Certain Songs #797: Joe Walsh – “Life’s Been Good”

Album: But Seriously, Folks …
Year: 1978

The single most likable thing — perhaps the only truly likable thing as “Boys of Summer” gets by on art not charm — anybody associated with The Eagles has ever done, Joe Walsh’s unapologetic ode to the rock star life remains as fun and catchy and weird as it seemed when it was first released in the summer of 1978.

One of those songs that straddled the AM/FM divide with perfect precision, the 4:35 single version went to #12 on the Billboard charts, while the 8:04 album version blasted its way from car stereos for months.

And why not? Starting off with a big bluesy guitar riff over a slow, stuttery drum beat, segueing into a round-robin of acoustic guitars before finally falling into a reggae, or “reggae,” riddim, Walsh doesn’t even start singing until over a minute in, like he’s goddamn Isaac Hayes or something.

But funnier.

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 have a good time
I’m just looking for clues at the scene of the crime
Life’s been good to me so far

On the face of it, this should be insufferable, but Walsh’s geniality and good cheer about all of it comes through: he’s totally gobsmacked about how things got this way, but damn if he isn’t going to milk it for all its worth. And why not? You would too.

My Maseratti 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

After that, the song practically falls away, leaving just the beat, a weird jews-harp synth, and a very long guitar solo by Joe. Like the rest of the song, it’s not flashy, but it goes on matter-of-factly, as if to remind you that his life got this way because he can play a little bit of guitar, so here’s some guitar for y’all.

Eventually the original bluesy riff and acoustic round-robin comes back, setting up the last verse, the one that drinking and drugging teenagers of the 1970s uniformly loved. Or so I’ve heard.

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

And after proclaiming life’s goodness one last time, Walsh amps up the guitars and starts getting loud and overdubby until the fade, which takes nearly the last two minutes of the song. He even gets flashy there for while, tossing some more conventional guitar-hero licks in there as the song fades. It never descends into chaos or anything, but it provided a great bed for an FM DJ to talk over for awhile leading into commercials.

In any event, “Life’s Been Good” has always felt one of those songs that nobody hates: I mean, I understand this was exactly the type of thing that punk rock was supposed to destroy, but “Life’s Been Good” formed its own protective bubble and was able to escape unscathed.

“Life’s Been Good”

“Life’s Been Good” performed live by a very fucked-up Joe Walsh

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