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Musical Gods: Eddie Van Halen

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Last week I joined a consortium of music bloggers who will blog each Wednesday about music gods- we’re calling it Musical Chairs. How it works is, we all pick a music god to write about and then the others can add their own thoughts to yours.

The musical chair particpants for this week (and their subjects) are:

Andrew (Steve Jones of Sex Pistols fame): Post here
Tesco (Tim Alexander of Primus): Post here
Courtney (Richard Thompson): Post here
Mr. Nimbus (George Martin): Post here

My subject: The one, the only EDDIE VAN HALEN.

TheManIt seems like every time I talk about Eddie Van Halen, someone has to bring up Yngwie Malmsteen. Let’s get this out of the way: Yes, I know that Malmsteen did this whole show-offy thing where he played “Eruption” blindfolded, using just his two front teeth, while juggling chainsaws with one hand and wacking off to pictures of himself with the other. Or something like that. I just want to head off any ensuing discussion that will involve Mr. Malmsteen, and let you know that all mentions of him will be ignored. Let’s talk about Eddie.

Eddie is a rock LEGEND

As written by Nerf Herder:

I bought Van Halen I
It was the best damn record I ever owned
TG&Y 1978
Two hand tapping guitar technique really got me off
Eruption yeah, ain’t talkin’ ’bout love, I’m on fire

He certainly didn’t invent the two hand tapping technique, but he brought it to the forefront of rock and roll. He took that technique, toyed with it, made modifications and adjustments and variations, and turned it into his, and the band’s, trademark sound. What you hear when you listen to the-guitar-solo-as-song Eruption> is a meaty, full, percussive wall of sound that you feel in your gut and heart as well as your ears.

When you put on a Van Halen song (and we’re talking David Lee Roth era Van Halen here; once Eddie got it in his head that he should be playing keyboards over Sammy Hagar’s schmaltzy, orchestrated, pop music love ballad crooning, Van Halen lost the plot. They do not exist outside the realm of David Lee Roth for me and, as such, when I say “Van Halen song” it applies only to those albums) everyone knows it’s Van Halen. It’s not Dave’s voice, not Alex’s drumming, not whatever the other guy in the band did. It’s the guitar. It’s the sound of Eddie Van Halen rocking with his cock out, Eddie manipulating that guitar like nobody’s business, Eddie making your heart pound and your fist pump in the air, Eddie making you whip out your air guitar and wail away, just go crazy right there in your living room until you realize your entire family is standing there, staring at you, but then you put on Runnin’ With the Devil and they all join in.

Eddie made it all look easy, too. When he played, it was like second nature to him, like it’s what his hands were born to do; an effortless, smooth, precision like banging out of notes and rhythms that came across not just as screechy guitar solos, but as music – real, tuneful music. As my friend and guitarist Solonor (who points to EVH’s solo in Michael Jackson’s Beat It as one of his best) says:

“The thing about Eddie’s solos is that they were lyrical. In my opinion, all the best guitar solos can be sung in your head after the record stops.”

EVH contributed so much to rock and roll, musically and technically (but I bow out of the technical aspects of this discussion. Perhaps I’ll let my son – who hero worships EVH – write about that some time).

Essential listening:

Runnin’ with the Devil
Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love
Atomic Punk
You Really Got Me

Andrew says:

Van Halen I was THE VH record of my youth. I never owned it, but I listened to it over and over again at my friend Jesse’s apartment. I think I memorized every note of Eddie Van Halen’s guitar — from the wicked, metallurgical resonance of “Runnin’ With the Devil” to the choppy tones of “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” and everything else on that record — or at least on side 1. I was fixated on side 1. The brilliance of “Eruption” and how it segued into Van Halen’s more traditional, steady-rockin’ cover of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” is permanently programmed into my auditory memory. David Lee Roth’s vocals on “You Really Got Me” were tougher, sexier than Ray Davies’s of the Kinks, and this is one of the few cover tunes that improve upon the original, but Eddie’s devastating licks and the way they punctuate, accentuate and somehow *amplify* DLR’s vocals — those licks are what convert this tune from just another cover into a true Van Halen classic.

