Van Halen – the greatest rock band of the 80's. The original line-up will go down in history as one of the amazing hard-rock bands ever. When their songs came on the radio, you automatically turned it up.
Their drummer, Alex Van Halen, merged traditional rock beats with mind-blowing drum fills that you couldn't help but pound along on your steering wheel to. He was the first to effectively use a double bass drum, demonstrated here in Hot For Teacher.
Add in a front man, David Lee Roth, with such bravado and presence, plus a twist of humor. His ego was so huge he needed three names. This guy didn’t really care at all but knew how to sing a hook, tell a story, and make you want to come back for more. Just watch this video of Panama to truly understand this guy’s talent.
Not to mention, the world’s most underrated bass player, Michael Anthony, who was an amazing vocalist in his own right and laid down heavy righteous low-end rhythm. Just listen to the raw bass line in Ain’t Talking About Love and the backup vocals in Beautiful Girls.
But Van Halen wouldn’t have been Van Halen without the best rock guitarist in history, Eddie Van Halen: the virtuoso who owned rock guitar in the 80's. Everyone wanted to play just like him. He came up with distorted grooves, rip-roaring bluesy solos, and perfected the tapping technique which became his signature move. He’s probably one of the most influential rock guitarists. He tops lists that include Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, and Jimmy Page. Heck, even Michael Jackson asked him to guest solo on Beat It (start at 3:10). Check out the solo on Ice Cream Man.
You want to hear something that rocks? Listen to any Van Halen song… any song with the original line-up and you’ll crank it up and relive what it’s like to be surrounded by 80's hard rock.
Except for one.
But what do you do when you have the world’s greatest guitar player? You do a heavy synth song like "Jump"? I’m not knocking the tune… it’s a great song. But it belongs on Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet - not 1984.
If Poison would have recorded this song, it would be by far the best Poison song. But it’s the worst Van Halen song. It’s too poppy. Too synthy. Lacks a powerful bass line. Lacks any strong guitar riff. Lacks any killer drums. And lacks powerful vocals. It’s like they took all their energy and put it into Panama and Hot For Teacher and then said, “Hey… let’s do something really cheesy. Let's do Jump.”
Unfortunately, this song opened up the era of keyboard-heavy Van Hagar… with songs as Dreams, Why Can’t This Be Love, Love Walks In, and When It’s Love. All good tunes, but each overshadows the guitar virtuoso and hard-rockin’ band Van Halen was during the late 70's and early 80's.
The good news is, it left a void to fill from guitarists like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Nuno Bettencourt, and others: all of whom brought their own skills and talent to create some of the best hard-rock music we've heard.
Wal Ozello, a child of the 80s, is the former singer of the Columbus hairband Armada. He's the author of the science fiction time travel books Assignment 1989, Revolution 1990 and Sacrifice 2086 and a frequent customer at Colin's Coffee.