Revisiting Joe Walsh’s First Post-Eagles Solo LP, ‘There Goes the Neighborhood’
Though each of the ex-Eagles enjoyed a certain level of demand for his solo work, Walsh's situation was a little different. He'd scored some hits during his time with the James Gang and Barnstorm — and started a successful recording career on his own — prior to joining the Eagles, and his most recent solo effort, 1978's But Seriously, Folks ... , boasted the Top 20 single "Life's Been Good." Far from an unknown quantity, Walsh was able to approach his fifth solo LP with a degree of confidence that his former bandmates hadn't yet earned.
Speaking with the BBC while he was still working on the record, Walsh expressed optimism. "It's a group of songs that really represent where I'm at right now," he said. "I really think it's some of the best songs that I've written, and some of the best words, and I think it's presented well, and I think I'm singing better than I ever have, thanks to a couple of years of vocal coaching from [Don] Henley and [Glenn] Frey. I'm real proud of it."
Titled There Goes the Neighborhood, the album arrived in stores on March 10, 1981, and found Walsh working with an eclectic assortment of friends, peers, and session aces that included ex-Barnstorm drummer Joe Vitale, bassist George "Chocolate" Perry (who also co-produced), Jackson Browne guitarist David Lindley and former Eagles Don Felder and Timothy B. Schmit.
As fans had come to expect, the record featured a blend of offbeat humor — summed up in the album cover, which depicted a bored-looking Walsh perched atop a tank surrounded by rubble overlooking an urban landscape — and more thoughtful insights, all powered by muscular playing and topped off with his trademark vocals and guitar.
"I knew what the title was, but I hadn't seen the artwork yet," Vitale recalled in an exclusive interview with Ultimate Classic Rock's Matt Wardlaw. "He sent it to me. Back then he actually sent an 8x10 copy. It didn't have There Goes the Neighborhood or 'Joe Walsh' on it. I just got this thing and I called him and I said, 'What is this? What are are you trying to say? Are you in jail? Did you wreck something?' He said, 'That's the album cover,' and I said, 'Aw, that's awesome!' Look at all the stuff in that picture. There's a gold album in there. There's a surfboard. There's a barrel with Joe's name on it. Of course, I love the toilet. It's just so much junk. It's really great.
"I think the cover says it all, because Joe was kind of frustrated with the music business at the time," Vitale continued. "It had gone through so many changes. Now it's really crazy, but even back in the '80s we started seeing things that were not like the '60s and '70s — you know, classic rock days. At the beginning of the '80s things started getting really formulaic, a little assembly-line sounding, too many synthesizers and this, that, and the other. So [we] tried to get with what the program was, but for 1981, it was a really good album."
Walsh's deceptively casual approach to record-making was reflected in the opening track, "Things" — a five-minute-plus list of examples of possible topics for a song.
"I heard the music before the words: I couldn't quite think what to write the song about, so I made a list of things that there were possibly to write a song about, and I ended up with a list about ten pages long, so I thought I should write this song about all the things there are," he told the BBC. "Did you ever stop and think of how many things there are? So that turned into a song, and it's a little overwhelming to hear the first time, but if you listen to it three or four times, I think I covered most of the things there are."
But if There Goes the Neighborhood was not without its share of silliness, there was also room for moments of reflection — as on the second track, the moody "Made Your Mind Up," which takes the lonely perspective of a man left behind by someone he thought he could trust to stick around. "Staring at the ceiling, bouncing off the wall," he sings during the final verse. "Kind of had a feeling, thought that you might call / But I guess you made your mind up."
"It's like the B-side to those classic 45s," Vitale told UCR. "There were some great songs on the B-side. Whatever surfaces out there, whatever the public accepts and it becomes a hit, that's one thing. There's a lot of depth and a lot of other stuff on Joe's records. Anybody's records. [Paul] McCartney, Led Zeppelin. There's always the songs out there that weren't really the hits or the big airplay songs, but they were killer, cool, really deep, well thought out songs. Joe always had a couple of those on every record."
There Goes the Neighborhood also had its share of radio hits, including the Felder co-write "Rivers (Of the Hidden Funk)," but the album's biggest single was "A Life of Illusion," a co-write with bassist Kenny Passarelli that topped the rock charts and squeaked into the pop Top 40. Like "Rivers," it was a song Walsh had had in his archives for a number of years — part of the backlog of material he'd been able to build up while working with the Eagles.
"We recorded that song in 1974," said Vitale. "That was for the album So What and it didn't make it in, but we cut the track for it. We found the masters and dug it out. We never had words — we had the track done, but never the lyrics done. So the tracks were done from '74 and Joe wrote the lyrics and added the trumpets and the silly stuff and all that. It ended up being a really cool tune. Sometimes you cut more stuff than you really need, and you just put it on the shelf, but that doesn't mean it's forgotten. Sometimes it's just not the right timing."
The timing worked out pretty well for Walsh with There Goes the Neighborhood, which peaked at No. 20 on the Billboard album chart, continuing his streak of hit solo LPs. Arriving before the deluge of ex-Eagles efforts that would hit fans starting the following year, when Frey and Henley released their debuts, it satisfied a gap in the marketplace while picking up where he'd left off — and marking another evolution in a consistently satisfying career.
"It was a great time," Vitale reflected on the optimistic mood in Walsh's camp during the uncertain period after the Eagles' dissolution. "We were basically picking up the pieces and moving on. Moving forward. It was a good time for music. It was a good time for us. ... It was a creative time. It's so scattered now. Everyone is scatterbrained now. 'Oh, I gotta send a text, I gotta do the social media.' You know, we made music and that was it. It might have been a selfish lifestyle, but that's what we did. We woke up thinking about songs."