I remember in the Spring of 1978 a buzz going around my high school about this new band that was going to become the new Black Sabbath. Friends kept pimping this new metal band, though I was only held a cursory interest in metal. This band, as I was told, had this new guitar hero whose antics on their debut album were blowing away everyone who had heard the album. So, that Spring, I went to the local record store up the road from my house. As I was flipping through the albums, I was trying to decide between this new band Van Halen’s debut album and the debut album of another new rocker Eddie Money. Upon the recommendation of the store clerk, I popped for the Van Halen album, and I NEVER second guess that choice.
Van Halen I, as we commonly called their debut album, was a gem from the opening throbbing bass of “Running with the Devil” all the way through close of “On Fire”. This was a perfect blend of metal mayhem, humor, sex and rock & roll, everything that a teenage boy looked for in his music. On this one album, Van Halen ushered in a party atmosphere to metal music that had never really been tried before. Out were the lyrical images of dark forces and Dungeons and Dragons imagery, and in were lyrics about picking up chicks and going out to party. At no time had the raging hormones of the teenage male had be co-opted into the lyrical content of most any band outside of the power pop genre, so Van Halen became THE band of the late-Seventies and throughout the Eighties.
Nowhere was this more evident than at the end of the classic Eighties film Fast Times at Ridgemont High, where the pivotal character of the film, stoner Jeff Spicoli, as played by Sean Penn, saved Brooke Shields and blew the money on Van Halen playing his birthday party. Needless to say, when those words were flashed across the screen on the opening night of that movie, an applause erupted immediately, thus signifying the commonality in this dream. In other words, in 1982, EVERYONE wanted Van Halen to play at their birthday party.
Shortly before this celluloid nod to Van Halen’s omnipresence in youth culture, Van Halen had released their fourth album called Diver Down to lukewarm reviews and sales. So, the band toured through their infamous million-dollar payday to play at the 1983 US Festival. After that tour and specifically that defining performance at US, Van Halen was poised to explode if their next album only delivered the goods with great songs.
On January 1, 1984, on MTV, the preview of Van Halen’s new video “Jump” debuted. Reportedly, the video shoot spent more money on beer than on the filming and editing, according to wildman lead singer David Lee Roth once claimed. Anyway, the song was a perfect amalgamation of metal, pop and up-to-date synthesizers that pushed this song to #1 on the Hot 100 in Billboard magazine. The new album, appropriately titled 1984, went to #1 on the album chart as well. This lead to Van Halen ruling the metal world for the next few years, even after Sammy Hagar replaced DLR in 1986.
The Hagar years, often referred to as Van Hagar years, saw unprecedented success for the band. But, it also spawned thousands of imitators collectively known as Hair Metal Bands. That meant for every Mötley Crüe or Bon Jovi, we were subjected to hundreds of White Lions and Warrants. Regardless, Van Halen, with any lead singer BUT Gary Cherrone, the former Extreme frontman who foolishly was hired to replace Hagar when he left the band after a decade. Cherrone lasted only one album, but the outcry was deafening. Fans only wanted DLR or Hagar because they were always ready to party instead of the thinking man-lyrics from Cherrone. He did not fit the Van Halen motif.
So, Roth and Hagar have alternated being the group’s lead singers on tours and albums. Original bassist Michael Anthony was booted out of the group due to his loyalty to Hagar and was replaced by Eddie Van Halen’s son Wolfgang. Now Van Halen is actually three-quarters Van Halen since Wolfgang joined the band (remember, the drummer is Eddie’s brother Alex). So, depending on how Eddie wants the band to sound will determine who the lead singer will be. Personally, I am a David Lee Roth band because I always felt that Van Halen turned into a Sammy Hagar back-up band when he was the lead singer. Still, I did love many of the Van Hagar songs as much as the others, but DLR just gave the band a dimension that no other band had: a true showman.
So, at a time in rock history during which we could use a Van Halen to shake things up again, I present to you My 25 Favorite Van Halen Songs of All-Time.
1. “Dreams” (5150, 1986)
2. “Ice Cream Man” (Van Halen, 1978)
3. “Jump” (1984, 1984)
4. “Eruption” (Van Halen, 1978)
5. Right Now” (For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, 1991)
6. “Runnin’ with the Devil” (Van Halen, 1978)
7. “You Really Got Me” (Van Halen, 1978)
8. “Dance the Night Away” (Van Halen II, 1979)
9. “Panama” (1984, 1984)
10. “Why Can’t This Be Love” (5150, 1986)
11. “Jamie’s Cryin'” (Van Halen, 1978)
12. “Hot for Teacher” (1984, 1984)
13. “Beautiful Girls” (Van Halen II, 1979)
14. “When It’s Love” (OU812, 1988)
15. “Finish What Ya Started” (OU812, 1982)
16. “I’ll Wait” (1984, 1984)
17. “Atomic Punk” (Van Halen, 1978)
18. “Love Walks In” (5150, 1986)
19. “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” (Van Halen, 1978)
20. “Everybody Wants Some!!” (Women and Children First, 1980)
21. “Best of Both Worlds” (5150, 1986)
22. “Poundcake” (For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, 1991)
23. “Can’t Stop Lovin’ You” (Balance, 1995)
24. “And the Cradle Will Rock…” (Women and Children First, 1980)
25. “(Oh) Pretty Woman” (Diver Down, 1982)
Now, that’s a band summary, don’tcha think? I know! Where’s the songs from Fair Warning. While I feel that album is a good, even great album, I never felt like it had any good songs. So, go ahead and become ‘unchained’ and claimed that I’ve grown up on some ‘mean street’ watching ‘dirty movies’ and that I know nothing. I know I will ‘hear about it later’, yet as ‘push comes to shove’, I am sticking with this list. So, as I have ‘one foot out the door’, I am ending this sad paragraph’s attempt at Van Halen humor.
See you tomorrow!