Friday, September 29, 2006

As Fine As You Are

While we're talking about the '80s, let's take a look at the soundtrack of my 8th grade year, Van Halen's 1984 (1984) -- huh huh huh, he said "1984" twice. Released in early January, this was a mega-hit. In fact, it reached #2 on the charts, held out of the top spot by some piece of shit called Thriller.

1984 was the 6th and final release by the original Van Halen line-up, or as I simply call them, the real Van Halen. The '80s were an awkward decade, and 13-going-on-14 is an awkward age. These are a couple of the factors that contributed to the pervasive impression that future Vegas sideshow David Lee Roth was about the coolest guy on two feet. But, I digress.

This album was not without its controversy amongst hardcore Van Halen fans. After all, keyboards played a prominent role in what had always been a guitar-driven band. In any event...

"1984" is just a little, one-minute-long synthesizer instrumental, leading into the hugely popular (many said, "sell-out" -- as if that could even apply to Van Halen) lead single. "Jump" was a #1 hit that sold something ridiculous like 3 million copies. It holds a special place in my heart because it served as WGN TV's theme song for Cubs broadcasts for many years.

"Panama" is one of those ultra-catchy, classic Van Halen tunes with Eddie's guitar riffs, Alex's thunderous drums, and Michael's booming bass. And, of course, there was the quintessential Roth cheese ("Reach down between my legs[PAUSE]and ease the seat back").

"Top Jimmy" has some of Eddie's coolest sounding guitar work. "Drop Dead Legs" is almost ZZ Top-Eliminator-esque in its heavy guitar/bass combo.

"Hot For Teacher" has a drum intro that seems to approximate the starting of a Harley. The guitar solo is Eddie at some of his Eddie-est. Roth throws in some classic spoken-word stuff ("I don't feel tardy"). And, the video was among the biggest hits in the still-early days of MTV. (Remember music videos?)

"I'll Wait" is the best song on the album. It's based around a catchier-than-catchy synth bit and too-cool drum rolls. The middle is a guitar solo in which Eddie channels Hendrix. This was the song I always played in 8th grade and early high school when I would pretend I was going to have the guts to ask a girl out. (I was such a shy boy.)

After the uninterrupted string of classics above, the album finishes with two songs I really didn't remember before I dusted this puppy off last night:

"Girl Gone Bad" has all the early Van Halen ingredients in mostly the right proportions. It's actually a pretty darned good song. I just used to pick up the needle and replay "I'll Wait" over and over, so I don't remember this one.

Likewise for "House Of Pain." It's heavyish, with nice guitar work, and some S&M innuendo in the lyrics. The vocals have some mildly annoying effects. Then, there's a little "ah ah, ah ah" break almost reminiscent of Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog" that leads directly into an abrupt fade-out that makes me wonder if this was really a finished song or not. Interesting.

So, bottom line, this one probably isn't on too many people's lists of "best" albums. But, it probably should/could be...especially if you were a 13-going-on-14-year-old Cub fan when it came out.


Blogger Marni said...

I love this album. Great review... brings back memories.

6:41 AM, September 29, 2006  
Blogger haahnster said...

Thanks, Marni. It certainly brought back memories listening to it last night!!!

7:20 AM, September 29, 2006  
Blogger Beth said...

I was 24 going on 25 when this album came out ... and even at that mature age I LOVE this album! So much fun; must pull out my CD when I get home. My best friend and I would get drunk and act out the "Jump" video (I said my age was mature; I didn't say I was mature). Love DLRoth Van Halen; my only regret is I never saw them live.

8:36 AM, September 29, 2006  
Blogger Beth said...

Hey, Haahnster, are you posting a kid photo on Sunday?

8:37 AM, September 29, 2006  
Blogger haahnster said...

Beth: I saw them live on tour for this LP in the summer of '84. David Lee was jumping all over the stage with his mid-air splits. Eddie's guitar was amazing. Good times.

Re: Kid Photo - If I can manage the scanning...fairly big "if" for my tech-challenged self.

8:49 AM, September 29, 2006  
Blogger Old Lady said...

I'm thinking that Eddie Van Halen came close to Hendrix with this pickin'- what do you think? Some times his riffs are reminiscent of Jimi, but just not quite.

9:57 AM, September 29, 2006  
Blogger haahnster said...

OL: Interesting topic of discussion...Both Hendrix & Van Halen had their own style, and both spawned countless imitators.

Jimi used endless effects and experimentation, yet it was all rooted in the blues (albeit sometimes buried way beneath the surface).

Eddie used blazing speed, and oddly enough, his playing was probably most rooted in his training as a classical pianist.

What distinguishes these two from most of their respective imitators is the feeling. I.e. there was substance underlying the form. I'm not sure about some of the later Van Halen stuff. But, on the first 6 albums, it usually felt like he was doing more than just showing off how fast he could play. Most of his imitators couldn't seem to get over themselves. And, there's not much worse than mindless "finger-tapping" scales...

Where their styles seem to converge most is on Eddie's solo in "I'll Wait." To me, that's his most Hendrix-esque work. (Of course, every piece of electric guitar playing after Hendrix was in at least some small way influenced by Hendrix.)

Just my opinions.

10:22 AM, September 29, 2006  
Blogger Keith Kennedy said...

As a 23 year old just out of college and starting to figure out how to grind in the real world, This was the first Van Halen I could actually listen to and it had everything to do with the "Hot for Teacher" video. Yes, MTV created another convert.

I was never impressed with Van Halen. I saw them open for the Stones in 1978 and David Lee was an idiot imposter of Mick Jagger on lots of coke.

But I did like the "Hot for Teacher" video. Have I mentioned that?

Anyway, I can remember a younger fellow coming to my apartment wanting to play that album while we were playing poker and I wouldn't let him put it on because I was listening to The Clash (their first album) and after that it was a spin through the entire six sides of Decade.

So thanks for the memories.

I'll still take The Clash and Neil.

2:59 PM, September 29, 2006  
Blogger haahnster said...

KK: Well, shit, man. I said 1984 was really good. I never said it could compare favorably to The Clash or Neil's Decade!!!

3:18 PM, September 29, 2006  
Blogger Writeprocrastinator said...

Good stuff, my second favorite album next VH ONE.

What made me mad was that I couldn't get tickets to either of three "1984" shows.

The closest I managed was two consecutive nights of David Lee Roth on the "Crazy From The Heat" tour.

And I really can't stand Van Hagar or Van Cherone.

10:55 AM, September 30, 2006  
Blogger haahnster said...

WP: I really liked Sammy Hagar as a solo act, especially his Standing Hampton LP. Never really cared for his stint with Van Halen much, though.

8:19 AM, October 01, 2006  
Blogger Writeprocrastinator said...

"I really liked Sammy Hagar as a solo act, especially his Standing Hampton LP. Never really cared for his stint with Van Halen much, though."

I dug Sammy during the "Standing Hampton" and "Three-lock Box" era, also with Montrose. I can't listen to most of his 70's stuff anymore. I saw him with Michael Shrieve and Neal Schon, they sounded better live than that abomination of an album would suggest.

The thing that got me about Van Hagar was that it seemed for Eddie, a way to get at Dave that would bother him the most. Plus, neither Sammy nor Eddie really got to express themselves, creatively.

The group effort was too great a compromise on both of their parts.

4:06 AM, October 02, 2006  

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