REVIEW: Van Halen – 1984 (1984)

VAN HALEN (Not Van Hagar!) Part 7: House of Pain

VH_0003My latest series of reviews at mikeladano.com is an in-depth look at all the classic VAN HALEN albums, with David Lee Roth.  Jump 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)
Part 6: Intruder (Diver Down – 1982)

INTERMISSION – “Beat It”

Edward Van Halen picked up the phone.  On the other end was a man claiming to be “Quincy Jones”, asking Eddie if he was available to play on an album.  Not knowing the name “Quincy Jones” and assuming it was a crank call, Eddie slammed down the phone yelling, “Fuck off, asshole!”  Only a followup phone call from Michael Jackson clarified the situation.  Quincy Jones, the legendary record producer, was working on the new Michael Jackson album.  Could Eddie come by and play a guitar solo on an upbeat, driving song?

What Eddie laid down (in reportedly two takes) was selected by Guitar magazine as the greatest guitar solo of the 1980’s.

In one tension-filled solo, Eddie threw every trick from his bag: whammy dives, complex neo-classical trills, hammer-ons, pull-offs, tapping, harmonics, squeals, and finally a big fat pick slide.

If one wants to hear what Eddie Van Halen sounds like, all they need to do is play “Beat It”.

VH 194_0001VAN HALEN – 1984 (MCMLXXXIV) (1984 Warner)

Having compromised his artistic instincts on 1982’s Diver Down, Edward Van Halen refused to do the same again.  He and longtime engineer Donn Landee proceeded to build 5150, Eddie’s home recording studio.  There he was free to experiment with the synthesizers that had begun to creep into Van Halen albums.  When the studio was complete, Eddie felt that he had more control.

But there were other issues beginning to surface.  The Michael Jackson cameo, for example.  Roth had reportedly vetoed previous offers for Van Halen to do guest appearances on records.  (Van Halen had also appeared on the semi-obscure Brian May and Friends EP Star Fleet Project.)  When Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson extended the offer to appear on “Beat It”, Edward did it without telling the others in the band.  Roth claims he never would have objected to Edward working with an artist of Quincy Jones’ stature, but the feelings of betrayal had set in.

Edward and Roth both recall that Van Halen had the main keyboard hook from “Jump” for years, and had submitted it for consideration twice.  Roth and producer Ted Templeman rejected it both times, wishing Eddie to keep the focus on his guitar playing.  The third time was the charm, and Roth finally agreed to write lyrics for the song, now titled “Jump”.  Another synth piece of Eddie’s, now called “1984” was used on the album to precede “Jump”.

It’s impossible to underestimate the impact of “Jump”.  Those big fat Oberheim keys were unlike any that Van Halen had used before.  The song’s success made other bands pay attention, who were quick to begin adding keyboards themselves.  The trends this song ushered included the successes of Bon Jovi, Europe and the like.  Veteran bands like Kiss started adding keyboards to their live shows.  “Jump” was a perfect storm.  It captured Van Halen’s already likable and cool party-hearty spirit, with the cool new wave bands that had replaced punk.  Eddie’s tasteful guitar solo ensured that his fans would still listen to every note in order to figure out just how the hell he did that.  Meanwhile, who couldn’t love his sheepish grin in the music video?

If you listen carefully during the fade, you’ll hear a familiar guitar riff.  Can you name it?  That very riff was recycled in 1991 on Van Hagar’s song “Top of the World”!

“Panama” was also a single, no keyboards this time!  David made the ladies faint every time during the middle break.  The high-flying video showed their sense of humour and electric stage show.  If any fan was left doubting after “Jump”, then “Panama” assured them that all was alright.  Guitar pyrotechnics and cool lyrics are where’s it at.

