The music world lost an absolutely legendary guitarist yesterday from one of the most influential rock bands ever. This post is dedicated to the memory of Eddie Van Halen 1955-2020.
While a post from a few years ago focused on their incredible debut album, Van Halen was just getting started in their illustrious careers. After the initial success, they began to tour worldwide, typically opening for Black Sabbath. Those two audiences in hindsight seem very different, but Van Halen put on such a high-energy show, in spite of the two very different styles, fans were united in praise. The band began alternating years: one they’d put out a new record and the next they’d tour.
Eddie finally hit a point, a couple of albums in, where he requested they start making more serious songs with more complex arrangements versus chasing the next Top 20 hit. Although that was in stark contrast to the style of lead singer David Lee Roth at the time, the band agreed and followed Eddie’s direction. In the early ‘80s, their popularity was so high they set a Guinness World Record—the band got paid a record $1.5 million dollars for a 90-minute set at the U.S. Festival in Los Angeles. Not a bad payday.
That’s about where we get to the highly anticipated sixth studio album from Van Halen titled 1984. Not shockingly, the album debuted in January of—you guessed it—1984. The album marked a change in style for Van Halen, with Eddie beginning to experiment with synthesizers in his down time. It was also the first album recorded in Eddie’s personal studio called 5150. The album itself would get to no. 2 on the charts, with some pesky album called Thriller from Michael Jackson getting in the way of the top spot.
You could hear the newfound sound in the first couple of commercial singles—namely “Jump” which catapulted to no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. In total, four singles would hit the charts and sales were steady from the beginning. So much so that to date, the album has sold nearly 20 million copies worldwide—half of those in the U.S. alone. Critics were a bit leery of the synthed-out style, but you had certain tracks like “Panama” that had such a heavy signature guitar riff, it seemed like Van Halen had struck a balance within the best of both worlds.
Rolling Stone magazine was fairly critical of Van Halen in their early days, but they have since realized the error in their ways. They show this album at no. 81 on their greatest albums of the ‘80s, and other publications have followed suit. It sits high on so many decade lists and all-time lists, there are too many to document in a simple blog post.
Interestingly, this would mark the final album released by the original four members of the original lineup. David Lee Roth would leave the band shortly after 1984 due to creative differences—and although he rejoined the group in 2007, Eddie’s son Wolfgang began with the band the year prior. For me, this album might be a step behind their debut in terms of overall greatness, but it’s a half step at best. This album is so signature ‘80s, yet somehow finds a way to also be signature Van Halen. How they accomplished that is a mystery to me, but regardless of what kind of music you’re into, this overcomes everything else into something that’s simply a great listen.
There’s Hendrix, Clapton, Page and Van Halen—that’s really the Mount Rushmore of guitarists. Obviously, it’s a subjective discussion, but those four appear on every list in the top 10. Sadly, Eddie suffered from throat cancer and his condition declined drastically in recent weeks. Pick this one up today as toast to an icon and refamiliarize yourself with some amazing music to boot. RIP Eddie.
Top 3 Tracks: