Dave Halen: The Real VH

February 10, 2019 by

Vulture.com recently published a list ranking all 131 Van Halen songs. First of all, mad props to author Chuck Klosterman, not only for compiling that list, but also for his thoughtful commentary on every tune. Hell of an undertaking and we salute him. But my ole buddies and I have one big beef: There is a vast difference between Dave Halen and Sam Halen (forget Gary Halen).

We were in 8th grade on 10 February 1978 when Van Halen was released and drop-kicked the rock establishment directly in the nuts. David Lee Roth was the voice of that revelation. Sammy Hagar was universally despised by my crew. To us, the Red Rocker’s assumption of the VH mic was a joke. Roth was a clever lyricist and brought a wit and personality that the more earnest Hagar lacked. Sammy’s presence inspired such jibes as, “It’s got Sammy Hage/So tell me why can’t this be good?” And, “Cmon baby finish what you started/Van Halen ain’t shit since Dave departed.” In short: Red Rocker sucks!

So, it is with all due respect to Mr. Klosterman that we offer our list of the top 60 Van Halen songs. It’s all Dave and it’s only the original six records — the real VH. My three buddies (Moe, Jofu and Stonehenge) and I (known as Beese in this context) each ranked the tunes according to our own criteria. I compiled the results and this is how it came out:

1. ”Mean Street”

Our #1 betrays our collective Fair Warning bias — we all love it. Even though this tune commits the cardinal sin of a fade-in on the lead track of the record, Eddie pays it off all by himself with some classic fretboard-tapping mastery. It’s all about the Van Halen brothers on this one. Alex sets the tone with a sixteenth-note hi-hat pattern and his double kick. In multiple solo breaks Eddie stretches out and shows off the new tricks he worked out for this record. Dance Baby!

2. “Fools”

Dave’s erotic moaning gives way to a sweet blues noodle from Eddie. Then into a super-heavy groove with Alex all over the dome.  Michael Anthony’s bass is way out front on this straight ahead rock slam, featuring classic backing  vocals from Eddie and Michael. I always loved the lyrical focus on dumbfucks we all deal with on a regular basis (Won’t someone tell me what it is they all want?). And the scatting by Dave in the outro foreshadows his highly schticky future.

3. ”Bottoms Up!”

Here are a case where the kick and bass are prevalent. This is a great example of the rhythm section keeping it real while Eddie wanders off on some damn-fool whammy-bar dive-bomb mission. The double-stop riff is this song’s signature and lends strong support to the vocal camaraderie these guys shared. Moe recalls local Detroit DJ Lynn Woodison playing this song every day as part of her afternoon drive set back in ’79. C’mon mon mon mon baby!

4. ”Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love”

Van Halen came out in the middle of the rise of punk rock. Although this song doesn’t sound particularly punk, it was supposed to, according to Eddie. A basic two-chord jam in any case. The opening riff gives way to the other riff, then it goes back to the… well, you get the idea. That’s the beauty of Van Halen — Eddie is so busy shredding the rock guitar playbook that I never really stopped to notice there isn’t a helluvalot going on structurally here. Hey! Hey! Hey!

5. ”Runnin’ With the Devil“

This was the sound of a bomb being dropped on popular culture. The lead track on one of the most influential records in the history of the guitar. Edward Van Halen was 18 and with his homemade “Frankenstrat” seemed to be channeling the entirety of the rock guitar pantheon. With an MXR Phase 90 and a modified Marshall, he coaxed sound out of his guitar that even Jimi couldn’t have imagined. The harmonics about 50 seconds in hooked me immediately. Can’t say we were all down from the day this dropped, but thanks to WWWW rock radio in Detroit it didn’t take us long. Aaaaahhh yea-uh!

6. ”Romeo Delight”

The second of three tracks from Women and Children First to crack our top ten, this one is also super heavy, like most of the record. After the more radio-friendly Van Halen II, they got their hard-rock bludgeon out for this one. “Romeo” makes good use of the “loud/soft” thing that would become the stock-in-trade of later rock. Not sure what that little pulse sound is, but it infuses the track with a sense of urgency. Eddie is smoking with his quintessential extreme bends, hammer-ons and string scraping. Baby please, I can’t take it anymore!

