Top Ten Van Halen Songs of ALL Time
Aug 25, 2005 (Updated Feb 2, 2012)
Popular Products in MusicThe Bottom Line Van Halen's Top Ten best songs...of...ALL...time! 'Nuff said!
Recently, I wrote my take on which Van Halen frontman and his version of the band was better: "Diamond" David Lee Roth's Van Halen, or Sammy Hagar's Van Halen (aka "Van Hagar"). To read more about my findings, check out http://www.epinions.com/content_4492206212, where I give my Top Ten reasons why Dave "owns" Sammy!
Well, in the spirit of that review, I have decided to humbly offer my Top Ten Van Halen songs...of...ALL...time! Cue Bill and Ted on the air guitar! Here it is, folks: my greatly biased, highly unscientific list of Top Ten Van Halen songs:
10) Ice Cream Man (Van Halen)
-- Some may think that this song is a total throwaway, added-at-the-last-minute song, but Ice Cream Man is indicative of two prime aspects of Van Halen: 1) their penchant for fun, party rock; and, 2) Eddie Van Halen's many forays into different musical genres.
Just to give you an idea, Ice Cream Man starts out as acoustic blues, with David Lee Roth throatily crooning the lyrics, while he (not Eddie) strums away. Then, mid-song, the whole band breaks out into hard rock, with Alex Van Halen setting a pulse-pounding beat and Eddie shredding that homemade Kramer-body electric. This is a fun song that you will have great difficulty NOT singing along with.
9) Dreams (5150)
-- When it comes to Van Halen with synthesizers and Sammy Hagar, I cannot help but think about what they were missing with Diamond Dave. BUT, I cannot take away anything from Sammy Hagar when it comes to crafting hard rock tunes, and his Van Halen, admittedly, put out some good pop/hard rock hits that I like (though Sammy did have a tendency to write inane lyrics)...
Dreams is a song with a pronounced amount of synthesizer accompaniment in it; and, yes, some of the lyrics are cheesy. However, Dreams is one of the most uplifting songs I have ever heard. I am a sucker for lyrics that optimistically elevate love and cause us to focus on the good aspects of life instead of mulling over the bad. This song accomplishes this, and has a nifty (but short) Eddie solo near the end.
8) Cathedral (Diver Down)
-- If you ever heard this instrumental (all Eddie, by the way), you would have some difficulty figuring out if Eddie Van Halen were playing a pipe organ, a synthesizer, or some space-age pan flute. He is actually playing guitar on this song, channeled through effects to give it that reverberated, windy sound that one would expect out of a pipe organ. This instrumental is only one minute and twenty-two seconds long, but it's a mind-blowing (yet understated) experience, and counter to the sound that is often attributed to Eddie.
7) Ain't Talking 'Bout Love (Van Halen)
-- I must admit that I am not a fan of the main point of the lyrics (let's just say that "love" is not the point of the song), you have to admire the swagger that David Lee Roth brings to the material. Throw in Eddie's (soon-to-have-become) trademark hammer-ons and pull-offs, and make the song a pop-radio-friendly 3:49, and you have a great song, even if the lyrics aren't all "lovey-dovey."
Oh, interesting note: this song was one of the few songs from the Dave era that Sammy Hagar was willing to sing. Well, la-ti-da, Mr. Hagar! Too good for great Dave-era music, eh?!
6) Spanish Fly (Van Halen II)
-- Why did I choose this acoustic guitar instrumental, which is only a paltry minute or so long? There is actually an important story behind this song. Apparently, after the success of Van Halen, the eponymous debut, critics of the band alleged that Eddie could not be THAT fast, and that he was using effects to create that lightning-fast sound. This peeved Eddie to such an extent that he decided to prove that he could play THAT fast on acoustic guitar. So, he took his flamencoesque repetoire of hammer-ons, pull-offs, and fret-tapping and laid it all out in Spanish Fly.
Now, it's not a great radio-friendly song, per se, but it made a statement. From that point on, people never doubted Eddie's speed or technique. Therefore, Spanish Fly is number six on my list because of its historical significance and its showcasing of Eddie's talent on acoustic guitar.