What’s not to like about “Top Jimmy”?  Perfectly fusing his experimental and hard rocking sides, Eddie created a hook using guitar harmonics for “Top Jimmy”.  There’s the patented Van Halen backing vocals, a smokin’ song, and David Lee Roth running the show.  This is one of those album cuts that’s every bit as good as the better known tracks.  Same with “Drop Dead Legs”.  Alex’s steady beat, Eddie’s smoldering riff, and Roth’s leathery moan are a trifecta of perfection.  If you listen to the riff, you’ll notice Eddie’s innovative way of using a whammy bar in a musical fashion, as an actual part of the music.  Towards the end, Eddie goes into a different riff, and solos his way to the side’s fade-out.

“Sit down, Waldo!”

Dave’s knack for video scored a home run with “Hot For Teacher”.  You wouldn’t necessarily think a song like this, a hard shuffle with a lot of talking in it, would make for hit.  Hell it opens with 30 seconds of nothing but drums!  “Hot For Teacher” remains a pinnacle of hard rock music videos.  There’s the humour, the girls, the cool car, and of course “Waldo” who got the last laugh, didn’t he?

“I’ll Wait” is the third and last synth track on the album (including “1984”).  It too was chosen as a single, and like all the others, it has stood the test of time.  “I’ll Wait” is a very transitional song.  Roth keeps it cool, but musically, Van Hagar was already in sight.  The echo of later songs like “Feels So Good” can be heard in that throbbing keyboard.  “I’ll Wait” (credited to the band and Michael McDonald) went through a period in the 1990’s of sounding dated, but today it sounds timeless.  Rather than commercial, today the keyboards sound classy.  The guitar solo is simple and full of feel.

Ominous guitar tapping and shredding opens “Girl Gone Bad”, a devastating assault of Eddie’s most aggressive guitar.  A song like this absolutely needed to be on 1984 in order to maintain the band’s metal credentials.  Many teenagers injured their wrists trying to pick as fast as Edward.  Meanwhile, Roth does his very best Robert Plant impression during the middle section.  “Yeah, ahh, ahh, owww!  Oooooooowhoah!  Ma…ma…ma…oh!”

Finally, exhumed from the band’s distant past is “House of Pain”.   This song was always one of Van Halen’s heaviest, featuring a chugging metallic riff.  Eddie’s increasingly interesting solos have evolved, and they make the last couple minutes of “House of Pain” absolutely indispensable for anyone wanting to know anything about the electric guitar.

As “House of Pain” fades out and 1984 comes to close, a sadness overtakes me.  The end sounds abrupt; unfinished.  The album was so good, so great, that I want to hear more.  But there is no more.

VH 194_0002

Another successful tour followed the 1984 album, and the band were burned out.  David Lee Roth got the covers EP Crazy From the Heat out of his system.  There was also some kind of companion movie to the EP in the works, something that bothered the Van Halen brothers greatly.  After a while, the band settled in to begin writing the next album, their seventh.  It was not to be.  According to Alex Van Halen in a fall 1991 M.E.A.T Magazine interview, David Lee Roth fired the entire band.

Van Halen had to replace a frontman, a difficult thing to do in any circumstances, much less when that frontman was David Lee Roth.  In the meantime, David Lee Roth had to replace an entire band.  A difficult thing, especially when the lead guitar player of that band is oft-recognized as the best in the world.

Both bounced back.  Van Halen pondered a number of singers including Patty Smyth of Scandal, before meeting Sammy Hagar.  Hagar’s energy and musical chops helped fill Roth’s sizable shoes.  Meanwhile, Roth chose to replace Van Halen with not one but two acclaimed virtuosos.  On bass was ex-Talas maestro Billy Sheehan.  On guitar, from Frank Zappa’s band, little Stevie Vai.  Throw in the talented Gregg Bissonette on drums, and you had one hell of a band.

Both artists would find 1984 hard to top in the eyes of the most stubborn old fans.  It’s hard to blame them.  1984 is a very special record, and quite arguably Van Halen’s very best.

VH 194_00045/5 stars

And that is all.

Or not…

They did try again, in 1996.  We’ll be taking a look at that next time.

 

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47 comments

    1. Nothing guilty about a good song with a great solo dude! I own a Michael Jackson greatest hits. There’s a reason something like 20,000,000 people bought that record.