Andrew makes a good point about the Eruption segue. It’s like listening to Zeppelin’s Heartbreaker/Living Loving Maid. And YRGM is probably one of the finest reworkings of a classic song I’ve ever heard.

Courtney says:

First, Yngwie, wacking off to pictures of himself? Priceless.

Also, Van Halen’s lineup will ALWAYS BE: Michael Anthony, Alex Van Halen, Eddie Van Halen, and David Lee Roth. End of discussion. Ahh, ahh, zip it. Diamond Dave rules.

Now, onto Eddie. Yes, the song that immediately pops into my head when I think of Van Halen is “Running with the Devil”, and you’re right. It’s all about that guitar. Sure, he could play fast, and sure, that two-finger thing was badass, but even when he wasn’t being “Eddie Van Halen”, the guitar sound of Van Halen defined a generation. I love to listen to those old riffs; they epitomize what rock and roll guitar should be. They weren’t overblown, they weren’t buzzy power chords at lightning speed, they were good, arpeggio-ridden, whah-whah lovely rock riffs. EVERYONE loves those riffs, admit it.

So now, reach down, in between my legs, and ease the seat back…

Courtney obviously shares my affection for old school VH. And funny thing about those words to Panama she quotes – I can’t listen to that song when DJ is in the car because not only the words, but the way Dave says them – it’s like listening to porn-on-tape in front of your 12 year old.

And Tesco’s thoughts on EVH:

Eddie Van Halen is one of the masters. As you said, he
didn’t create the tapping sound but he certainly perfected it. The feel of early Van Halen can’t be denied by anyone – There is definately at LEAST one VH tune that you will be nuts for whether you want to admit it or not. I’ll never forget when Howard Stern
had a contest inviting his listeners to play the intro for Hot For Teacher… no one could touch it. I know one dude that can play Eddie’s riffs with precision and the same feel… one… and even he’ll never own up to it!

Which begs the question? What’s your favorite VH song? (Anyone who says Dreams gets a smackdown).

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About Michele Catalano

  • I can never get “Unchained” out of my head, no matter how hard I try. That, and “Jamie’s Cryin'”.

  • Unchained is another great one, should have put that on the list.

  • JR

    EVH is vastly underrated as a rhythm player; just listen to the beginning of “Panama” and try to figure out where 1 is. He also revolutionized the guitar industry – no longer were humbucking pickups and the vibrato bar an either/or proposition.

  • Darren

    There are many, and I don’t even listen to VH anymore. “Mean Streets” gets my adrenaline pumping just thinking about it. “God strike that poor boy DOWN”…

    But I really *love* the two forgotten rockers that close out 1984 – Girl Gone Bad and House of Pain. Roth scatting over the outro raises goosebumps on my arms as I sit here, again just thinking about it.

    The last two songs of the Roth era, chronologically speaking, are perhaps the most ferocious things they ever recorded… They tap into some kind of primal area that makes me want to dance, scream and drive 100 mph all at the same time. Hey – I’m gonna put them on now… Better hide the car keys.

  • (So let this be ignored***)

    First off, EVH is one of the best guitarists… PERIOD!! I do feel that he doesn’t put the passion into it anymore,but, who can blame him?? Van Halen’s new cd is lame…and without Diamond Dave…*Nevermind* it’s all been said!!! I remember “Erruption” and it made me “Sport wood” as well as a B-side classic “Little Guitars”!!! That song still rocks my ass off especially the classical soloette… But for me “1984” will always be the pinnacle… “Drop Dead Legs” anyone??

    As for Mr. Malmsteen… I do feel he is a pompous jerk but just as EVH perfected finger tapping, Yngwie’s Rising Force was a one and only for 1982!!(A classically fused metal album) My only stance(I will probably get boo-ed) is that Yngwie wrote the entire album himself(Lyrics,Bass,Guitar,Drums) and performed most of it himself as well… But, I am still confused at all the hatred?? To be honest… Their both egotistical bastards and that’s the way it was back then!!! Who could play faster, who bend the bridge the hardest?? Remember EVH walking on the library table in “Hot for teacher”?? Well, that wasn’t saying”I love this table, it’s got some nice grooves” was it?? Anyways…. Enuff said…


  • Rob

    “Yes, I know that Malmsteen did this whole show-offy thing where he played “Eruption” blindfolded, using just his two front teeth, while juggling chainsaws with one hand and wacking off to pictures of himself with the other. Or something like that”
    Couldn’t have said it better. Thanks for the laugh!
    As for Eddie, he’s an original, just like Jimi, Clapton, BB, Robert Johnson (to name a few) before him. Like you said, you know it’s Eddie just by hearing him play. Not many guitarists that can make that claim. Often imitated, never duplicated.

