Joe Walsh: The Best of Joe Walsh (1978)

When obsessive rock & roll fans start talking music, inevitably the discussion will veer into exchanging first concert stories.  

I first started getting heavily into music in 1975, as a nine-year-old fourth grader.  That's when I started relentlessly listening to Top 40 radio, racing to my room after school, grabbing my little hand-held transistor radio, and watching as hits raced up and fell back down the brightly-colored weekly surveys distributed by Chicago's WLS radio.  A few years later, after getting a real stereo for my Bar Mitzvah and hearing Who's Next for the first time, I switched over to the FM dial and got into classic rock, delving into the back catalog of the Who and Pink Floyd and the Kinks and pretty much anything I could get my hands on, later veering off into prog and punk and new wave.

But it wasn't until the eve of my 15th birthday, in 1981, that I finally saw my first real concert.  (Prior to that, we used to hear live music in the summertime at a suburban outdoor theater called Ravinia; but the music was pretty lame, whatever was deemed safe enough for the cloistered suburban enclave.)  While my parents weren't exactly up to speed on what I listened to -- they were most definitely not rock fans -- my mother saw that Joe Walsh was coming to Poplar Creek, a larger indoor/outdoor venue west of Chicago, and recognized his name; "Life's Been Good" had been a pretty big hit the year before and she thought it was something I'd like.  So she bought four tickets for my birthday, thinking it would be a nice family event -- my parents, me, and my 12-year-old brother.  My brother and I got the better seats, closer to the stage, while my parents sat further back.

I think it was probably the worst night of my parents' lives.

As they've reminded me ever since, it was painfully loud, and everyone around them was getting high.  I think they hated every second of it.

Me, I thought it was pretty damn cool.  The folks around me, mostly long-haired thirty-somethings, got a kick out of these two little kids sitting by themselves; they passed us joints a few times but we politely declined.  I didn't recognize many of the songs, but liked most of what I heard.  There were a few I know from the radio --  "Life's Been Good," of course, and his more recent hit "Life of Illusion," plus "In The City" from the Warriors movie and a few hits from his early days with the James Gang ("Funk #49" and "Walk Away").  I remember getting into "The Bomber," another James Gang tune, which included a long jam based on "Ravel's Bolero" (which I recognized from the movie 10, with Dudley Moore).  And I really liked the song "Meadows," which I hadn't heard before that night but to this day is just about my favorite Joe Walsh song.  (Walsh's ballads are often sadly overlooked next to his better-known more rocking tunes.)  While Walsh isn't typically spoken of in the same breath as Townshend and Clapton and Hendrix and Page (and his association with the Eagles will forever tarnish his cred), there was no denying his guitar god status, but he came across as humble and funny, no pretense about him.

Plus, it was just cool hearing songs played live -- loud and in your face and without overdubs, warts and all, just unadulterated passion for playing.  It started me on the road to countless live shows in the decades since.

To my parents' point, I do think it was a pretty loud show.  Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can't say it was unusually loud, but it seemed so at the time, at least compared to those outdoor picnics under the stars at Ravinia.  As for the pot-smoking -- yeah, that was also pretty abundant, but, again, I didn't have any basis for comparison, and I'm sure having my parents in proximity made me particularly aware of it.  Of course, having now seen a few dozen Phish and Dead shows over the years, I'd say if anything it was on the tame side.

Anyway, I went and bought the Best of Joe Walsh cassette the next weekend (at the crappy little Musicland in the suburbs, as I was still a year away from having my license and being able to drive to the much cooler record stores near Northwestern University or in downtown Chicago).  And while I think Walsh had some pretty decent albums -- I'm partial to The James Gang Rides Again and some of his solo stuff from the mid-70s -- Walsh is definitely well-served by a good hits collection, as each of his albums from the era had a few stand-out tracks ripe for a compilation.

That cassette is long since gone -- I tossed out most of my old tapes -- though I've picked up most of his James Gang and earlier solo stuff in the years since and made my own mixes.  None of his official comps are up on Spotify, but I've put together my own mix below which more or less replicates that old cassette plus a few other great songs from the era.

Here's some live "Life's Been Good":
Here's "Walk Away" (live with the James Gang):
And a recent live take on "Meadows":

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