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  1. If this would have been my first Halen purchase this would have been my all time número uno fav. This album 3 decades later still is a classic/masterpiece. I remember our local radio station at the time got the release of Jump a few weeks before the actual release of the album and they were gonna play Jump on the there top 9 at 9pm so needless to say we all tuned in and were floored when the synth kicked in….Alex,Dave,Mike and Eds solo just took the song to a whole other level so basically from tha buzz once 1984 was officially released it meant skipping school for the day and just playing it back 2 back 2 back. Wore the grooves out hahaha……
    The packaging was and still is slick,modern,the songs,production everything just cooked!
    Love it all….I mean the vids to promote 84 were classic everything top notch……
    I still say I’ll Wait is a song that to me just reeks summertime all over it dunno why but it just does and I always loved the tempo changes in it as well.
    Top Jimmy cooks hahaha….Drop Dead Legs love the lyrics…..I mean whadda say about Hot For Teacher?? That hasn’t already been said …..
    I could go on an on…….
    On the 2012 trek they of course played Panama,Hot ForTeacher,I’ll Wait and encores with Jump!….
    But like any of the first six relays they could have played these albums front to back and no one would have minded……

    Mikey,props to you for putting this string of Halen releases together with informative writing,inserting vids and the scans as well……
    Great way to start my day with a early am Halen read!

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    1. Thank you man. This VH series has been a true labor of love. But I want to thank one specific person:

      Mrs. LeBrain.

      When I told her I was diving head first into this series, she let me write and listen and listen and write and hog the computer. For daaays. She was really cool about it, and always is cool about my musical obsession. So without Mrs. LeBrain this wouldn’t have happened!

      This album is my favourite. It was my first. I’ll Wait was a turning point to me. Early in my rocker life, I was skipping ballads. Then suddenly, I’ll Wait clicked with me. The whole ambience of the track just spoke to me.

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  2. What a great album… again! I love the keyboards but there’s still plenty of amazing guitar on here. I especially love the riffs and tone on Drop Dead Legs. Awesome. I’d spotted the Top of the World riff in there too! Did they ever segue those two songs together? That might have been cool except that Sammy ruined Jump with his fucking ass.

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    1. I saw VH in Toronto in 1986. Sammy yelled to the crowd from atop a high tower ” I m
      ight as well JUMP”. He must not have heard me when I yelled back ” Go ahead. We want Dave back” :)

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      1. Haha awesome. I always want to sing Jump at karaoke but for some reason all the lyric prompters here use the live Hagar version with the “ass against the record machine”. Hate it! There’s me trying to get my Roth on in the pub and Sammy has to come along and ruin it.

        I don’t mind Van Hagar though. They had their moments.

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        1. Yeah. Just to commercially polished for my taste, but I still bought some, and all my buddies liked it so, I listened. And perhaps we wouldn’t have had the solo David Lee Roth. So we got ‘The Best of Both Worlds’.
          Does anyone remember the planned solo tour with DLR and Sammy Hagar in 2002. I wanted to buy tickets to the show that was supposed to be in Darien Lake. But I was very shocked to hear they didn’t get along and cancelled the tour. Who knew?

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        2. Brian that tour happened. It may have been cut short but it did happen.

          You wanna know the dirt? All I have to say is this: Read Sammy’s book. They did NOT get along. Take it from DLR too. He was asked if he was “friends” with Sammy Hagar.

          He answered something like, “Hmmm, what is a ‘friend’? Is he someone I talk to outside of the arena? No. Do we go out to dinner? No. Do we have interests in common? No. Then I guess we’re not friends!”

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        3. Sorry. I worded it wrong. They cut the tour short the last 2 shows(one of which was the one I was planning to go to), because they couldn’t stand each other. I wonder if that was the same on the tour in 2012.
          My wife and I had won tickets, hotel and airfare to the VH concert in Las Vegas in May 2012. I was excited to win the tickets but just hoping they don’t break up. Then I am driving home a few weeks before the show and I hear they are cancelling a bunch of shows. I could not wait to get home and check my computer. Worst drive ever. I assumed it was 2002 all over again, but this was way worse. I had never seen VH with David. Luckily the show was one of the few left they did not cancel. Unfortunately for many people around here the London Ontario show did get cancelled. Dave’s voice was real rough and between that, and possibly some inner tension they cancelled a ton of shows. They said they bit off more than they could chew. Which was it? Probably a bit of all 3.