5) Dance the Night Away (Van Halen II)
-- This song is one of my personal favorites, but I couldn't put it closer to the top of the list just because I like it! There are quite a few songs that are "better" than Dance the Night Away, but this song has a lot going for it: a radio-friendly length, a memorable opening riff, solid pop-like lyrics, that trademark Van Halen chorus singing, and a taut structure that is economical. The only thing that is really missing from this song is one of Eddie's great solos, but I think that Eddie's intent in songwriting was more to craft a great song than merely create platforms upon which he could solo. This song is a classic, but it's only the fifth best Van Halen song!
4) Right Now (For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge)
-- One of the most irritating aspects of "Van Hagar" was their penchant for concocting cheesy album titles that tried much too hard to be witty. First, there was OU812. OU812?! Puh-leeease! They would have been better off just spelling it out! Then, (and I swear this must have been Sammy's doing), Van Halen came up with For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, which we all know spells out that overused expletive. Witty? No! This was frat-boy cling-on humor (Frat-boy cling-ons are twerps who hang out with the frat guys in hopes of being cool, yet are too spineless to try to be cool on their own merits...).
Anyway, Right Now is one of Van Halen's best. Why? First of all, the earnest, impactful piano work of Eddie Van Halen. For the first minute-and-a-half, Eddie plays some great piano, reminding us that his talent extended far beyond the guitar. Then, we actually have some decent lyrics which espouse seizing opportunities in the present before they disappear. Plus, Sammy did bring that emotive quality to the table with his vocals that Dave could not. The rasp and husk of Sammy's voice really buoys the song, not to mention Eddie's work on the piano and guitar, and Alex's unsung work on the drums.
3) 1984/Jump (1984)
-- ("Wait a minute! Those are two songs! You can't bunch songs together like that?!" Oh, yeah? Watch me!)
I consider 1984 and Jump as one mega-song because the former is a companion to the latter on the album. If you ever heard 1984, the album starts off with the space-agey title track, which then (with a short pause) seques into Jump. Thus, I think of both songs as, potentially, one song.
In any case, Jump wasn't the first song to feature Eddie Van Halen prominently on synthesizer, but it would be the most popular Van Halen song with that sound. This song has a lot going for it, as well: Alex's drum work, Dave's party persona in full force, Eddie with great guitar and synthesizer solos, and a radio-friendly four-minute length. The lyrics are decidedly nonsensical, though; I mean, what would "jumping" really do? Is it about suicide?! Is it about springing into action? Skydiving, perhaps? Really, who cares?! It's an awesome, upbeat song.
2) Eruption (Van Halen)
-- A third instrumental graces the Top Ten, but this one's the best of the bunch. In fact, it is probably one of the best rock songs of all time, if only because it had a guitar sound that no one before Eddie Van Halen had produced. In its time, Eruption was phenomenal, compelling thousands of wannabe guitarists and metalheads to pick up their axes and try to even replicate a fraction of what Eddie Van Halen could do.
This song was Van Halen's manifesto for world conquest, and it is something to behold!
1) Unchained (Fair Warning)
-- My goodness, Unchained! This song really rocks. It has a slightly dark and dangerous edge to it, but from the overdriven chops of the intro to Eddie's raucous play in the end, Unchained is propulsive and energetic. Just listening to the song would compel anyone to aggressively play air guitar, all the while mouthing those lyrics. This song has machismo, but also a lot of humor; in the middle of the song, we hear Dave joking with (perhaps) the producer, before leaping back into the song, full-speed ahead. This song is also radio-friendly, but true to the Van Halen style: party metal with bravado and style!
Well, that's my list. There are a lot of songs worthy of Honorable Mention: You're No Good, Intruder/Pretty Woman, Panama, Jamie's Cryin', and even Top of the World are all great songs, as well as a host of others on the cusp of greatness. Of course, this is only one list, and I'm sure that many of you would disagree. If you do, please feel free to offer your ideas for Van Halen songs that I missed on this list.