredibly silly lifestyle that someone in my position is faced with,” says Walsh. “It is a strange lifestyle – I’ve been around the world in concerts and people say ‘what was Japan like?’ But I don’t know. It’s got a nice airport you know….”
While the album was classified as a solo work, Walsh was supported by all four members of the Eagles as well as keyboardist Jay Ferguson, drummer Joe Vitale and bassist Willie Weeks; while Bill Szymczyk was called upon to produce.
It is worth recalling that the 1978 album was released in the context of a surge in pop: on 21st January the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack hit number 1 and practically set up residency on the Billboard Charts; while on 13th May Barry Gibb became the only songwriter to have had four consecutive number 1 singles on Billboard's Hot 100 Chart. On 16th June the film adaptation of the musical Grease opened, while Donna Summer topped both the singles and album charts at the same time with MacArthur Park and Live and More. This ‘pop explosion’ meant that single sales in Britain went through the roof, and were the strongest that they had ever been.
While an undoubted success, But Seriously Folks… does not fit easily into this scene, as it is more soft rock and country oriented. Furthermore, the album openers - Over and Over and Second Hand Store (featuring slide guitar by Don Felder) – are lyrically a little sad and downbeat, though Walsh’s melodic guitar skill (on his signature Duesenburg, at least when playing live at the Warren Ohio Packard Music Hall in 2015) and Vitale’s drumming, manages to keep them out of the mire. Of the remaining two tracks on Side 1 Indian Summer is a sentimental number, while At the Station talks of mid-career doubts.
Side two starts with the soft pop acoustic-driven cut Tomorrow, which is significantly lifted by Ferguson’s organ intervention. The brief Inner Tube, on the other hand, is a piano-driven piece which acts as a kind of interlude, before segueing into Theme from Boat Weirdos. This breezy latter track is full of musical shifts and changes that makes it one of the outstanding songs on the album.
Life still seems to be good for Walsh who is now in his mid-seventies and has his various substance abuse problems under control. Recently he has taken his lifelong interest in amateur radio into schools, supported US veterans, and has this year been touring again with the Eagles. As he might well say:
“I keep on going, guess I'll never know why
Life's been good to me so far…”