“I just want to say let’s focus on all that he gave us, because it truly was a gift. And he was brilliant.”Steve Vai
This week saw the passing of a true guitar hero, an innovator of not just hard rock but music as a whole, someone who came onto the scene and changed the way the guitar was played forever. Eddie Van Halen started off playing piano but very quickly became inseparable from his guitar, apparently walking around the house with the instrument slung over his shoulder, unplugged. Since forming Van Halen with his brother the band have gone on to achieve 2 gold, 8 platinum, and 2 diamond studio albums as well as at one point holding the world record for the highest paid single appearance for a band for their $1.5 million set at Heavy Metal Day in 1983. According to Eddie the band “put every penny of that into the production“. To top it all off Van Halen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007 and Eddie Van Halen was ranked number 4 in its poll of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.
To quote Steve Vai, “I just want to say let’s focus on all that he gave us, because it truly was a gift. And he was brilliant.” so without further ado here are our Top 10 Eddie Van Halen tracks.
10. Jump (1983)
Okay, let’s get this one straight out of the door. It is the band’s most successful song, having spent 5 weeks at number 1 upon its release. It has been voted the most popular sports song of all time (in the run up the the 2012 Olympics), and is perhaps one of the most recognisable rock songs of all time. Additionally, it best displays Eddie‘s virtuosity on the keyboards as well as the guitar. Although the guitarist had used a synthesiser on other songs, such as One Foot In The Door and Dancing In The Street, this is one of the rare occasions the instrument gets to shine as opposed to merely being a guitar substitute. It took a lot of persuading for the rest of the band to go record the track. Initially David Lee Roth and, then producer, Ted Templemen were completely against it and refused to record it for two years. It was not until Eddie set up his own studio, 5150, recorded the parts and presented it to the band that they came around to the idea. Whether they were genuinely won over to the song or just felt obligated to get on with it is unclear but given the songs lasting success we doubt they regret it.”Certain people don’t want me playing keyboards because they think I should be a guitar hero, but hey, I’ll play a Barvarian cheese whistle if I can play it well.”
9. Unchained (1981)
Taken from the album Fair Warning, Unchained captures the purest essence of Van Halen as a rock band, before the release of 1984 marked their beginning down the pop route. Not only is this a brilliant example of Eddie’s ability to weave seamlessly between rhythm and lead guitar but, more than ever, it sounds as if the whole band are having an absolute blast. This is most obvious when David stops to make fun of an executive who entered the studio. You know the bit, “Woohoo! Hey man, that suit is you! You’ll get some leg tonight for sure!”, followed by the long suffering producer, “C’mon Dave, gimme a break.”.
8. Get Up (1986)
The first post-Roth album, 5051, marked a number of changes in the band’s sound. Besides the new addition of singer Sammy Hagar the also marked the first time the band were worked without producer Ted Templemen, instead going for Donn Landee, notable for drastically altering the sound of Eddie’s guitar with the aim of moving away from the ‘live sound’ of Templemen‘s era. The changes led to an album with a significantly greater number of ballads than the band’s previous work but lurking between it all is Get Up, the sound of a runaway train going full pelt.
7. Hot For Teacher (1984)
Probably the craziest of Van Halen‘s tunes, be that lyrically or musically. The opening riff shows off Eddie’s tapping prowess like nothing else (with maybe one exception, but we will get to that…) before landing into the bluesiest little verse riff you could find, Then comes a guitar solo where slick melody lines intersperse with speed runs like nothing else. Simple lyrics, one very simple message: “I’ve got it bad, so bad, I’m hot for teacher“. While the song did not break the top 50 at the time of release (peaking at 56) it has gone on to be an absolute classic for any Van Halen fan, or any schoolboy looking for something to truly relate to.
6. Mean Street (1981)
It’s all about the intro for this song. Eddie claims he was inspired by a slap funk funk bass line and to get that sound he, ‘tapped on the 12th fret of the low and the 12th fret of the high E and muffled both with my left hand down by the nut‘. While every track on this list is instantly recognisable this deep cut from the Fair Warning album deserves a shout out for highlighting just how innovative and experimental this guitarist was, even outside of high-octane shredding solos. Here he truly shines for having come up with a riff exceptionally inventive yet simplistic (although still an absolute brute to play).
5. Beat It – Michael Jackson (1982)
We all know recognise Eddie‘s signature shredding the second this guitar solo kicks in but what is perhaps less known is the story of how it came about. When the guitarist first received the call from Quincy Jones he thought it was a prank, saying ‘I don’t know anyone named Quincy.‘. Even when he found out it was legit he was not sure what a rock guitarist could do on a pop record however, with the rest of Van Halen out of town, he figured he might as well go down to the studio, “Who is going to know that I played on this kid’s record, right? Nobody’s going to find out. Wrong!’. Not only did we all find out but the Thriller album went on to be the only thing keeping Van Halen‘s 1984 from going to number 1. A tricky pill to swallow for the rest of the band but hats off to Eddie.
4. Eruption (1978)
We could not make a list in honour of Eddie Van Halen and not include this ground breaking track. The guitarist was by no means the inventor of tapping but by God was he a pioneer. In early Van Halen concerts he famously turned his back to the audience while performing this instrumental to hide the secret of his speed. When it was released on the band’s debut album many were convinced it was double tracked, finding it impossible to believe they were hearing just one guitar. The man himself claims there is a mistake on the recording, leading every guitar player in the world to wish their mistakes could sound this good.
3. And The Cradle Will Rock (1980)
We’ve had shred solos, we’ve had stadium anthems, we’ve had dance tunes, now time for a strutter! Headphones in, best jacket on, bus stop four minutes away, prepare to feel powerful as you walk down the street with this playing in your ears. Besides having a foot tapper of a rhythm this perhaps gave us the most playful guitar solo of Van Halen‘s career. Not as huge and awe inspiring as Eddie‘s other work but equally captivating and just too easy to get stuck in your head. While we are all here let’s just acknowledge that, even by David‘s standards, this outfit is a sight to be seen.
2. Ain’t Talking Bout Love (1978)
Van Halen were always destined to be a stadium rock band, with a single like this on their first album how could they not? It may have started as a joke, ‘as a punk rock parody’ (AllMusic), but from the first cries of that opening riff it is impossible not to imagine this song echoing across an arena full of people. Interestingly one of the few songs from the David era that Sammy Hagar agreed to perform live, perhaps he just found it too hard to resist. Oh, and if you are wondering how they got that guitar sound on the solos… by overdubbing with sitars.
1. Panama (1984)
Only David Lee Roth could start writing a song about a fast car and end up with it being about a stripper. The irony being the singer wrote the lyrics to Panama when accused of only writing about sex, drugs, and… fast cars. The band’s final hit single with Diamond Dave is one chock-a-block with sturdy, fast-action riffs, so much so we challenge a single person to listen to it the whole way through without getting up to dance (do not accept that challenge, waste of a good time). The music video of course lives up to the band’s excessive reputation, featuring a mixture of live show clips, footage originally meant for Jump, and a myriad of questionable costume changes.
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