On the same day one beloved American band made their debut on the top 40 – the Cars with “Just What I Needed” – another American star had his shining moment on it. Joe Walsh hit #12 on this day in 1978 with his biggest hit, “Life’s Been Good.”
Walsh was by then a well-known and established rock star, having been with the James Gang, Barnstorm and in the previous couple of years, a member of The Eagles, apart from putting out two solo records in the mid-’70s. But largely it seemed like he was known for his reputation as a wild man…something he played up on this hit.
The song with his tongue-in-cheek (or possibly not) famous lines like “my Maserati does 185/ I lost my license, now I don’t drive” and “I live in hotels, tear out the wall/I have accountants pay for it all” was in the ears of Rolling Stone “the most important statement on rock stardom made in the late-’70s.” It certainly was indicative of the wild, devil-may-care, ever-partying lifestyles bands like the Eagles and Led Zeppelin were famous – or infamous – for. Although parts of it were autobiographical, some of it was made up… he didn’t have a Maserati, for example and while he lost his driver’s license it was only because he actually lost his wallet with it in for awhile, not because it was suspended. However, other parts like tearing out hotel walls if he wanted a larger room, were real! “I wanted to make a statement involving satire and humor, kind of poking fun at the incredibly silly lifestyle that someone in my position is faced with,” he said a few years later. “I’ve been around the world in concerts, and people say ‘what’s Japan like?’ but I don’t know. It’s got a nice airport.”
He says now “we were party monsters. It was a real challenge just to stay alive,” and a few years after the hit he came up with “Ordinary Average Guy” as sort of a latter-life sequel to it.
Although Walsh is known for his incredible guitar prowess (which he displays on the song) he also exceled at keyboards and synthesizers…it is him playing the synth solo in the middle of the album version. That runs just over eight minutes, but Asylum probably wisely cut it to 4:35 for the single. The album it was off, But Seriously Folks, which went platinum in the U.S. and Canada, was co-produced by his longtime music partner Bill Szymczyk. The pair knew each other well; Bill had produced records by the James Gang as well as the prior three Eagles records. You hear him on the song suggesting “everybody say ‘I’m cool’”.
“Life’s Been Good” peaked at #12 at home, his highest-charting one (although in ’81 he hit #1 on rock charts with “Life of Illusion” but it only hit #34 as a single) and #11 in Canada, as well as #14 in the UK where he was only beginning to become known. Since the Eagles re-united, it’s been quite a regular piece of their concert sets as well.
Walsh turns 75 this fall and looking back, he’d probably say yes, “Life’s Been Good.”