REVIEW: Van Halen – Diver Down (1982)

VAN HALEN (Not Van Hagar!) Part 6: Intruder

My latest series of reviews at mikeladano.com is an in-depth look at all the classic VAN HALEN albums, with David Lee Roth.  Dig in!

Part 1: The Early Years (Zero – 1977)
Part 2:
On Fire (Van Halen – 1978)
Part 3: Somebody Get Me A Doctor (Van Halen II – 1979)
Part 4: Everybody Wants Some!! (Women and Children First – 1980)
Part 5: Push Comes to Shove (Fair Warning – 1981)

VAN HALEN – Diver Down (1982 Warner)

Of all the classic Van Halen discs in the canon, I find Diver Down hardest to review.  After the pugnaciously perfect Fair Warning, the band really started battling over direction.  Deciding to try for some hits rather than continue experimenting musically, Van Halen turned in the 31 minute Diver Down, a collection of covers, instrumentals and joke tunes with only a couple of serious rockers.  Yet every time I listen to it, don’t I absolutely enjoy Diver Down?

To my ears, Diver Down sounds like an intentional return to the party rock sounds that launched Van Halen in the first place.  It certainly does not sound like an album that should follow Fair Warning.  Now, we’re back into covers:  The Kinks’ “Where Have All the Good Times Gone!” opens the record.  Eddie pointed out that the song and album are loaded with errors.  He misses some harmonics in “Where Have All the Good Times Gone!”…and it’s fucking perfect.  There’s nothing wrong with Van Halen showing up to play a drunken party again in the old neighborhood, is there?  Even if they’re the big kids now?

“Hang ‘Em High” was an older song that the band exhumed for Diver Down.  It immediately evokes the heavier material from some of the earlier records.  Only now, Van Halen had learned to work in a recording studio and were taking advantage of some of the tricks they had picked up over the years.  Eddie’s extended solo sounds spontaneous and live.

“Cathedral” is a trick of guitar volume swells.  By physically manipulating the volume knob on his guitar, Eddie created a sound that reminded him of a church organ.  Tonally it resembles where Van Halen would go on the next album.  This is just an intro (a beautiful one at that) to “Secrets”, a laid-back original.  “Secrets” has vibe, and this is as good a time as any to point out the ace rhythm section of Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony.  These guys were a big part of the overall Van Halen sound.

By 1982, David Lee Roth was starting to become interested in the new medium that was music video.  He directed the concept video for “(Oh) Pretty Woman”, a Roy Orbison cover.  Dave’s classic ingredients were all there:  a cavalcade of characters, little people, and a joke-a-minute style of cool.  The video however ran too long once edited together.  The song was not even three minutes long, and Dave didn’t want to make further cuts.  Instead he played synthesizer, while Eddie made guitar noises with a beer can on the neck, and they called that “Intruder”.

“Pretty Woman” features the biggest mistake on the entire album (which is just loaded with ’em, just listen).  Where Roy Orbison sang this:

“‘Cause I need you, I’ll treat you right,”
Come with me baby, be mine tonight.”

Roth unwittingly sang just this:

“‘Cause I need you, need you tonight…”

VH DD_0002Side Two commenced with yet another cover.  David Lee Roth really wanted to do “Dancing in the Street”, but Eddie wasn’t into it.  Eddie already had a unique synthesizer part he was working on for his own song, and Roth suggested they use it for “Dancing in the Street”, which they did.  If there was one song I’d skip on Diver Down, it would be this one.  It does get a fair bit of radio play, though.

“Little Guitars” (and the intro that precedes it) is a bonafide Van Halen classic.  Eddie was intrigued by flamenco guitar but couldn’t get the fingerpicking.  Instead he used his own tricks (and a pick) to make it sound similar to what the flamenco players were doing.  The song itself is a sassy mid-tempo rocker with a shiny melody.  Once again the classic ‘Halen harmonies are to thank.

VH DD_0003There are two schools of thought on “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)”.  One is that it’s a joke cover tune that shouldn’t have been on an album.  Another is that while the song is humorous, it is also very special.  This is a song from 1924 that Roth had discovered on the radio.  Then, Dave suggested that they invite Jan Van Halen, the father of Eddie and Alex, into the studio to play clarinet.  I get chills up my spine listening to Jan’s lyrical playing.  Alex is playing with brushes, the others are on acoustics, and Dave is absolutely at home.  This song is quintessential Dave Lee Roth, and conjures up that ol’ timey Al Jolson sound.

