If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by James Gang

Another Wednesday is upon us, which means time to pick another tune to take to that imaginary desert island. I’m up to the letter “J”, and taking a look at my music library reveals artists and bands like Joe Jackson, The Jackson 5, The Jayhawks, Jean-Michel Jarre, Nora Jones and Janis Joplin. Each would be a good choice, except I’ve covered them more often than my pick James Gang.

I only know a handful of James Gang tunes, which made my selection pretty easy: Funk #49. Co-written by band members Joe Walsh (vocals, guitars, percussion, piano, keyboards), Jim Fox (drums, percussion, organ, piano, keyboards) and Dale Peters (bass guitar, percussion, vocals), the song is from the group’s sophomore album James Gang Rides Again, released in July 1970. It also appeared separately as a single that same year.

Like James Gang’s other charting songs, Funk #49 was moderately successful in the U.S., reaching no. 59 on the Billboard Hot 100. It did better in Canada where it climbed to no. 26, marking their highest-charting single there. This doesn’t change the fact that I love this tune!

Following are some additional insights from Songfacts:

The James Gang is best known for their guitarist, Joe Walsh, whose playing on this track helped establish him as a superstar axeman. Walsh joined the Cleveland-based group in 1969 after making a name for himself as one of the top guitar men in Ohio. He replaced Glenn Schwartz in the band, who Walsh considers a mentor. They were a 5-piece when Walsh joined, but were down to three (like popular acts Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience) when they released their second album James Gang Rides Again.

With just three members, it meant Walsh had to play both rhythm and lead guitar parts, and also sing (he got a lot more help when he joined the Eagles in 1975). It was quite a learning experience for Walsh, who left the James Gang in 1971 after recording three studio albums with the group.

The song is about a girlfriend whose wild ways the singer just can’t tame…There isn’t much in the way of lyrics, as the song is mostly a showcase for Walsh’s guitar work. He explained in the book The Guitar Greats, “I came up with the basic guitar lick, and the words never really impressed me intellectually, but they seemed to fit somehow. It was a real good example of how we put things together, bearing in mind that it was a three piece group, and I don’t think that there was any overdubbing. The only thing we really added was the percussion middle part, which the three of us actually played, putting some parts on top of the drums, but that’s the three piece James Gang, and that’s the energy and kind of the symmetry we were all about.”

“Funk #49” became a staple of Album Oriented Rock and Classic Rock radio, but it wasn’t the biggest chart hit for the James Gang – that would be “Walk Away,” which made #51 in 1971 and was later reworked for Walsh’s 1976 solo album You Can’t Argue with a Sick Mind. “Funk #49” is one of Joe Walsh’s most popular songs, and by the mid-’70s he admitted that he couldn’t stand playing it any more, but did so because fans loved it.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

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