“Never Say Never Again” was something that Glenn Frey said to Joe Walsh. And it is something Walsh often says about the James Gang playing again. But they keep on appearing; the most recent performance was at Wembley Stadium in London in 2022.
The band has gone through several incarnations, so choosing the Top 50 James Gang Songs is not easy. With each change has come to a slightly different style and a slightly different sound. And it depends on what you prefer.
We’ve Got The Power
They first formed in 1966 in Cleveland. Joe Walsh joined in 1969 as a replacement for Glenn Schwartz. Originally, they were a five-piece, but by the time of the second album, that had been reduced to three. James Gang was known as the “power trio.” An apt description of them in those early days, which were wild and loud, to say the least.
The original three-piece lineup was Joe Walsh on vocals and guitar, Jim Fox on drums, and Tom Kriss on bass guitar. Dale Peters took the place of Kriss on the second and third albums. The first album was released in 1969.
It can’t be denied that they had some success, although some thought they didn’t achieve what they might have done. Joe Walsh left in 1971 to take on a solo career. And later, he joined The Eagles.
They had several other very good guitarists to take his place. But, as always happens, comparisons were made, styles changed, and so did their sound. They released a further six albums but didn’t have the success they had once enjoyed.
The band finally split in 1977, but as Glenn Frey would have said, “never say never again.” There have been a few reunion concerts with various past members over the years. But, it was the “power trio” that played at Wembley in 2022.
So, let’s get on with the music. Having gone through a variety of guitarists, you couldn’t say that the James Gang maintained their original sound. That was never going to be possible.
In some respects, that makes it harder to put together a list of the James Gang’s Top 50 songs. However, it is always subjective. So, let’s press on with ten great tracks from a very underrated band.
Top 50 James Gang Songs
Must Be Love
First up is a song from the post-Joe Walsh era. It was released in 1973 and was taken from the album Bang. It was written by Tommy Bolin and Jeff Cook. There were high hopes for The James Gang when Bolin joined.
He was considered one of the rising guitar stars and had been the replacement for Domenic Troiano. Troiano had been the replacement for Walsh but had moved on quite quickly. Bolin left to join Deep Purple and do some solo work and died from a heroin overdose aged 25.
This is a song that demonstrates his considerable guitar prowess. But, it did lead to a change in the band’s sound to accommodate him. “Must Be Love” wasn’t a true single, in my view, but it was released anyway. It reached #54 on the American chart.
Take A Look Around
Let’s go back now to the beginning and Yer’ Album from 1969. Walsh took the lead vocal as well as writing the song. It revolves around a heavy keyboard part and Walsh’s distinctive voice. However, it is quite an ordinary effort. There’s nothing to write home about until you get to the guitar break when the song changes.
It isn’t difficult to understand why he became the central point of attention in the band even at this early stage. “Take A Look Around” had no chart success.
This is a track taken from their album appropriately entitled Thirds. It was released in 1971 and was the last album that Joe Walsh played on. The album was a reasonable success reaching #27 on the American album chart, the second highest position any of their albums achieved.
However, the single was not quite so successful, peaking at #80. Believe it or not, this is a ballad. Not something you might expect from them, and the reason it is included is to show a different side of the band.
Unfortunately, it was never going to be a great single success…
That year some of the best-selling singles were Lennon’s “Imagine” and George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord.” And, of course, from Carole King “It’s Too Late.”
Those are just three. The James Gang’s style did not fit with what the record-buying public was into at that time. But that doesn’t mean they were bad songs. Maybe they were just not released at the right time.
Ride The Wind
This is a song written by Tommy Bolin and Roy Kenner. It was included in the 1973 album Bang. Lyrically, it is a well-written song. One that can encourage you when you are facing difficult times. Making the point that life is too short so make the most of it. “If you don’t weaken – It’s a great life – If you try and be strong – Turn your head and face the season – Ride the wind before it’s gone.”
Musically, it is a track that has just enough of the James Gang style to warrant inclusion in the best James Gang songs. There is a powerful guitar riff and some excellent Bolin soloing. It wasn’t released as a single.
This was taken from the Yer’ Album, and it is a track I have always quite liked. Somehow, it has the same feel as “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. But, unlike that classic song, “Stop” had no chart success.
It was written by Mort Shuman and Jerry Ragomov. This was the last track on the album, and if you play it on a turntable, there is a little message for you as the needle goes to the finish. You will hear someone say, “Play me again.”
I Need Love
A track from their final album, Jesse Come Home, released in 1976. “I Need Love” was possibly one of the shortest tracks they ever recorded at just under three minutes.