Dave plays the acoustic intro to “The Full Bug”, and then Eddie kicks in with that riff.  Alex and Michael create that classic Van Halen shuffle as the band careens to the end of the record.  Roth throws down a ballsy harmonica.  This track could also be considered a bonafide Van Halen keeper.

Concluding with “Happy Trails” is only logical.  The boys sound absolutely blitzed as they drunkenly sing acappella, before they all crack up at the end.  Diver Down, undoubtedly a party rock album, is over.

While Diver Down is still fun to listen to, it seems like a blip in the overall Van Halen trajectory.  It’s clear that it is not as innovative as some albums previous, nor does it rock as heavy.  Yet, it’s likable.  It still sounds great in the summertime.  As Craig Fee pointed out, “I still think DLR’s version of ‘Where Have All The Good Times Gone?’ is way better than the original.  For every shitty cover (‘(Oh) Pretty Woman’ comes to mind), you have original gems like ‘Little Guitars’ to make up for it.”

But how the hell do I rate it?

4/5 stars (?)

VH DD_0005

 

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63 comments

      1. I always thought it was “Catch us catch, catch us catch”, but apparently it is “Catch as catch, catch as catch”.
        Whatever that means.

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        1. All I can say is “Bop. Bozadee bozadee bop. City bop .” and “Hummula bebhula zeebuhla boobuhla humula bebuhla zeebuhla bop.”

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  1. The buzz this album had going started the some guy showed up in my high school early to one day in class carrying a vinyl copy of DD …the slick red cover and the back cover live shots sold me right away(good marketing move) the originals on this are excellent whereas the covers well a couple em I felt they were pushing it a little too much. My best friend calls DD the lazy mans album.
    But I remember the magazines at the time Creem for one were just brutal on Halen for DD.
    Whereas for me I was ok with it but in regards to the previous four studio releases this one was lagging a little behind…….

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Being younger, I hadn’t even heard of the band yet. No hype, nothing to effect my impressions. I wanted it later on, because it had Pretty Woman. Then Where Have All the Good Times Gone took me away and I never came back!

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    1. That was the song I could play for my parents. They didn’t like my rock music, but if I put on that song, they couldn’t get enough.

      I remember my mom asking me, “Why is the band called Van Halen when the singer is a Lee Roth?”

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  2. HMO the first three tracks…Where Have….Hang Em High….Secrets…..are worth the price of admission in my book…classic Halen but just remember half originals /half covers kinda funny but as we all know Halen got pasted at the time for doing a covers record but later on all bands started doing cover releases actually over saturating the market at one point if u ask me…..
    Trend setters those Halen fellas!

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  3. The reviews keep being great … And right on the money song by song. I will say though that i remember last year having Diver Down on my ipod and having this odd obsession with listening to Intruder for some reason. And Little Guitars might just be their best song ever. High moments and low moments. Has to be known as the weakest Roth album by a pretty good margin

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    1. Thanks man, much appreciated. It’s easy to talk about music that you have loved for decades.

      When you line up all my reviews, you’ll see where they all lie in terms of ranking. But as I said earlier, it’s splitting hairs. All the albums should be owned.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I have to chime in here. In most cases I would rate this 4 of 5. However, this was the very first cassette I ever bought. I played the crap out of that thing, and still love it today. I am the only person(possibly in the world) that says this is my favourite VH album, but mainly for sentimental reasons. My favourite is Little Guitars(Intro) and Little Guitars, which is basically one song. I disagree that VH did not experiment musically on this album. I feel they experimented musically more than they did before. The previous albums were all 4.9 out of 5 in my books, but many of the songs are straight ahead, awesome, hard rockers. They went away from that mostly on this album. Since this was their 5th album, and they were near the top of the rock hierarchy of the day, they could afford to try something they had been wanting to. If you hear early sessions of VH, you know they started off doing a lot of cover songs, so this was not lazy, it was the band doing something they wanted to do, and remain true to their roots. How would the 5th AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest etc. album have been if a band member brought in his father to play clarinet, the lead guitarist played flamenco style, or try and imitate an organ sound, and the band doing covers of songs from the 1920’s. I would say this was a huge experiment, and many feel that it didn’t work. I for one think it did. In fact, I will be looking for a mint copy on vinyl shortly, so I can re live those early teen days where waiting for the new album to come out and rushing down to the record store meant something. I want to feel that again, I since I just got back into vinyl, I think this purchase might do it for me. I would rate this album as a 5 of 5, again, possibly for sentimental reasons, but I stand by my rating.