  • It’s funny, all the Malmsteen bashing. He actually seems rather laid back in his interviews. He just does his thing. He may come across as being arrogant because he doesn’t hestitate to say that certain aspects of other guitarists’ playing isn’t his thing. You usually don’t hear other notable guitarists talking like that.

  • Bennett

    Great post Michelle!!! Love’em all, and like you say I can sing all of the leads in my head.

    “Top Jimmy” has the most kickass complex riffs as intro and throughout…

    VH1 & 1984, he could have stopped right there and been a God forever.

  • mike

    One thing about the early van halen songs that hit when I was most interested in music (10-20 years old) is that I can still here them in my head all these years later. One of my favorite guitar parts is the little interlude in lighting up the sky of just Eddie and Dave

    “Ooh, mama, see the firelights
    Ooh, we’re comin’ out tonight
    Ooh, mama, see the firelights
    Ooh, lightin’ up the sky
    Light ’em up”

    Man, love that guitar part. Spent many hours in high school noodling around with that, hmmm maybe I should head over to itunes to hear that again!


  • Not for nothin’ but the vast majority of air guitarists seem to choose a segment of a VH track to perform to. VH tunes are like sex, when they’re good they’re great, and when they’re bad they’re still pretty good.

  • godoggo

    I remember many years reading EVH saying he had a collection of home recordings he’d made of utterly unlistenable noise.

    Come on, you know you want to hear it.

  • D Dubb

    Diamond Dave and VH will never reunite, even with the countless rumors we heard on a monthly basis. They should have dropped their egos and did it for the fans exclusively on their 25th anniversary in 2003. Best VH albums in order are:

    1. VH II (True party album)!
    2. VH I
    3. Fair Warning
    4. Women and Children First
    5. 1984 (Poppy, Hot For Teacher_ awesome riff!)
    6. Diver Down (Just over 20 minutes of all remakes and still found a way to make an album out of it! The guitar solo Cathedral is worth it as well as Little Guitars)!

  • ScubaSteve

    I think I was 13 in 1981. ‘Fair Warning’ had just been released and one of my buddies had purchased (I know…actually used money to acquire music!!)the cassette. I think we listened to that tape 150 times in 1 weekend! When it comes to Eddie…he’s like the stuff they put in KFC…I don’t know what the hell it is, but it’s insanely addictive. My fav albums in order:

    1. Fair Warning
    2. VH II
    3. VH I
    4. For Unlawful Carnal (sorry dave only fans..I love eddies work on this one!)
    5. 5150 (there is no better summer LP!)
    6. 1984
    7. Diver Down (Hang Em High…-killer)

    Honorable mentions: ‘What Love can Do’ (guitar and Mikes background vox!) & ‘Respect the Wind’ – forget the movie…if you can find a tune with more emotion behind a whammy bar you can date my wife…and I hear she’s pretty good, too! Later…


  • crooked spine

    In the summer of 1982 I was 13 years old, and someone in school played Diver Down for me. That’s the first time I remember hearing Van Halen. I got the album (on vinyl!) for Christmas that year. By the time David Lee Roth quit a few years later, I had all six of their albums. Van Halen was the first band I liked enough to buy their entire catalog. (I never bought any of the post-Dave albums.)

    Eddie was a great guitar player, no doubt about it, but I sometimes think he gets too much of the credit for the band’s success. Alex was a brilliant drummer – just listen to “Everybody Wants Some” or “Hot for Teacher.” Mike was no John Entwistle on bass, but he always managed to make each song groove. And he was a fantastic backup vocalist. And David Lee Roth was the perfect, swaggering frontman for it all. He may not have had as high a range as Sammy Hagar, but he had 100 times as much feel for what sounds good. (That shout that comes out of his throat at the beginning of “Dirty Movies” from Fair Warning… I remember being a teenager who thought that was just about the coolest thing I’d ever heard.)

