Tag Archives: Diver Down

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/