7. ”And the Cradle Will Rock…”

VH couldn’t miss at this point. Eddie lays back on this track, but Alex and Michael make sure it’s still heavy as hell. Women and Children First has a very primal feel to it and Dave releases all kinds of pheromones on this vocal (as well as on “Everybody Wants Some!!” which was actually the b-side). I always wondered if there was an organ in there somewhere, and a little research revealed that Eddie indeed played the main riff on a Wurlitzer electric piano through his Marshall. I think props may go to producer Ted Templeman on that one.

8. ”The Full Bug”

Ted Templeman was once again in the chair on Diver Down (as he was for all six of these records). This track epitomizes the great sounds the band got going on this record. Alex’s snare sound is sharp, crisp and lethal and Eddie’s tone is somehow even ballsier and more complex. This is a rootsy, dirty electric blues complete with Dave on acoustic guitar in the intro and ripping a harmonica solo later. According to Dave, the title refers to killing cockroaches with shoes known as “Puerto Rican fence climbers.” They nailed the full bug on this album cut for sure.

9. ”I’m the One”

Moe voted this track his unequivocal number one. Quoth the man himself, “I slapped down side 1 on my parents 1966 turntable. After ‘Ain’t Talkin Bout Love’ I was like, WOW. Then it happened — ‘I’m the One.’ I don’t know if it was because I was shocked that an already incredible album side could get even better, or if it was Eddie’s amazing guitar — or maybe both. This is my favorite VH tune of all time.” The most amazing thing to me about this track is how a barbershop quartet breaks out in the middle of it. As Dave says, “You wouldn’t believe the number of TV commercials and radio jingles this band can sing in four-part harmony.” Show! Your! Love!

10. ”Jamie’s Cryin’”

Man, I’m glad this made the top 10. This is the hookiest, most melodic mid-tempo heavy-rocker ever. The harmony vocals take center stage in the sing-a-long chorus. Eddie’s casual riffing under the vocal in the verse defines the over-driven, compressed sound that would dominate rock for years. And when he makes it weep, just like Jamie’s tears, I get a little choked up. Michael Anthony’s thumping upbeat bass figure is particularly ballsy and leads the band through the most touching middle-eight in hard rock (it really should mean a little more). The opening tom run became iconic, made even more famous by Tone Loc’s “Wild Thing.”

We came of age with these records and it’s amazing how well we all still remember each tune and tidbit. Below I’ve provided the rest of our top 60, as well as each participant’s list. This was a tough task because, as Stonehenge remarked, “All these tunes throw down.”

11. ”You Really Got Me”
12. “Atomic Punk”
13. “Everybody Wants Some!!”
14. “Panama”
15. “So This is Love?”
16. “Eruption”
17. “D.O.A.”
18. “Take Your Whiskey Home”
19. “Somebody Get Me a Doctor”
20. “Little Guitars”
21. “Unchained”
22. “On Fire”
23. “Little Dreamer”
24. “Light Up the Sky”
25. “Hear About it Later”
26. “Outta Love Again”
27. “‘Dirty Movies'”
28. “Women in Love…”
29. “Feel Your Love Tonight”
30. “Push Comes to Shove”
31. “Sinner’s Swing!”
32. “Beautiful Girls”
33. “Girl Gone Bad”
34. “Ice Cream Man”
35. “Loss of Control”
36. “Hang ’em High”
37. “You’re No Good”
38. “In a Simple Rhyme”
39. “Where Have All the Good Time Gone!”
40. “House of Pain”
41. “Secrets”
42. “Dance the Night Away”
43. “Hot for Teacher”
44. “Drop Dead Legs”
45. “One Foot Out the Door”
46. “Could This Be Magic?”
47. “Spanish Fly”
48. “Top Jimmy”
49. “(Oh) Pretty Woman”
50. “Dancing in the Street”
51. “I’ll Wait”
52. “Happy Trails”
53. “Sunday Afternoon in the Park”
54. “Intruder”
55. “Jump”
56. “Tora! Tora!”
57. “Little Guitars (intro)”
58. “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)”
59. “Cathedral”
60. “1984”

Jofu’s Dave Halen list

Moe’s Dave Halen list

Stonehenge’s Dave Halen list

Beese’s Dave Halen list

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