    See, Van Halen was about so much more than just technical proficiency on the guitar. These guys knew how to create a groove, and they knew how to put on a show. There were a ton of bands that popped up in the mid ’80s who featured virtuoso guitar players, but none of them came close to capturing the spirit and the inventiveness of the original Van Halen.

    I’ve still got that vinyl copy of Diver Down, and I’ve still got three unanswered questions: (1) Who plays the harmonica solo on “The Full Bug”? (2) How come “Secrets” never got any airplay on the radio? (3) What is Michael Anthony doing with his bass in that picture on the back cover?

  • Mike Thompson

    Long live the Mighty Edward Van Halen!! I miss those great days with Diamond Dave.

  • Joe Cool

    Sammy is the best!

    Eddie rules with Sammy more than Dave!

    You say Sammy’s music has too much keyboard! Ha!!! On 1984 the songs 1984, Jump, and I’ll wait all have keyboards.

    Sammy is a better singer. When he sings the music feels complete.

    Also, have you never heard 5150, summer nights, or poundcake?

    The guitar on those rock, and Sammy is great.

    Dreams by Van Halen… Best song ever, and it has feeling with keyboard.

    All you DLR fans say you are true Van Halen fans, while you don’t realize that you have abandoned the band. The band is not called Sammy, and it’s not called Dave! It’s called Van Halen because of Alex and Eddie. You abandoned your band, and didn’t support their decision!

    Think of who could have replaced Dave…

    Ozzy Osbourne, Britney Spears, Phil Collins, the guy from Green Day…?

    Sammy was obviously the best choice.

    If you don’t like Sammy, then at least listen to the guitar openings and solos on 5150 and For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge!

    Songs like Summer Nights, 5150, The Dream is over (especially), Pleasure Dome, etc.

    Thank You!

  • ken

    van halen ruled, even tho’to me they still do. it’s all generational, that is to say if you ask todays average punk what they think of ed and company they’d say him and his whammy bar suck!! all i hear nowadays is kids strummin their teles thru rectos at full power with very little skill, improv, or feel.[dave grohl is the perfect example.] i recently jammed with some 20 something supposed muscians and blew them out of the water, only because ed inspired me to learn how to burn. after, they all wanted lessons as i told em to go buy a vanhalen cd. everyone wants to be a muscian today but they would have flopped fast 20 years ago, when if you wanted in the band you really would have had to known your chops. lol. how can anyone dare to criticize v.h. when they’ve , with their distinctiveness have epitomised rock. their tunes were fun, inspiring, catchty. recently at a music store ,hot for teacher came on over the speaker system and a group of 20 year old exclaimed who’s that? i calmly said to them, ” the dad you never knew”. they snickered, and i responded ” go home and learn the solo to beat it or icecream man, then you’ll be worthty of talking to me. I DID.

  • MAL 69

    A few weeks ago I saw DLR and his band at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz, CA. Maybe 800 people, great show, 12 Van Halen songs, 3 DLR songs.
    Heaven on Earth. Way cool.

  • myothaw

    As far as I understand, there’s two VH fan groups, DLR group and Sammy group.
    DLR fans like the style and popularity of DLR on the stage. The tune and lyrics are party music type. Sammy group like the inspirational lyrics and tune, aslo the high pitch and energitic vocal of Sammy. Generally, DLR is for the people in top layer class and Sammy is for the labor class. Without Eddie, Sammy is nothing and without Sammy Eddie can’t do anything. Since they 4 (Eddie, Alex, Sammy, Mike) work together, we have 4 albums of our life time. (5150, OU812, FUCK and Balance).
    Eddie want to fire Sammy because he want to rule the band with his own and he would hate Sammy’s anti-woman lyrics. He would dream the band like the combination of DLR & Sammy. So he picked the Gary for the mixture of DLR style and Sammy look alike vocal to do the VH3. The songs in VH3 has some quality, but the VH world is not accepted. I always dream the band would continue with Sammy and dream for the music like Mine All Mine and Judgement Day. I listen the Sammy Hagar music with Wabo Rita band, that’s the same old tune of Sammy Hagar before 1986. Nothing improvement. I was Sammy’s fan and I always wish I could go to Sammy’s BDay Batch in Cabo one day before Sammy die.

