My Love of Van Halen

Tape 2, Side 2, track 2. Jump.

Christmas Day 1984. That was when it started.

Somewhere in my parents house there will be a photo of me posing with my gifts. All I remember is a paperback of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, a dark green spray canister of ‘Jockey’ deodorant (Why would a 12 year old boy want that?…), a Crown personal cassette player (page 219 of the Argos catalogue) and The Hits Tape.

Tape 2, side 2, track 2. ‘Jump’ – Van Halen.

The day is discovered Van Halen. I guess that was also the start of my journey into Heavy Metal?

I was saddened to hear, last night, that Eddie Van Halen, the guitarist and joint founder of the band that bore his name and will forever transport me away to a sunny early 1980’s California, has died at the age of 65. His son, Wolfgang, announced on Twitter that Eddie had lost his long and arduous battle with cancer.

This is my little tribute to a guitarist whose influence on the world of rock is surpassed only by Hendrix. His legendary ‘brown sound’ is instantly recognisable, even when masked by the songs of others. Which is funny, because he is almost as famous for the solo in Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ as he is for Van Halen. It was his technical ability – the pull-offs, tapping, and use of tremolo that has inspired guitarists ever since.

Always huge in the States; Jump was a chart-topper, and of their 12 studio albums only their debut, ‘Van Halen’, didn’t make the top 10, with 4 consecutive number 1 albums through the late 80’s and 90’s. Van Halen are 20th on the all time list of album sold in the USA. They never had the same chart success in the UK, and so for those of you who have no idea what you are missing, here is my guide:

To this day ‘Jump’ is one of my all-time favourite songs. You cannot feel anything other than joy as the keyboard intro floods into your ears. A song that has been with me ever since that Christmas Day, even though it took me another 30 odd years to listen to it deeply enough to realise the subliminal message I had been getting all that time was “You got to roll with the punches and get to what’s real”, jump up whenever you get knocked down. I talk about this message on the Radio Bicester Business Lunch show.

It was another year and a bit until i delved deeper, buying the single “Why Can’t This Be Love” from Boots in the Harpur Centre. The music section was downstairs, so we could run down the spiral before programming the Spectrum and C64’s to flash messages in a multitude of (8) colours) and checking out the records.

And this is the magic of music. As i picked up the record that memory of the purchase came back from nowhere.

I’m almost ashamed to say that it was a further two and a half years before i was introduced to what I consider to be the real Van Halen – their first six albums, the original Diamond Dave era:

Van Halen
Van Halen II
Women and Children First
Fair Warning
Diver Down

This is all thanks to Dave. Dave was my best friend at lower school, and we had stayed in touch for a while after we went to different middle schools. Boys being boys, we lost touch until our mums bumped into each other in 1988, bemoaning their son’s mutual decent into the awful world of Heavy Metal. ‘Brilliant’ I thought. A phone call re-sealed our friendship, then it was off to Monsters of Rock at Donington to see David Lee Roth.

By then I was a massive fan of the singer, yet had not delved into his back catalogue, and it was Dave who lent me all his LP’s, for which i will be forever grateful.

Eruption is the song that I hope is still played by every aspiring guitarist whenever they pick up the latest Gibson, Peavey or EVH Wolfgang. It is the classic guitar solo.

Van Halen were the ultimate party band. This can be seen in their covers, most notably You Really Got Me, (Oh) Pretty Woman and Dancing In The Street.

Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love is another great one to dance to, and i was stunned to hear it blasting across the dancfloor of Limehouse as a sample in Apollo 440’s Ain’t Talkin Bout Dub.

Running With The Devil is an obvious choice, both in this playlist and as track 1 of their first album.

Dance The Night Away and Beautiful Girls continue the funky party theme before it gets heavier with the longer tracks of Women and Children First, my favourite of which is Everybody Wants Some. It is not all heavy, Dirty Movies has a much more relaxed vibe.

I am tempted to include 1984 in its entirety but that isn’t a playlist then. Panama reminds me of spin classes. I once built a whole class around Halen songs, and Panama was an active recovery in the middle as I described us travelling along the avenue alongside a white-sanded beach in the heat of early evening, with palm trees gently waving in the wind. This was followed by the jumpy energy of Hot For Teacher. (ahh, Miss Carson…)

After that, to my mind, they became patchy. I like the Sammy Hagar era songs more now than I used to, they just aren’t as good.

I still find OU812 difficult to get into, with the exception of Finish What Ya Started

Right Now is the stand out from For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. The video is stunning. Unsurprisingly it won the MTV Video of the Year 1992. The quality on YouTube is poor as it has been ostracised from the official record with the return of David Lee Roth to the band in 2006.

Balance was so memorable that i forgot all about it. I have no recollection of where i even bought the album. Van Halen III was, on paper, an almost perfect album. Ex Extreme singer Gary Cherone had come on board. The ensuing mess was so bad I cannot bring myself to listen to it for this story. Maybe one day I will suffer for my art, just not now. The album did well in the charts though, so maybe it is me. A Different Kind of Truth was a return to form, even if in a modern form. Having said that, none of the tracks are jumping out at me as I listen now, so leaving well alone.

And so we come to the end, with 316, a gorgeous instrumental named after the date of birth of his son, Wolfgang.


2 thoughts on “My Love of Van Halen”

  1. Really enjoyed reading this, Gareth. Made me laugh with the Argos catalogue page numbers – took me back to a time when that was the most important part of Christmas – choosing, cutting pictures out and sticking them to a piece of card in the hope that your wishes would come true! Simple pleasures!
    I also really enjoyed reading about the history of your music choices and the evolution of music – taught me some stuff there! I look forward to learning more!

    1. Thanks Sheryl. I was really pleased to find my walkman, i figured it must have been Argos or Janet Frazer it came from. Thank you for your kind words, glad you are enjoying it.

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