    P.S. I suggest to all to watch some videos of Carlos Montoya (the person EVH is trying to emulate). I might look for some of his tunes on vinyl as well.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m with you 100% on DD. And like you it was my first Van Halen record I bought new in 1982. So yeah… might be some sentimental attachment there too. But still all 6 of those albums are pretty much 5/5. And I know most people will dog this album and at least throw it at the bottom of their list for too many covers. Ok maybe I’d give it 4.9/5. Pretty Woman and DITS (while I love em for what they are and part of my 1st VH record love), I could probably use 2 better originals in their place I suppose. Throw Drop Dead Legs and Girl Gone Bad in their place and I’m sure everyone’s opinion changes 100%. And this was their prep work into mainstream superstars for the next 1984. After the commercial disappointment of FW…they came back strong to get back into sales and radio.

      But still…great VH record, 4 insane original songs, 3 great Eddie instrumental pieces and a lot of different styles and experimentation. Def one of the best VH records for summer. Throw it on and head to the beach… I DARE YOU! ;-)

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    2. Thanks for chiming in with your 2 cents Brian! One thing I love is how we all have favourites. And you certainly do make a great argument in terms of this being experimental. I agree with you, I just think it’s a matter of choosing the right words. I think of “experimental” as being more new, forward thinking, progressive perhaps. For what VH did here, I would call it ballsy, diverse, rootsy, musically classy. But it’s just words. We totally agree on how brave it is to do a song from the 1920’s!

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        1. I’m going to do the same. A lot of VH tunes, I had no idea they were covers until I was older. Where Have All the Good Times Gone, Big Bad Bill, Ice Cream Man, You’re No Good…I suspected MAYBE Big Bad Bill was a cover but I preferred to think of it as a VH tune!

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  5. Another one I need to get, and your review only stokes the fire.

    DD FTW!

    Haha that looks like I’m cheering for DD boobs. Which I suppose I would, I mean, why not right? Carry on.

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        1. Yeah. Every single song. That’s why in my “party” analogy it makes sense that this is the start of a new one.

          Although my analogy breaks down on 1984. I don’t really have a party analogy to that. They all became geeks on summer break and got interested in keyboards. I dunno :)

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        2. I agree 1984 doesn’t have an overt Party vibe like DD… but in a way… it was the ultimate party. The apex of their popularity and over-the-top partying. The 1984 Tour was the ultimate party I suppose. 2-3 nights in every town, huge sales and videos.

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        3. Yeah man, it was definitely the soundtrack to many parties in the 80’s too. Listening to it on the front porch with my buddies. My dad saying, “Van Halen? What is that, a tropical disease?”

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        4. I can’t wait for the 1984 review. Even though it may not have had a party analogy, it saw hundreds of parties at my place back in the day.
          P.S. I love the line in The Wedding Singer where Adam Sandler tells his ex-fiance to take off his Van Halen t shirt before she jinxes the band and they break up.

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    1. Same here man. Any why not doubt? We care. We wanna know if he’s got the chops.

      I think he does, and my understanding is that he is, as much as he is able to be, a real driving force in that band moving forward and making an album. I would be willing to wager that Wolfy is very much the glue that keeps the factions together.

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      1. LOL..I was wondering why my comment seemed to be out of context, after I watched that clip I watched the VH acoustic thing with DLR and the Halens with Wolfgang.

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  6. I remember VH got so much crap over this album and some even refer to it as a covers album, which is baloney. It might not be as great as its predecessors, but I still think this album is really good and as for the covers, well, I think VH pretty much nailed them all. Just like the case of You Really Got Me and You’re No Good, the covers on this album are all, in my humble opinion, better than the original versions beause they have all been Van Halenized. You do a cover, you make ’em sound like you wrote ’em, which VH are great at. Blackie Lawless is another bloke who does just that.

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    1. Yeah — that’s exactly what I’m talking about. How VH took a song and then did a cover of it that became as well loved as the original (but different). Hendrix did that exact trick with All Along the Watchtower. Joe Cocker with A Little Help From My Friends. Very few others are on that scale.

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