The best of Van Halen and David Lee Roth 1978-1988

Wringing infinite variations on the yelp as much as contemporary Michael Jackson did with the hiccup, David Lee Roth took to MTV like Orson Welles did radio. 

I’m sure I heard “Jump” and “Panama” at the time, but my first Van Halen-associated memory is of the video for “California Girls,” David Lee Roth’s faithful solo cover of the Beach Boys chestnut, played around the clock in December 1984. With its collection of misshapen nerds shot in extreme close-up using unflattering lenses, it’s a perfect encapsulation of the Roth ethic: it’s not rock critics who look like Elvis Costello, it’s everyone who isn’t Roth. Van Halen’s clamor signified a will to power that was most welcome on the somnolent pop chart in 1980 and 1981. They didn’t swing like Aerosmith, they were cinder blocks falling on your bare foot; the only sweetener was their harmonies. Funny how the band is down on the covers-heavy Diver Down but likes Women and Children First — I can’t hear the difference.

It’s difficult to explain to people who weren’t there how massive Van Halen were through, say, 1995; every band shakeup got dutiful MTV coverage. Only Rush boasted so fervent a fan base, so complete a commitment. Y-100 world-premiered “Just Like Paradise” exactly thirty-one years ago, no one will remember why. As I matured, Van Hagar was the only incarnation I knew, god help me, content to compete against Def Leppard and Bon Jovi. Then Eddie Van Halen couldn’t keep Hagar. Then Eddie couldn’t keep anybody. Sammy got the last laugh, selling shares in his tequila for nine figures. So did Roth, who went solo with an EP just as the last singles from the well-named 1984 fell off the charts (Van Halen was right there alongside The Cars, Tina Turner, Madonna Michael Jackson, and Prince in becoming MTV mainstays). Roth’s memoir, released years before the craze, remains one of the more entertaining; he loved language as much as Chuck Berry yet rarely showed it in his lyrics

1. Dance the Night Away
2. I’ll Wait
3. Mean Streets
4. Everybody Wants Some!!
5. Jump
6. Women in Love
7. And the Cradle Will Rock…
8. You Really Got Me
9. Yankee Rose (Roth)
10. Why Can’t This Be Love
11. You’re No Good
12. Unchained
13. Panama
14. Romeo Delight
15. Bottoms Up!
16. Janie’s Crying
17. Runnin’ with the Devil
18. Just Like Paradise (Roth)
19. Finish What Ya Started
20. Dancing in the Streets

2 thoughts on “The best of Van Halen and David Lee Roth 1978-1988

  1. Alfred, this is one of the BIG bands whose critical acclaim eludes me completely. I will start from your 1-3. The fourth I know for Dick Linklater (really, how good is he as dusting off oldies and often obscure “hits” and make them relevant again?? “Dazed and Cunfused!? “Free Ride”? “It’s a Long Way to the Top…”? he overwhelms Cameron Crowe on that department)

    I just cannot with “Jump”. Just can’t. For me, it’s perfectly fine. But it’s bombastic synths scream 1984 more than any big hit of that year (except for the ones in Nena’s hit, which otherwise I love) It’s just too much for me. It exhausts the hell out of me. It makes SHE’S SO UNUSUAL’s Hooters-what’s-his-name synths an exercise in restraint by comparison. And I love Cyndi’s record!. “Why Can’t This Be Love” comes for my own pop favourite year (1986) but I find its production cluttered and Sammy Hagar has such an uninteresting squeal for me. He’s like a Robert Plant wannabe with his vocal chords damaged.

    Well, their beloved debut hits are way below your list so I don’t feel so odd now. Its hard rock pedigree it’s because Eddie could play the hell out of the guitar?

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