The song has an interesting feel. It’s semi-funk but without the aggression of the Walsh days. Nevertheless, it chugs along at a decent rate with some nice simple bass and drums.
The middle solo is nice as the band lets go a bit before returning to the base theme. As it fades out, it returns to that missile section once again.
This track was the most successful James Gang song ever released. However, it still only reached #51 on the American chart. It did slightly better in Canada, peaking at #31. It was taken from the album Thirds.
The song was written by Joe Walsh and is about the end of a relationship. Once again, plenty of what you might term Rock/Funk. Walsh uses a variety of guitar sounds on the track and incorporates some of his excellent slide guitar playing. This is a song that The Eagles would include in their stage set sometimes after Walsh joined them.
Ashes The Rain And I
“Ashes The Rain And I” was taken from what I always thought was one of their better albums, Rides Again. Their second album was released in 1970 and became their most successful album in terms of chart position.
Again, “Ashes The Rain And I” was not released as a single. It was a very poignant track with an interesting arrangement. Not one of the most well-known James Gang songs, but an excellent song that again offers another dimension to the band.
A Haunting Sound
An almost medieval-sounding guitar starts with a haunting lyric. The drama of the song gets more intense with the addition of strings. And, just when you thought it might have finished, a further orchestrated piece.
It was written by Dale Peters and Joe Walsh and is a very impressive song. You might be forgiven if you thought you were listening to The Moody Blues. If you haven’t heard this before, it is well worth a listen. Then you’ll understand why it’s one of the Top 50 James Gang songs.
And so, we reach the last two songs on this list, possibly the most well-known of all their titles. This track was the first single taken from the 1970 album Rides Again. Despite being a great song by the James Gang, it wasn’t a commercial success reaching only #59 on the American chart. And it could be viewed as the follow-up to the track we will look at next.
The song is about a girl who the narrator is finding hard to put up with. But, the lyrics are almost, dare I say it, irrelevant. It isn’t the lyrics you are listening to but the band. The song only has two verses, and the rest is instrumental, highlighting the growing prowess of Joe Walsh. You tend to get a bit swallowed up by Walsh’s guitar work.
As a result, people tend to overlook the great drums and bass going on behind Walsh from Dale Peters and drummer Jim Fox. They were called the “power trio.” Listening to this song, you can understand why.
For me, there was only one way to finish this list. “Funk #48” was taken from the Yer’ Album released in 1969. Once again, not a commercial success despite the attributes this track carries. It only reached #126 on the American chart.
In many people’s opinions, including mine, this is how we like to hear the James Gang. Great guitar intro followed by some exceptionally tight bass and drums. This song rocks along at a great tempo.
Interestingly, they used this song in the studio as a warm-up song. The man twiddling the knobs, Bill Szymczyk, said they used it as a sound check. But, it was quite apparent it was going to be much more.
Is it the best track they ever recorded?
Could be. Another James Gang song that The Eagles used in their stage set for their Farewell Tour 2005. Well, the “first” farewell tour, that is.
The London concert at Twickenham stadium was, disappointingly, about as close as I ever got to seeing the James Gang. The Eagles, with Joe Walsh, of course, played it that night.
The Bomber: Closet Queen / Bolero / Cast Your Fate to the Wind
The Devil Is Singing Our Song
Tend My Garden
White Man / Black Man
Standin’ in the Rain
Take What You Want
Walkin’ in the Woods
Sweet Cherry Wine
It’s All the Same
I’ll Tell You Why
Ashes the Rain and New Grass
Heartaches in Heartaches
Woman (Don’t You Go)
Got No Time for Trouble
There I Go Again
You’re Gonna Need Me
I Need Love (Live)
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Top 50 James Gang Songs – Final Thoughts
The James Gang didn’t stick to one theme for the music they wrote, played, and released. Over the years, they had several themes depending on who was wielding the guitar. And the variations in style are quite marked over the lifespan of the band. So, in some ways, it is a shame that when you talk about them, many people only know “Funk #48” and “Funk #49”.
I can understand that…
They were the most played songs on the radio and many people’s favorites. But there was so much more to the James Gang. I have only just scratched the surface. So, if you are hearing some of this for the first time and this list may have whetted your appetite, try James Gang – 15 Greatest Hits. Getting a compilation will give you further examples of what they could do.
And, “Never Say Never”? Keep your eyes open. You may find they all get together again as they did in London in 2022. And, you can experience the ‘power trio’ play together again.
Until next time, happy listening.