Tag Archives: Album

1984

This album, for many was the peak of the David Lee Roth era Van Halen, in terms of sales and commercial output.

What made 1984 so successful was the music included in the album. There were hits galore, from the uplifting U.S. #1 “Jump” to others like the hilarious “Hot For Teacher”, the creepy “I’ll Wait” and scores of other great songs. It’s no wonder that sales of this album reached over 10 million in the U.S. alone at a time where LPs were being superseded by CDs.

Van Halen had officially broken into the mainstream, and were gathering more and more attention.

Picture courtesy http://i.ytimg.com/vi/0qyA5nnZW_w/hqdefault.jpg

There is absolutely no filler here. The first track, “1984” is a synth led pastiche that introduces the newer, more keyboard oriented style of Van Halen. One can image Ted Templeman pulling his hair out over such “non-pop” music, but as a short intro piece, it does justice.

The group’s biggest hit, “Jump” follows. The song itself is a keyboard driven, super catchy piece about life and lust, with plenty of references in the chorus to jumping. It has become the piece that everybody knows of by Van Halen. And yes, that is Eddie playing keyboard on it.

“Panama” is a show stopping tune about driving a fast car with plenty of sexual references. Indeed, it is so catchy that when the chorus hits you, you are banging your head along with the rest of the band. There are samples of Eddie Van Halen’s Lamborghini in it as well. Nice work.

AC/DC’s Back in Black was cited as a key influence by Eddie Van Halen around the time of 1984.

Picture courtesy http://germanamur.blogspot.com.au/2015/05/acdc.html

What follows is, “Top Jimmy” recorded with a Gibson Flying V for the majority of the guitar parts in the intro. “Top Jimmy” is a hilarious tale about a rock star (Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, somebody else?) that has the crowd loving it “when he rolls his eyes”. Clever.

“Drop Dead Legs” is about sexy looking legs. Eddie Van Halen used mostly his Kramer 5150 guitar on this album and it does sound different to the previous Van Halen recordings as a result. Still, a song that sounds effortless.

The hilarious “Hot For Teacher” proves that the band were not afraid of humour, but they could not have done it without David Lee Roth. Indeed, “Hot For Teacher” may be the shining moment of David Lee Roth with his macho, politically incorrect swagger. Still, a great, interesting tune nonetheless.

Alex Van Halen sounds really alive on this recording, particularly on “Hot For Teacher”.

Picture courtesy http://consequenceofsound.net/2008/10/icons-of-rock-alex-van-halen/

“I’ll Wait” sounds like a love song. Sort of. It is, in fact about a celebrity stalker. But the song is catchy, memorable and sing-along in its approach. Eddie drives the keyboard heavy sound here.

Proof of Eddie’s musical ability comes next: “Girl Gone Bad”. It twists and turns with an awesome ending. But even though this song was not a single, it is in no way like any of the songs on this recording, throwaway. It is listenable and awesome simultaneously.

Eddie discontinued using the original Frankenstrat after the recording of this album.

Picture courtesy http://guitarism.ru/notes/4277

The closing track, the reworked, “House Of Pain” is the last song off the David Lee Roth Van Halen albums. It is just pleasurably listenable, and another great piece.

But what makes 1984 so special, apart from it being era-defining, is that it is so consistent all the way through. Few bands, let alone records make it into the books of history. Without Eddie’s vision, Dave’s performance, Michael Anthony’s solid basslines and Alex Van Halen’s interesting drum work, with the help of others, this recording would be nothing. Sadly, it was the last of the original incarnation of Van Halen. They would never be this good again.

Van Halen would create their last main recording with frontman David Lee Roth for nearly thirty years afterwards.

Picture courtesy http://www.rockpaperphoto.com/van-halen-usa-1984

References:

  1. Gill, Chris. 2014. Eddie Van Halen Looks Back on Van Halen’s Landmark ‘1984’ Album and the Creation of 5150 Studios http://www.vhnd.com/2015/01/09/happy-birthday-1984-eddie-van-halen-looks-back-on-van-halens-landmark-album/

EVH, Keyboards and the 5150 Studio

Unusually for a rock guitarist, Eddie Van Halen also periodically used keyboards in his music too. It is this unusual touch about Eddie that makes him a true musical prodigy, and a gifted one at that.

