I’m not going to tell you anything about Eddie Van Halen that you don’t already know. I learned of his passing earlier this week the way we seem to hear most news for the first time these days – on social media. Honestly I feel like it should have hit me harder, like it did when we lost Cornell and Bowie and Prince. Maybe it didn’t because those losses came out of the blue whereas Eddie had battled cancer for some time. Maybe it’s the 2020 malaise spread all over us like a layer of goo and making us numb. I don’t know.
You see, Van Halen was my first “Favorite Band”, a label that is incredibly meaningful when you’re 12 or 13 years old and just starting to form opinions about things that even adults care about. 1984 had just come out and “Jump” was all over MTV, and it was one of the very first records I ever bought. At that point I lacked context, so it came as a bit surprise to learn that Van Halen had five other albums as well. Wow, five more records that are as awesome as 1984! I had to buy them. Over the course of a few months I did, some on tape and some on vinyl.
And I was shocked by the lack of synthesizers and songs that sounded like “Jump”.
I think it was a friend’s much older brother who cued us into some of the best tracks on Van Halen, and it wasn’t long before I gained an appreciation for “Runnin’ With the Devil” and “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”. I even had a Van Halen painter’s hat to which I attached a pair of Van Halen buttons, the height of shopping mall and arcade fashion in the 1984 tween set.
Van Halen was also the first band that kinda-sorta broke my heart when, not that long after me declaring my undying loyalty to them, they parted ways with David Lee Roth. In my naiveté never dawned on me that such a thing was even possible, and yet it happened to my favorite band. I gave Van Hagar a chance, picking up 5150 as soon as it came out, but I couldn’t get into it. It wasn’t that the new incarnation of Van Halen was bad, they were just different, and different enough that I couldn’t connect. That didn’t stop me from experiencing them live as part of the 1988 Monsters of Rock tour, but to be honest by then I was more interested in seeing Metallica and the Scorpions than I was Eddie and the boys.
All that being said, I do still love me some Van Halen from the David Lee Roth era. With that in mind (and not that anyone asked), here are my favorite songs from each of the first six albums.
- Van Halen – “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”
- Van Halen II – “You’re No Good”
- Women and Children First – “Everybody Wants Some!”
- Fair Warning – “Unchained”
- Diver Down – “Where Have All the Good Times Gone!”
- 1984 – “Panama”
RIP Eddie, and thanks for all those great licks.