[Review] Joe Walsh: So What (1974)

This is Joe’s tightest studio album to date, though one tinged with sadness in the wake of his daughter’s death.

Kronomyth 3.0: And so it goes.

So What was supposed to be Joe Walsh’s most sophisticated album yet, and so it is, but the death of his three-year-old daughter in April 1974 cast a pall over it. The title alludes to Walsh’s state of mind at the time and the realization that what was intended to be his most important musical statement to date maybe wasn’t so important after all. The album is also notable as a sort of prequel to the next phase of Eagles, as every member except Bernie Leadon (whom Walsh would replace) appears here.

You won’t find any breakaway hits on So What, just a tightened-up version of “Turn to Stone.” The rest of the songs find Walsh refining his broad tastes for guitar-driven rock (“Time Out”), electronic interludes (“Pavanne”), psychedelic rock (“County Fair”) and what could be described as California rock (“Falling Down,” “Help Me Thru the Night”). The album ends with a song written for his daughter, Emma, that’ll break your heart.

Despite the lack of a standout single, So What was a commercial success and continued to build a sizable cult around Joe Walsh. As guitar heroes go, you could do a lot worse, and his nasally voice does grow on you over time in a charming, self-effacing sort of way. I’m not sure Steve Miller was a really great singer either, and that never stood in his way of delivering the goods. Walsh overcomes his vocal limitations with solid songwriting, a willingness to experiment, and masterful guitar playing.

In the wake of The Beatles, rock musicians began to look at studio albums as a collection of artistic statements, paying careful attention not to say the same thing twice. So What is a good example of this, as Walsh recorded these songs over several months and used different lineups. It’s hard to believe that electronic classical music, syncopated guitar rock and sweet country-rock harmonies have anything in common, but in the eclectic and eccentric mind of Joe Walsh it all makes perfect sense.

Original elpee version

A1. Welcome to the Club (5:14)
A2. Falling Down (Joe Walsh/Don Henley) (4:56)
A3. Pavanne (Maurice Ravel) (1:56)
A4. Time Out (4:28)
A5. All Night Laundry Mat Blues (0:58)
B1. Turn to Stone (3:47)
B2. Help Me Thru the Night (3:35)
B3. County Fair (6:43)
B4. Song for Emma (4:20)

All songs written by Joe Walsh unless noted. B4 arranged by Jimmie Haskell and Bill Szymczyk.

The Players

Joe Walsh (guitar, vocals, mellotron, bass, synthesizer, arp, moog, church organ, piano) with James Bond (acoustic bass on B4), Jody Boyer (background vocals on A2), Dan Fogelberg (guitar, snarks & miscellaneous on A5), Glenn Frey (background vocals on B1/B2), Guilla Garcia (congas on B1), Bryan Garofalo (background vocals on A2, bass on B1/B2), Ron Grinel (drums on A2/A4), Don Henley (background vocals on A2/A4/B1/B2), Russ Kunkel (drums on B4), Randy Meisner (background vocals on B1/B2), Kenny Passarelli (bass on A1), John David Souther (background vocals on A4), Leonard Southwick (harmonica on A5), Tom Stephenson (organ on A1/B1/B3), John Stronach (miscellaneous on A5), Joe Vitale (drums on A1/B1/B2/B3). Produced by Joe Walsh and John Stronach except B4 by Bill Szymczyk; engineered by Al Blazek, Bill Szymczyk and John Stronach; mixed by John Stronach except B4 by Bill Szymczyk.

The Pictures

Album design & artwork by Jimmy Wachtel. Front and rear covers photographed by Lorrie Sullivan. Liner photography by Joe Walsh.

The Plastic

Released on elpee on December 14, 1974 in the US (ABC/Dunhill, DSD-50171), the UK (ABC, ABCL 5055) and Japan (ABC, YQ-8016-AB) with innersleeve. Reached #11 on the US charts (RIAA-certified gold record).

  1. Re-issued on compact disc in the US (MCA, MCAD-10761).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc in Japan (Geffen, UICY-79498).
  3. Re-released on super audio compact disc in the US (Audio Fidelity, AFZ 214).

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