1984 was the first Van Halen album to feature prominent keyboards in the music.

Picture courtesy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1984_(Van_Halen_album)

Why the experimentation with keyboards? A few reasons. Number one, many people are unaware that both Eddie and Alex undertook strict piano lessons during their childhood, until they both discovered rock and roll. It even reached the point where they performed in concerts as pianists when children. However, once they had enough and Ed bought his drum set, it all changed.

The second reason is as the trends changed in rock music, particularly during the 1980s, keyboards suddenly became acceptable within the rock framework and many popular artists of all genres used them throughout this period. It seemed like a good idea for the band, now on the rise, to use them fairly extensively in their music.

A key point for many understanding the use of keyboards in Van Halen’s music was “Beat It” on the Thriller album by Michael Jackson, which EVH collaborated on.

Picture courtesy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thriller_(Michael_Jackson_album)

The final reason, perhaps, is down to Ed’s personal preferences. Being the innovator that Ed is, he decided to fiddle around with keyboards early on, despite hostility from others in the Van Halen circle, and eventually won. Without Eddie’s persistence on the matter, some of the music from Van Halen in this period would have been vastly different, and possibly much worse.

It all began with the experimentation of the keyboard on “…And The Cradle Will Rock…” on Women and Children First where Eddie plugged a Wurlitzer keyboard into his Marshall stack. It was accepted at the time, as the sound was not dissimilar from Ed’s famous Frankenstrat, which was entirely intentional. But in particular, David Lee Roth and long-time producer Ted Templeman would not accept the keyboard alone whatsoever. This led to massive arguments between Eddie and the others about the creative direction of Van Halen. On the 1980 tour, Michael Anthony was noted as playing the keyboard part on his bass guitar for the song, which must have been humiliating for Ed.

Eddie realised he had much more power with creating his own music than allowing others to do so for him, hence the 5150 studio.

Picture courtesy http://www2.gibson.com/News-Lifestyle/Features/en-us/flashback-eddie-van-halen-on.aspx

Synthesizers were present on the next album Fair Warning on the track, “Sunday Afternoon In The Park”. By this point, the original incarnation of Van Halen was suffering from some problems with personal relations reaching new lows. But still, the band powered on.

Diver Down, a record that neither Eddie nor Alex Van Halen were particularly happy with had an interesting keyboard part on “Dancing In The Streets”. But it was a cover, and Eddie was unhappy with the fact that what he intended for an original composition was literally hijacked for other purposes. Still, Eddie Van Halen persisted at his dream of using keyboards to supplement Van Halen’s music.

Diver Down, although perceived as a failure by the two Van Halen brothers, was simply paving the future for keyboards and the 5150 studio.

Picture courtesy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diver_Down

The answer to Ed creating his own sometimes keyboard heavy music was to establish his own studio. Named after the police code for a lunatic on the run in the Los Angeles area, 5150 was built inside Ed’s own home and was completed in 1983, when Van Halen had begun work on what would eventually become the 1984 album.

From this point onwards, no person but Edward Van Halen could claim responsibility for the most part, of Van Halen’s music. The next album, 1984 had the band’s single biggest hit, “Jump” which had an Oberheim OX-Ba keyboard piece recorded on it, dominating the #1 U.S. chart hit in the year of release.

Ed also ventured out, and for a considerable period of time during the 1980s playing keyboard onstage. This was a more interesting touch and a different side to Eddie Van Halen, but one that did not last. As time went on, keyboards became unfashionable to the mainstream music scene during the 1990s as trends changed, and instead offstage session keyboard players and/or sequencing machines played keyboard parts so that Eddie played the primary guitar lines on stage instead, rather than playing the parts himself.

However, this experimentation with keyboards ultimately proved fatal to the first incarnation of Van Halen, with David Lee Roth leaving the scenes in 1985 along with Ted Templeman. The band then had other priorities to deal with from that point onwards. Still, it was Eddie’s ingenuity that won the day, and proved that he was no one trick pony.

Until this day, the 5150 studio has remained the basis of Van Halen’s music recordings and creation.

