Saturday, October 04, 2008

"But Seriously Folks..."

It's Saturday...time again for another long nerd-essay about a great album from the past!!! Last week, I took a look at The Dukes of Stratosphere's CHIPS FROM THE CHOCOLATE FIREBALL--this week I'm talking about a solo record from an often overlooked guitarist.

While he flew highest with The Eagles, I've always enjoyed Joe Walsh with fewer...feathers..
.which is why I'm writing about "BUT SERIOUSLY FOLKS..." Mr. Walsh's 1978 solo-LP. So sit back and enjoy another installment of Classic Albums Revisited:
I won't argue that HOTEL CALIFORNIA isn't a great record. It is. But just because I'm able to recognize that HOTEL CALIFORNIA is great, doesn't mean I want to sit and listen to it over and over. It's great in that way that those thicker Dickens books are great. Bloated and little too serious for my liking.

No, I don't care how many times it makes critical Top 100 lists...HOTEL CALIFORNIA would never wind up on my Deserted Island music playlist. Ironic because guitarists overlooked, and some might argue--forgotten, fourth solo record would most certainly make it to a my CAST AWAY/LOST/ROBINSON CRUSOE-playlist.

Unlike the bulk of The Eagles recordings I've heard, Joe Walsh's "BUT SERIOUSLY FOLKS..." comes off as laid-back, thoughtful/introspective, and full of humor. The first time I heard this record I instantly thought of Jimmy Buffet, because Walsh and his style is very reminiscent of Buffet. They both have a laid-back, "everyman" persona. But while Buffet seems more interested in getting drunk, drinking, and the ocean--Walsh takes the time to craft memorable, heartfelt songs about the way things used to be ("Indian Summer"), failed relationships ("Second Hand Store"), and the general confusion of life ("At the Station").

That these songs are also musically interesting and varied only adds another distinction from Buffet (check out the outro-solo for "At the Station" it's both simple and amazing). For further proof, check out the gorgeous instrumental "Theme From Boat Weirdos." It's amazing stuff, that I frankly would have enjoyed extended out into a full-length album (this coming from someone who rarely enjoys instrumentals on his rock records).

Walsh's humor adds another dimension to the album's proceedings. Sometimes he's sly, like on the procrastination-anthem "Tomorrow" (which is about all the things he has to do, but isn't). Other times he's practically hitting you over the head with it (see the hidden track "A Flock of Wah-Wahs" in which the listener is subjected to an agony of Donald Duck impersonators). Usually, though Walsh's sense of humor (and more importantly, his sense of himself) falls somewhere in the middle. It's this middle-ground that endears you to him.

The best example of this middle ground?

That would "Life's Been Good." Without this song, I'm sure I'd have no idea who Joe Walsh was (except as the guitarist of The Eagles). "Life's Been Good" is Walsh's epic masterpiece. It's his Sinstine Chapel. It's his David. It's his MOBY DICK. Other than perhaps "At the Staion," it's the only song from this record (or period by Walsh as a solo artist) that you'll still hear on FM-Classic Rock Radio.

Clocking in at slightly less than nine minutes long (8:57 to be exact), "Life's Been Good" is both a joke-song and a slightly serious examination of rock 'n roll (and hell, fame itself). The song begins with a rousing (and immediatly recognizable) guitar lick, then descends into a jangly acustic guitar, ala The Who's "Pinball Wizard." The lyrics speak for themselves:

"Life's Been Good"

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

My Maserati
Does one eighty-five
I lost my license

Now I don't drive

I have a limo

Ride in the back

I lock the doors

In case I'm attacked

I'm making records

My fans they can't wait
They write me letters

Tell me I'm great

So I got me an office

Gold records on the wall
just leave a message
Maybe I'll call

Lucky I'm sane after all I've been through

(Everybody sing) I'm cool (He's cool)

I can't complain but sometimes I still do
Life's been good to me so far

I go to parties

Sometimes until four

It's hard to leave

When you can't find the door

It's tough to handle
This fortune and fame

Everybody's so different I haven't changed

They say I'm lazy but it takes all my time

(Everybody sing) Oh yeah (Oh yeah)
I keep on going guess I'll never know why

Life's been good to me so far baby,
inside the Sad Cafe.

The lengthy guitar solo in the middle half of the song and at the very end is outstanding--and probably unheard by the general public. Until I tracked down a copy of the album on CD I'd never heard it all completely because of the all the "radio-edits." If they can play "Stairway To Heaven" un-cut on the radio, why...oh why, can't this song be played as it was recorded on-air? After hearing the actual, complete song, I find the version played on the radio both offensive and listenable. The song's theme of rock excess is underscored by the ridiculous musical interludes that divide the song. Parring down these solos/interludes/noodling does nothing but neuter the song.

This, my friends, is why I'm not allowed to work in radio.

If there's any fault to be found with "BUT SERIOUSLY FOLKS..." it's that famous track that was left off. Walsh originally recorded "In the City" for the album but ultimately ended up releasing it on The Eagles (rather sub-par) THE LONG RUN--which it should be noted features a reference to "Life's Been Good" (which refers to the 'Sad cafe' which is the final track of that album). I'm not sure why it pisses me off that the only decent song on THE LONG RUN was originally slated for this record, but it does.

Joe Walsh is an amazing talent, and "BUT SERIOUSLY FOLKS..." does nothing but prove it. Like many famous guitarist who were overshadowed by more famous front-men (Townsend, Harrison, etc) Walsh was only able to fully shine on his own. I think that had he fully left The Eagles his legacy might be greater than it currently stands.

As a side note, this album is (unfortunately) slightly difficult to come by these days. Though Walsh is represented on iTUNES, for some reason "BUT SERIOUSLY FOLKS..." is absent. Further, the greatest hits compillations for Walsh are listed as "partial albums" because the material from "BUT SERIOUSLY FOLKS..." is absent. What's going on is probably a money/copyright issue, and I'm too lazy to actually look into it. I purchased my copy used at (of all places) a store specializing in used video games. If you happen upon it, do youself a favor and pick it up...or do the easy (read: boring) thing and pick it up on less than $6.00 brand new!!!

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