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        4. Yeah I’m sure you’re right. I’ve also assumed some of the show cancellations (there have been quite a few!) might be due to Ed’s health and/or sobriety.

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    2. You’re right HMO. Eddie was NEVER in danger of being seen as anything but the greatest guitar player of all time. It didn’t matter of some songs had keyboards. He was Eddie fucking Van Halen. Everybody knew. Nobody was likely to forget, and mistake him for some guy in Bon Jovi.

      Live, they played Jump and Top of the World in sequence, but not right into each other without a stop. You can hear it like this on the live album. Check it out. (I had noticed it before the live album came out, so I liked that!)

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        1. Exactly. I do have a couple of Sammy solo DVDs and they’re much better. And on one you’ve got Michael Anthony doing a bunch of Van Hagar stuff too. I really liked that Waboritas band.

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        2. You and Craig Fee dislike Chickenfoot. When I first heard them I was surprised anybody who liked VH could dislike Chickenfoot. But there ya go. Different strokes!

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        3. I really expected to like it. It was very disappointing though. That first album just seemed dead to me. They were doing all the things they were supposed to do but it was just lifeless. A Different Kind of Truth just blew it out the water. That was the real deal.

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  3. What I loved about the original lineup albums is that feeling of wanting more music every time, they were all succinct rock masterpieces. I have nothing against the Sammy albums but between the regime change and the trend toward albums that were twice as long in the CD age, Van Halen’s overall quality dropped and they went from being an incredibly exciting band to a pretty good one, at least as far as the albums went. I’ll Wait I think is one of their most underrated tracks, probably because of that transition feel you mentioned. I never thought Jump was great but Hot For Teacher is my 2nd favorite 80’s track behind Photograph.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Man, Photograph is way up there on my list too. Another great album that has timeless qualities to it.

      I liked the Sammy albums then, a lot more than I do now. As I’ve gotten older my tastes have changed. In a lot of ways they’ve broadened, but I’ve also reverted back to my metal roots. As such I found that I don’t like Balance or 5150 as much. I probably rated both as 5/5 stars when they came out.

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  4. Well reviewed as per usual Mike – that’s funny, I hadn’t picked up on the Jump fade out riff, I guess it was too good to use just once!
    Nice call on the Jump synth paving the way for stadium anthems by Jon Bon et al.

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    1. I think it’s true. Other bands who incorporated keyboards and so on met with resistance from their fans. It didn’t really do that with VH due to the strength of the material.

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  5. Awesome review. I like the other song references, and the stories behind the band tension.
    This album brings back memories. Me and 2 buddies were hanging out along the beach at Sauble. We had 1984 cranked on my buddies brand new, killer car stereo. Hot for Teacher starts and this hot girl comes running over yelling to us. We can’t hear her, but it looks like she is yelling “There’s something wrong with your truck”. Of course, we figured out it was Alex Van Halen making all of that noise and not the engine. That struck up a conversation, she brought her hot friends over and we all hung out and listened to more VH. Thanks Van Halen. And thanks Mike.

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    1. Thank YOU Brian. I appreciate it.

      And I LOVE this story. Fucking awesome. Had that been my story it definitely would have been a Record Store Tale.

      I always thought the intro to Hot For Teacher sounded like a propeller!

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  6. Comment On -INTERMISSION-

    The solo runs from 3:10-3:43, if you don’t want to sit through that whole damn song. An EVH trickbag in 33 seconds. Day-um.

    As for Beat It, well, it is what it is. I always figured he was telling all those gangs to stop fighting in the streets, go home and jack off. “It doesn’t matter who’s wrong or right, just BEAT IT.”