Picture courtesy https://www.flickr.com/photos/43908441@N00/4160283836

References:

  1. Renoff, Greg. 2015. The History of Eddie Van Halen and Keyboards. http://ultimateclassicrock.com/eddie-van-halen-keyboards/
  2. Rosen, Steven. 2008. Flashback: Eddie Van Halen on 1984. http://www2.gibson.com/News-Lifestyle/Features/en-us/flashback-eddie-van-halen-on.aspx

Diver Down

This album came as a surprise for those following the musical journey of Van Halen. For those who had followed the band over the past several years, Diver Down did seem like, for many, a step back down in the creative scheme of things. Nonetheless, although it is certainly focused heavily on covers, and less so on original material, it is still essential for the Van Halen fan. The release of the single, “(Oh) Pretty Woman” which was originally intended for the band to buy some more time backfired as it became a huge success. This album in retrospect perhaps was rushed, but still is a satisfying listen to this day.

By 1982, the release of Diver Down had occurred and Van Halen had the ball rolling once again.

Picture courtesy http://www.the80sman.com/van-halen-little-guitars-complete-version-1982/

From the beginning of the album, the cover of “Where Have All The Good Times Gone!”, another Kinks number, it seems as though the lighter end of things was present for the record. Gone were the dark tales of sex and mean streets, instead a more poppy edge to the recording was present. It seemed as though the band, and producer Ted Templeman had agreed to a different agenda for this record.

“Hang ‘Em High” follows with some interesting guitar work from Eddie Van Halen and a slightly different sort of song than usual. It is a thrilling listen and continues to animate the sort of band that Van Halen were at the time.

The instrumentals on Diver Down are definitely examples of Eddie Van Halen’s genius, and underrated at that too.

Picture courtesy http://www.vhnd.com/2013/01/27/top-10-eddie-van-halen-guitar-solos/

The following piece, “Cathedral” is brilliant with Eddie Van Halen plugging in a Fender Stratocaster into a multitude of effects pedals, particularly his delay pedal, and using the volume control on his Stratocaster to create the intentionally organ-like sound. It is so simple and ingenious that Ed still plays this piece as part of his onstage solo today.

“Secrets” follows with a quieter, pop like song about love. Perhaps inspired by Ed’s then new relationship with actress Valerie Bertinelli, it is fairly average but listenable. It seems a little weaker overall this recording, but still essential listening.

The secret to “Secrets” is that there is no secret that Eddie Van Halen was inspired by his then new love Valerie Bertinelli.

Picture courtesy http://www.weissguygallery.com/oldsite/galleries.php?category=14&img=79

“Intruder” follows with some bashing drums and weird guitar sounds, sounding like something out of a horror movie. Indeed, the 1980’s was all about horror and science fiction movies, and Van Halen covered them quite well in their songs.

It segues into the single “(Oh) Pretty Woman” which is a good, but laughable cover. Indeed the average Van Halen fan may shake their head at this one. But still, David Lee Roth puts in a great performance on it.

Van Halen were becoming increasingly well known around the world for their music and their live performances at this point.

Picture courtesy http://www.vhnd.com/2012/08/11/the-summer-of-van-halen/

“Dancing In The Street” is another cover, although this time sounding much more like an original than a cover. Eddie Van Halen said that the interesting guitar part that he made up for the song he wanted to make into a “Phil Collins like piece” but apparently Ted Templeman got his way. Ed did not enjoy this sort of move by the producer, adding to the already present resentment by Eddie Van Halen and the rest of the band of the recording process with him.

The “Little Guitars (Intro)” follows which is a nice piece, similar to “Spanish Fly” in its sound. Eddie did play this onstage in his solo part for some time. Regardless, it is a good listen.

“Little Guitars” itself became an onstage gimmick, with Eddie playing a mini Gibson Les Paul for that and being a fairly ordinary song. Not much to say about this one.

“Little Guitars” became an onstage spectacle with Ed’s little guitar itself.

Picture courtesy http://www.vintagekramer.com/5150f.htm

The hilarious “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)” is, yet another cover. Despite this, the band do a very good job of covering this song and with credits going to Jan Van Halen, the father of the two Van Halen boys for him playing Clarinet on the song. A good listen, and a little stronger than the other songs.

