The James Gang were huge in their hometown of Cleveland, but in some circles still might be best known as being the first major band of future Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh. (Other notable James Gang members at various points included Deep Purple guitarist Tommy Bolin and Donnie Iris & The Cruisers/Wild Cherry member Mark Avsec.)

But ‘Funk #49’—the first song on the band’s second album, 1970’s ‘James Gang Rides Again’—cements their place in classic-rock circles. The song’s enduring popularity has everything to do with Walsh’s snaky riffs, which weld country-influenced boogie and bluesy slide guitar to more traditional rock signifiers—and, yes, an effortlessly funky groove.

The tone of ‘Funk #49’ not only presaged Walsh’s work with (and impact on) the Eagles—it helped form the musical template for the decade ahead. The song’s success also helped cement the relationship Walsh had with producer Bill Szymczyk; the pair went on to work together for decades.

But while ‘Funk #49’ is a guitarist’s dream, an an obvious call for our Top 100 Classic Rock Songs countdown, it’s also much more inventive than it gets credit for. The bridge of the song—with wild-animal noises and percussion reminiscent of the Rolling Stones’ loose-hipped shimmies—especially bolsters the slinky, celebratory vibe.

‘Funk #49’ has become a staple tune for musicians and cultures of all stripes; the song’s popped up everywhere from skateboarding documentaries (2001’s 'Dogtown and Z-Boys') to indie rock concerts (Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus covered ‘Funk #49’ with his band, the Jicks). With the James Gang reportedly back in the studio doing some recording, the ‘Funk #49’ legacy shows no sign of abating anytime soon.

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Watch the James Gang Perform ‘Funk #49’

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