    Thanks, I’m here all week. Try the veal.

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  7. 1984 FTW! I have this one, and it slays me every time. I did not know about that outro riff recycling. Sneaky buggers.

    Once again Lebrain brings the goods. And how. Can we get a moment of appreciation for the hard work this man does to tell us about the rawk? YES!

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    1. Man, I am feeling the love. Thanks. Thanks. Thanks.

      I have a 3-parter series coming in a couple days. I put as much work into that one as I did this 8-parter. I hope you like it. It’s not as popular a band as VH, but daa-aamn, you won’t find a more comprehensive review :)

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  8. Didn’t know who Quincy Jones was? And called him Asshole?!! Shame, shame, Eddie. But glad he relented, that is a very tasty bit of fretwork on that song (and I HATE The King Of Pap). As also is the keyboard to Jump, FINALLY gave me a VH lick to play that got the crowd going!! “Eat my dust, guitarists…” Big props for stressing the impact of that part- keyboard intros for too many songs are soft chord sequences that timidly decorate the beginning. But Jump proved to mainstream rock that Keys could grab you by the balls as well as any ol’ guitar lick!
    Well done Sir Mike
    oh P.S. Hot for Teacher? Fall of ’85 we played a High School dance, the T.A. chaperone LOVED that song, and we were so bad, bad, bad, was I ever hot for that teacher! Thanks so much Van Halen!

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  9. Eddie Van Halen’s guitar solo on Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” was my first indication that he was being whipped by Valerie Bertinelli. An apparent quote from David Lee Roth: “Valerie got Eddie to do the same guitar solo for Michael Jackson that he’s been doing with us for years.” That’s probably not verbatim.
    I also own the Brian May EP and it is brilliant. May and Van Halen really go for it on the track “Blues Breaker.” As for “1984” this album totally restored my faith in Van Halen. “Hot For Teacher” is a fantastic track as so are the others.

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    1. That Brian May EP is one I listen to frequently. It’s a guitar lover’s dream!

      The whole thing with Valerie…I never quite understood but it seems she was involved with some of the bad stuff that went on. I remember her saying that Roth never liked her because he hit on her, and she passed.

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      1. It wouldn’t have surprised me if Roth did try to hit on Valerie. One amusing occurrence my sister told me about when she saw VH in 1984. A bra was thrown up on stage and Roth picked it up and said to Eddie, “Can’t be Val’s it’s too small.”

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  10. Great review, as always, but I’m gonna stick my neck out here a bit. See if I got my head still when I take my neck back…
    See, this album might just be my least favourite Dave era VH album. It might just be my least VH album of them all, except for the Gary Cherone debacle. No, it’s not bad – VH don’t do bad. Well, except for the Gary… yeah you know. But ever since this album came out, everybody and their mother praised it, except for lil ole me. It’s a good album, but I just can’t find the WOW!!!-songs here, except maybe for Panama and Hot For Teacher. I never liked Jump, still don’t, but I have to say that I prefer “ass” to “back”, even though I never thought Sammy did this song justice. I don’t think Sammy was really great at Dave’s songs, but I LOVE the Sammy-era.

    And thank U, thank U, thank U for taking that phonograph needle off my back that is called the Top Of The World riff. Everytime I hear that song, I go: “Damn! Where have I heard that riff before???” This has been going on for years. What a relief.

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    1. Hahahah! You’re welcome Jon. It’s funny how many Van Halen fans never quite put their finger on it! But there it is. I figure that’s why they played them in sequence, live.

      VH do not do bad, as you said. It’s all degrees of good. (Except Gary, which should have been named something else.) I love 1984 and after this series, I gladly concluded it’s my fave VH of any era, of all time.

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  11. Reblogged this on http://www.seanmunger.com and commented:
    Here’s a fun article from rock blogger Mike LaDano, reviewing one of my all time favorite albums. I loved his Van Halen series and this has some fascinating info on how the immortal 1984 album came to be. Absolutely great stuff, makes me want to listen to “I’ll Wait” all over again!

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