“The Full Bug” is a nonsense song about women and lust. It is one of the better originals for the album. Still, a sense of lost direction on this record persists by the point with a multitude of covers.

Van Halen, in its first incarnation, were working up to something truly amazing that even few fans could recognise.

Picture courtesy http://d.lib.ncsu.edu/collections/catalog/0229291

A cover of Dale Evans’s “Happy Trails” ends the album with just the four Van Halen members singing along the piece. There is chuckling at the end of it but were the band really happy at that point? Who knows?

After the release of this album, stronger sales were present in comparison to those of Fair Warning. But the tensions there were ever present between the producer and the rest of the band. Eddie and Alex particularly dislike this record, and the band vowed to break free of the control of Ted Templeman on the next record. Thus, the 5150 studio was built in Eddie Van Halen’s house and recording of 1984 was done there, but that is another story…

Van Halen were leading onto some of their best work yet, even if relations between band members were not so rosy.

Picture courtesy http://www.heyreverb.com/blog/2012/01/05/van-halen-pepsi-center/43708/

Fair Warning

It comes as a strange irony that the album that followed Women and Children First was the least poppy, worst selling and most loved release after their debut by Van Halen in the early David Lee Roth days. A strange mixture of the three elements make this often overlooked and underrated as a complete piece of music.

Inner tensions in Van Halen led to the darker material on Fair Warning.

Picture courtesy http://www.weissguygallery.com/oldsite/galleries.php?category=14

The first cut, “Mean Street” has a classic guitar intro by Eddie followed by harmonics, a dirty riff and David Lee Roth telling an interesting tale about a tough neighbourhood. All in all this one of the most underrated songs of the early Van Halen days, and is compelling listening.

Dirty Movies” follows, a hilarious tale of sexed-up pornographic movies in the cinema. The mid-section breaks down with David Lee Roth asking, “You remember when that girl was prom gueen? Uh…wow…” and it proves to be a hilarious listen.

In the early Van Halen days, David Lee Roth proved a powerful presence on record.

Picture courtesy http://www.guitars101.com/forums/f62/van-halen-live-in-phoenix-1981-a-33673.html

Sinner’s Swing!” is a sort of grooved up party tune that is heavy, dark and, yes, sinful about picking up girls. It seems that singer Dave is in full-swing here in his admittedly strong presence at this point, with the rest of the band playing with full energy. A good listen.

Hear About it Later” seems to suck some of the energy out of the record, although the chorus is catchy. Ted Templeton, the producer, would have been wary of songs like these on a Van Halen record, and considering that there were no singles from this record, he applied a totally different approach on Diver Down, although that would come later.

Both David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen fought for space on these songs, with generally good results.

Picture courtesy https://www.flickr.com/photos/43908441@N00/341787677/

Unchained” is the closest thing to a hit single off the album, with a catchy guitar riff and nonsensical lyrics about love life in the city. The band today still play this number live, which does it justice. A good tune.

Push Comes to Shove” is another slow tune that seems to lack some punch, but makes up for musical quality instead. It has some interesting guitar playing from Ed, who at this point was really becoming a great guitarist, capable of showing the world how to play the instrument well.

So This is Love?” is a cheerful singalong piece that seems to sound like a songtrack for lovemaking in the back of cars. Again, it goes from quiet to party loud with Dave doing an excellent job on his, by now, trademark punkish screams. Well done.

Indeed, Edward was fast becoming recognised as one of the world’s greatest living guitarists of the time.

Picture courtesy http://www.vhnd.com/2011/08/06/eddie-van-halen-opens-up-in-his-first-guitar-world-interview-from-1981/

An instrumental follows, “Sunday Afternoon in the Park” which is keyboard driven, perhaps excessively so, but has an interesting, darker melodic approach in its sound than most other Van Halen instrumentals, leading into “One Foot Out the Door”, which sounds a little like filler, but is almost proto Thrash metal in its speed.

So what did Fair Warning achieve after it was released? It became a fan favourite amongst those who listened to it. Yes, it neither achieved strong sales, critical recognition or airplay as much as other Van Halen albums out there but to this day, it sounds menacing, dark, gritty and unstoppable.

