Universal’s Millennium Collection CDs are all affordably priced, and although they seem to overlap more expansive “Greatest Hits” collections, sometimes there is a very good reason. Case in point: Joe Walsh. This ten track collection focuses on Walsh’s earlier—and arguably, better—recorded output. Eschewing the later radio staples “Life’s Been Good”, “All Night Long” and “In The City”, the set list instead includes sides from Barnstorm and The James Gang, along with his first two solo albums. And, of course, you do get “Rocky Mountain Way,” the song that broke open his solo career.
I’m particularly pleased to see three cuts from Barnstorm, an amazingly atmospheric and musically prophetic record that has somehow slipped people’s minds (along with the record company’s, too—it’s been out of print in the U.S. for years). It was here that Walsh first used the voicebox gimmick that Peter Frampton would drive us all crazy with three years later, but I’ll forgive him that. “Mother Says” is like a theme for a space Western; organ churning along the musical floor, Walsh’s string-bending leads enthralling but never showy, the middle of the song exploding with the grandeur of Pete Townshend’s finer moments in Tommy. The guitar epic “Turn To Stone,” always a live favorite, actually charted twice in five years, while “Here We Go” could be a lost Big Star song. If you listen to his soloing here, you see roots of work that flourished years later when he joined The Eagles. Too bad that Joe’s sweet pop song “I’ll Tell The World” didn’t make the cut, but these three selections are tremendous.
Ditto the James Gang era, with “Walk Away”, Funk #49” and “Midnight Man”—three staples of album cut radio that hold up thirty years later. I’m curious about the song selection here only because MCA/Universal is set to release another Millennium title (The James Gang Featuring Joe Walsh) in a couple of months and would be remiss not to repeat them there. “Meadows” (complete with psychotic screaming intro and “Woman From Tokyo” guitar lick) is the other selection from The Smoker You Drink The Player You Get. On his So What album, the backing group was packed with Eagles, and on “County Fair” and especially “Help Me Thru The Night” (just listen to those background vocals!) you can once again hear the seeds of Hotel California being sown. For all his cosmic cut-up behavior, Walsh is a subtly influential figure who does not get the credit he deserves.