Since Colin recently stated his case for 5150 being his favorite Van Halen record (check it out here), I thought I would chime in with a few thoughts on Diamond Dave's first proper solo album after leaving the Van Halen ranks and why it is better than anything the VH brothers did without Dave.
Eat 'Em and Smile was released on July 7th, 1986, just four months after Van Halen released 5150, their first to feature Red Rocker Sammy Hagar.
I remember when MTV world premiered Eat 'Em and Smile's first video "Yankee Rose" and I thought to myself, Dave just won this battle with a slam dunk.
Dave recruited some heavyweight musicians to round out his solo band and he knew he needed some big guns to fill the shoes of his previous band. Guitar virtuoso Steve Vai - best known for his work with Frank Zappa and Alcatrazz - was brought in along with bassist Billy Sheehan and drummer Gregg Bissonette. Replacing a singer is definitely a tough task but Dave had to put together an entire band and he made it seem easy.
The previous year Roth had released an EP of campy lounge standards, so fans were expecting more of the same from Dave but he delivered a solid album that was a mix of rock, funk and DLR attitude. I liked 5150 when it came out, but I wasn't completely sold on the new direction of Van Halen. It seemed like America's party band had grown up and it left me a little empty. With Eat 'Em and Smile Dave let the world know that the party was far from over.
Eat 'Em and Smile is loaded with a healthy dose of classic Van Halen sounding tracks including "Yankee Rose," "Shyboy," "Elephant Gun," "Bump and Grind," "Tobacco Road" and "Goin' Crazy." Elsewhere on the album you'll find a couple of funkier moments with "Ladies Night In Buffalo" and "Big Trouble." Dave also worked in a couple more lounge standards with "I'm Easy" and "That's Life," both tracks that probably would have worked better on his Crazy From The Heat ep, but the rest of Eat 'Em and Smile is so good that it didn't really matter.
Eat 'Em and Smile is the total David Lee Roth experience. It rocks and doesn't apologize for it's excesses. I think it's the album that old school Van Halen fans drifted towards more than 5150. Van Halen developed a wider audience with their more mature record but Dave held onto the faithful Van Halen fan base.
The album was a critical and commercial success. It peaked at the No. 4 position on the Billboard charts and Rolling Stone magazine said that none of the songs on Eat 'Em and Smile were as slick as any of the singles from Van Halen's 5150, but it was much more trashy fun. In general most reviews from the time favored Dave's record over the Van Halen brothers.
Unfortunately Dave would not be able to quite recapture the excitement of Eat 'em and Smile with subsequent releases but he definitely won round 1.
If you are looking for some late night entertainment, you should check out the Spanish version of Eat 'Em and Smile, ‘Sonrisa Salvaje’ which translates to "wild smile." It's actually pretty cool.
Bonus Track - My Ranking Of The Diamond Dave Era Van Halen Records
1. Fair Warning - I saw the mighty Van Halen on this tour and it was pretty amazing. I've always liked this album and it's usually the one I grab when I'm in the mood for some classic VH.
2. Van Halen 1 - You really can't go wrong with this record. It's great front to back.
3. Van Halen II - Pretty much a continuation of the first record. Not quite as good as the first one but "Dancing The Night Away" is a classic and I've always liked "Somebody Get Me A Doctor."
4. Diver Down - What? Yes, I actually like this one more than most people. It gets a bad rap for all the cover songs but I think it holds it's own with the other classic era records. The covers are all pretty cool plus you get "Hang 'Em High," "The Full Bug" and one of my favorite VH songs ever: "Little Guitars".
5. A Different Kind Of Truth - Van Halen had not sounded this good in years and Diamond Dave really delivers.
6. 1984 - I really like 1984 and sometimes it ranks a lot higher on my list of favorites from the band but it suffers from overexposure for me.
7. Women and Children First - Good record but too much filler.
Scott Carr is a guitarist who plays in the Columbus, OH bands Radio Tramps andReturning April. Scott is also an avid collector of vinyl records and works at Lost Weekend Records. So...if you are looking for Scott....you'll either find him in a dimly lit bar playing his guitar or in a record store digging for the holy grail.