Van Halen were at this point, on an upward spiral. Nothing could stop them.

Picture courtesy https://www.flickr.com/photos/43908441@N00/5296956343/

Women and Children First

Van Halen recorded at a rapid rate early in their career. The first two albums were impressive, yet had little variety apart from heavy hard rock. Although the band had made themselves a big name on the rock circuit, they desired to branch out a little further than before.

Van Halen were becoming superstars by the time of Women and Children First.

Picture courtesy http://www.vhnd.com/2008/06/26/tora-tora-played-backwards/

Recorded in late 1979 and early 1980, and released in the latter year, Women and Children First is a thorough demonstration of what Van Halen could achieve with a slightly more experimental edge. It differs from later efforts by Van Halen as they retained their musical quality in doing so.

The first track on this album is “…And The Cradle Will Rock”. It features the first song driven by a keyboard, although it is not entirely noticeable. Eddie at the time was experimenting with new sounds and decided to plug in a Wurlitzer into his Marshall Amplifier. After spending some time jamming on it with Alex, they completed the song, a masterpiece in sonic experimentation and having a heavy distorted sound to make the traditional Van Halen fan approve of the song.

Eddie the innovator was certainly moving forward more and more so musically.

Picture courtesy https://www.flickr.com/photos/43908441@N00/5296953405/?rb=1

The next song is an ode to sexual desire, “Everybody Wants Some!!” The track itself begins with the hilarious, “You can’t be romantic on a subway line, conductor don’t like it, says you are wasting your time”.

David Lee Roth is in full swing on this album.

Picture courtesy http://www.vhnd.com/2013/08/31/vhnds-all-access-photo-favorite-group-of-1980/

The next song, “Fools” begins with a blues style break and enters a jam style piece. Admittedly this song is not as strong as others, yet it still has the trademark Van Halen sound that fans had got to know by now. It took a while for the band to get this song right for the recorded version.

Coming after that is an interesting piece “Romeo Delight”. This song is one of the most underrated and memorable works of early Van Halen. With its centrepiece line, “Taking the Whiskey to the party tonight and I’m looking for somebody to squeeze” followed by an interesting midsection, before returning to the main part of the song, is thrilling and interesting all the same.

A quick instrumental named “Tora! Tora!” leading into “Loss of Control” leads a more unusual direction for Van Halen. Indeed, Eddie is quoted as comparing Women and Children First to the next album, Fair Warning, commenting he thinks that, contrary to popular opinion, that Women and Children First is the “weird” album, as opposed to Fair Warning. These two tracks give powerful reasoning for the defence of Eddie Van Halen.

Live and in the studio at this point, Van Halen sounded as though they were on an unbeatable mission.

Picture courtesy http://www.tampabay.com/photo-gallery/our-favorite-tampa-bay-concert-photos/2106685

The next three songs, “Take Your Whiskey Home”, “Could This Be Magic?” and “In A Simple Rhyme” indicate a more mellow, acoustic direction for Van Halen. Understandably this was not going to happen live on stage, All three are amusing, rough and ready tales of lust that don’t fail to disappoint.

Van Halen were seriously noticeable on the rock circuit by this album, a reputation that they still hold to this day.

Picture courtesy http://pixgood.com/van-halen-live-1980.html

The last hidden track, nicknamed “Growth” was intended to be a pastiche leading into the next album, the idea never fully realised over time.

All in all, Women and Children First stands tall. It is an interesting, consistent album that does not disappoint. After the release of this album, all four members of Van Halen were confirmed as rock stars for the new generation, and the light shined on Eddie to create more new and wonderful music. A good effort overall.

Van Halen had arrived in the 1980s and were not looking back.


Picture courtesy http://i.ytimg.com/vi/_LMvTfiw8_8/maxresdefault.jpg

References:

1. Van Halen News Desk. 2013. Women and Children First. http://www.vhnd.com/women-and-children-first/

Van Halen II

Van Halen II is an awesome listen, though perhaps not as consistent as the first Van Halen album.

Van Halen were on a roll by 1979 after the release of their phenomenal debut album.