  • Eddie Van Halen and his son Wolfie have completed an original work of art titled” Father and Son” for participation in GuitarMania Phoenix.
    This is a ten foot tall Fender Stratocaster that will be on public display in greater Phoenix beginnig 9/23 at America West Arena. The project includes 89 guitars and celebrities like Bob Seger, Billy Preston, Gavin DeGraw, US Senator John McCain, the Gin Blossoms, Denis Leary, Stevie Nicks and many others are involved. It is modeled on a similar project in Cleveland and partners include the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Fender. http://www.bbbsaz.org for more information.

  • scott

    1st of all, Sammy can sing his ass off compared to Dave. I dig ’em both but let’s get real here. Dave cannot sing. I’ve even taken Dave’s vocals out of some songs w/my equipment because it is so bad. To those who don’t like post-Dave VH, I just don’t see how you cannot think the guitar work and sound produced (e.g. Steinberger TransTrem on Hot Summer Nights and 5150) doesn’t sound cool.

  • Alex

    To crooked spine:
    To asnwer one of your questions:
    1) Who plays the harmonica solo on “The Full Bug”? it was Eddie’s dad. He was a musician too.

  • Jamie’s Crying

    That’s right. Jamie’s crying for some more Van Halen!!!! This music today stinks! Why can’t these musicians of today play worth a crap? I’m going to get my blankie and bottle and go cry to my mommy now. whah whah whah.. I need my Van Halen bottle. Whahh whahh where’s my Eddie guitar solo’s? I need my dipie changed. It really stinks in my diaper.. Please won’t somebody change my dipie?????

  • Eddie is the king of rock he has changed the image and he is the most underatted guitarist .. but , he is the best!!!EDDIE EDDIE EDDIE

  • duane

    Eddie is not underrated by anyone who knows about guitar. He has gotten all the credit he deserves. He is a fantastic player. But he’s not the best. If you told Eddie that he’s the best, he would just smile at you while thinking that you don’t know much about guitar. He has made a place for himself in guitar history as an innovator. He’s able to play tight precise lines, and he’s able to back off a little and let it flow with a feel that makes you grit your teeth. Many guitarists have learned from him, perfected the technique, and carried it off into bigger and better things. Isn’t that the way it oughta be?

  • Diamond Dave

    VanHalen RULES!! Eddie is “The Best Guitarist on The Planet” Bar None. See ya soon boys! Diamond Dave

  • RW

    There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. Proverbs 16:25 christianrockreport.com
    Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. Philippians 4:4


    Eddie does rule! oh how bout instead of complaining about how much music sucks. (This is to the dudes that can play like eddie) Start a band and do something about it. make an allegience or something with other bands that play only pure rock god material music and change the sounds you hear coming out of your shitty radios and do something. Oh and will someone please kill 50 cent and all his thugs. Their songs remind me of four year olds trying to write poetry

  • James Porobic

    Panama, Hot for Teacher, and –don’t make fun of this– when I was a little kid, maybe 2 or 3, my guitar-virtuoso uncle would always play “Jump” on the little tapedeck in my room. I guess “Jump” was the first VH song I ever heard. But I digress: The Diamond Dave lineup is the only true Van Halen group.

  • chops

    For me ultimate Van Halen cannot be summed up in just one song….take for example big bad bill- a cover tune but it just smokes, and for a rock band to play it and release it…Whoaaah and then what about women and children first, then listen to the beautiful intor riff in Hear about it later…and Hot for teacher…listen to any of these on vinyl through a good stereo..man what a band, and what a guitarist…musician….Artist!!..back to the whiskey and headphones…have a good night..!!

  • brad

    # 16 I think you are stupid Dave kills Sammy. Sammy sounds like he is about to die when ever he is singing

  • Me

    With sammie, van halen was more musical. with DLR it was more rock. either way it was good. and Humans Being is a kick ass song that rocks more than alot of DLR music