Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Mighty Van Halen

Van Halen is pure, unadulterated, kick-you-in-the-balls rock and roll. The end.

Just kidding, that’s not the end. Let’s talk some VH, shall we? 

I remember the first time I heard “Jump.” I was 12 or 13, and I remember thinking, “Whoa! What’s this?” I wanted the cassette—for the songs and for the picture of the baby smoking on the cover. It had to be something my parents didn’t want me listening to, it was a baby smoking for fuck sake.

I liked all the hits, “Jump” “Panama,” “I’ll Wait,” “Hot for Teacher,” but it was the non-hits that caught most of my attention — “Drop Dead Legs,” “Top Jimmy,” “Girl Gone Bad” — these were kickass songs. Enough guitar to make them metal. Enough synth to make them pop. Without that synthesizer I would’ve never heard this band. Those keyboards are what made Van Halen mainstream. And where I grew up, mainstream was all there was. The waves from the real rock radio stations couldn’t reach us out in the sticks. And MTV? Ha! Not on our rabbit-eared tv. I had to wait until I heard the money-making hits on Rick Dee’s Weekly Top 40 before Eddie’s riffs got their hooks in me. 

A couple years after 1984, 5150 happened, and it quickly became my favorite album of all time. The  flashy frontman with the high leg kicks and ass-less pants was gone. The dude who sang the cornball song about driving too fast was in. I’ve been a diehard fan since. 

It was never really Dave versus Sammy for me. They both had their place and time. Dave was the perfect frontman to get that band off the ground and launched into rock history. He wasn’t the best singer, but the guy knew how to command a stage. He was the right mix of rockstar and standup comedian. He never really made much sense, but he was perfect for those first albums. 

Sammy could sing. He took the band in a whole new direction and it worked. Probably better than some original fans care to admit. I appreciate Roth, but I prefer Sammy. For me, Sammy-fronted Halen is the superior Halen. And I’ll fight you on that if need be. And after we fight, we can both agree that you really can’t go wrong with either. Van Halen kicks fucking ass from the first album to the last. (The Cherone album doesn’t count and that last one they did with Roth would’ve worked much better as a collection of guitar solos. Roth's singing was embarrassing!) 

All the infighting, the breakups, the rehab stints, the teeth that fell out of Eddie’s head, the reunion tours that should’ve never happened — none of the extracurricular bullshit has ever mattered to me. To this day, when I listen to the top-to-bottom brilliance of 5150 or the approachable audacity of OU812, or when I go back to the bombast of the self-titled first release, or the street smarts of Fair Warning, it’s all about the dominance of one of the greatest rock bands of all time — no matter who was at the helm. (Again, I’m not counting Gary Cherone. That wasn’t Van Halen. That was the Van Halen brothers trying to prove to Sammy they could do it without him. They couldn’t.)

But no matter your opinion on the frontman, there’s no argument whatsoever that Eddie is one of the greatest, if not THE greatest rock guitarists to ever breathe. His playing style still influences bands to this day. There will never be another Eddie Van Halen. 

But if the rumors are true and Eddie is as sick as they say, we may have seen the last of this guitar god. The fact he’s made it this far is somewhat of a feat. He was never the picture of health. That smokey treat at the end of his Frankenstrat was always smoldering. The booze and booger sugar are behind him now, but they’ve done their damage. It’ll be a sad day when he’s gone. But his legacy will never die. 

Do yourself a favor while he's still here. Grab a VH album, any album—ok, ok, even the Cherone album—and just listen. (Shit, grab the Twister soundtrack if you want. “Humans Being” features one of the best guitar solos you’ll ever hear.) Listen to the genius and innovation. The whammy bar, the finger tapping, the way he made it seem like his guitar was another appendage. 

These guys are rock dinosaurs. Sammy just turned 72, Eddie might be on his last leg, and Roth has no idea where he is. (Michael Anthony looks healthy. He’s only 5’3”, but he looks healthy.) Allow yourself some time to appreciate what they’ve given us. Pure, unadulterated, kick-you-in-the-balls rock and roll. The end. For real this time. 

Long live The Mighty Van Halen!  

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