Picture courtesy http://www.flickr.com/photos/43908441@N00/418023493/

It contains a little more variety than the first Van Halen album, featuring some more interesting and more subtle guitar work with Eddie’s new Charvel created guitar. Incidentally this was the only album that Eddie played that particular guitar extensively on.

The album begins with a cover, “You’re No Good” which is an exciting listen in itself. It follows with two excellent songs, “Dance the Night Away” and “Somebody Get Me a Doctor”. Both are great listens.

The VH2 “Bumblebee” guitar is in full swing on Van Halen II.

Picture courtesy http://www.flickr.com/photos/43908441@N00/5295455636/

Midway through the album there are a few good, but not great songs which largely suggest that this was the second round of helpings of songs that Van Halen had been working on earlier in their career and not exclusively their best. Still, “Bottoms Up!” is largely humorous and “Outta Love Again” and “Light Up The Sky” do feature interesting uses of effects although both seem somewhat weaker than the other songs on the album.

The most underrated piece in the Van Halen cannon comes next. “Spanish Fly” is a masterpiece of acoustic guitar work with Eddie’s signature style of playing persistent throughout. It is most definitely worth a listen.

Following this, there is “D.O.A.” which is a nice, catchy piece of work. “Women In Love…..” is not very consistent and drags on a little, despite some excellent guitar work from Ed. The last song “Beautiful Girls” however, doesn’t fail to please and is a good listen.

All in all, despite the fact that this album is somewhat weaker than the first album, it is still a joy to listen to today, and is a worthy addition to your collection.

Van Halen

The first Van Halen album is now considered a rock classic. It is a mixture of hard rock guitar by Eddie, David Lee Roth’s pseudo-punk wail, Michael Anthony’s thumping bass guitar and the often understated drum work of Alex Van Halen, Eddie’s brother. But more than that, it is a combination of a number of styles into a fresh new style of music within an original framework. Rolling Stone magazine rated the magazine as the 27th best debut album of all time1.

But aside from that, Van Halen were not a very well-known band outside their hometown of Pasadena California. Prior to the recording of the album, Van Halen played school halls and similar venues with Eddie on vocals. David Lee Roth joined the band around 1974, recruiting bassist Michael Anthony along the way.

According to the Story of Van Halen documentary2, Ted Templeton heard Van Halen play in a local club. He signed them to a record deal and the rest as they say…is history.

This album really shows how talented Eddie is as a guitarist.

Picture courtesy https://www.flickr.com/photos/43908441@N00/341797969/

The album itself is mostly hard rock. But unusually for such an album there is an undercurrent of other musical styles as well: bar music; blues; pop and virtuoso style rock. But it does not necessarily copy, even the covers. If anything it is a pure demonstration of Van Halen at their best early on: loud; rocking and energetic.

David Lee Roth era Van Halen, especially this album, is still so popular today.

Picture courtesy http://www.last.fm/music/David+Lee+Roth/+images/77761406

So what tracks are the best? About half the album was deemed worth enough to go onto later compilations. But Runnin’ With the Devil; Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love; Jamie’s Cryin and the legendary Eruption solo, which although is very well known amongst rock lovers now, nearly didn’t make it onto the recording. But Ted Templeton heard Eddie play the piece in the studio and suggested that they record it. The result was unlike anything done in rock before, a combination of Eddie’s technical guitar playing and few effects to create a sonic and musical triumph. People to this day attempt (for better or worse) use the techniques that Eddie utilised in that piece.

But overall the album created something unusually good and original, when the two main movements of the time musically, punk and disco, were souring and the original rock bands were under pressure to come up with something decent as well. Van Halen bucked the trend and recorded an album that will be forever remembered for quality music, and this is the album to buy first, no questions asked.

Van Halen should be proud of their debut.

Picture courtesy http://blogdowinys.blogspot.com.au/2010/03/discografia-van-halen1978-1998.html

References:

  1. Rolling Stone. The 100 Best Debut Albums of all Time. http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/the-100-greatest-debut-albums-of-all-time-20130322/van-halen-19691231
  2. LuvEverythingMusic. 2013. “The Van Halen Story Documentary”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQbYzJvBip0