Skyscraper by David Lee Roth

Buy Skyscraper

Skyscraper by David Lee RothDavid Lee Roth‘s second full-length solo album, the commercially successful Skyscraper, has had mixed critical response since it was released in 1988. This album, while continuing much of the same good-time-hard-rock direction that Roth had personified throughout his career as a front man, also saw some subtle movement towards other sub-genres. Most of the compositions on Skyscraper were co-written by Roth and virtuoso lead guitarist Steve Vai.

Following the phenomenal success of Van Halen’s 1984, Roth decided he would give a solo project a go. In early 1985 he released Crazy from the Heat, a four-song EP of cover tunes, which was popular due mainly to innovative music videos and creative character roles. From this latter pool, Roth planned to create of feature-length film and, although the project fell through, the move played a part in Roth officially parting ways from Van Halen in on April 1985. Later that year Roth assembled a backing group consisting of Vai, bassist Billy Sheehan and drummer Gregg Bissonette. This group along with long-time Van Halen producer Ted Templeman recorded and released the LP Eat ‘Em and Smile in 1986 to widespread commercial and critical success.

For the production Skyscraper, Roth and Vai took the producer reigns. Recorded at various studios in Southern California in late 1987, this new arrangement gave the duo much creative freedom to try differing approaches. The original 1988 LP contained ten tracks while subsequent CD reissues incorporated the 1985 hits “California Girls” and “Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody” from Crazy from the Heat.


Skyscraper by David Lee Roth
Released: January 26, 1988 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Steve Vai & David Lee Roth
Recorded: Capitol Records Studio, Smoketree, SNS, Stucco Blue & Sunset S, Los Angeles, Spring–Autumn 1987
Side One Side Two
Knucklebones
Just Like Paradise
The Bottom Line
Skyscraper
Damn Good
Hot Dog and a Shake
Stand Up
Hina
Perfect Timing
Two Fools a Minute
Primary Musicians
David Lee Roth – Lead Vocals
Steve Vai – Guitars
Brett Tuggle – Keyboards
Billy Sheehan – Bass, Vocals
Gregg Bissonette – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

Co-written by Bissonette, the opener “Knucklebones” features a crisp, flanged guitar riff by Vai along with his later harmonized lead. Overall, the song is pretty catchy but standard hard rock with the apt hook for an opener “get the show on the road”. The album’s biggest hit song, “Just Like Paradise”, follows. The composition, which was co-written by keyboardist Brett Tuggle, is accented by piano chords and features just enough catchy melodies and hook to propel it to the Top 10 on the US pop charts.

The rhythm-driven track “The Bottom Line” features a rapid double-kick drum and a rolling bass line by Sheehan, making it musically rewarding albeit a bit tacky lyrically. The title track “Skyscraper” features plenty of synth and vocal effects, rhythmic rudiments to add atmosphere and finely dissolves into a jazzy acoustic coda towards the end. The original first side finishes with the climatic ballad
“Damn Good”, perhaps the highlight of the album. Led by the harmonized acoustic of Vai performed with a slightly Eastern bend, the song overall features just the right mix of melody and synth effects with a nostalgic lyrical nod by Roth back to the Van Halen years.

David Lee Roth and Steve Vai

With “Hot Dog and a Shake”, the album returns to straight-up, good-time hard rock along with some obvious sexual innuendo. “Stand Up” goes in another direction as a pure eighties electronic pop with plenty of synth bass and brass motifs by Tuggle, the kind of sound that, ironically, Roth had criticized former band mate Eddie Van Halen for just a few years earlier. Industrial guitar tones dominate the intro to “Hina”, a unique track which results in one of the more interesting listens on this album. The album concludes with two more attempts at pop music, “Perfect Timing” and “Two Fools a Minute”, the latter featuring a more interesting musical arrangement complete with fret-less bass and bluesy guitars.

Although Skyscraper sold over two million copies and reached Billboard’s Top 10, the David Lee Roth band soon began to disintegrate with the departure of Sheehan soon after its release and Vai after its supporting tour. Roth’s solo career never again gained much traction and he eventually reunited with Van Halen.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1988 albums.

1988 Images

 

Van Halen II

Buy Van Halen II

Van Halen IIWhile rarely cited as one the group’s best works, Van Halen II, features some of the band’s best individual tracks and may well showcase Van Halen at its cohesive best. Where their 1978 debut album was a fantastic showcase for guitarist Eddie Van Halen, this 1979 follow-up finds the rest of the band bringing it up near his level to give the album a greater sense of parity. Produced by Ted Templeman, this album is much more than just a carbon copy of the debut. It may have been the best example of a group successfully following up on a brilliant debut album since Led Zeppelin did it with Led Zeppelin II a decade earlier.

Following the tremendous success of their debut, Van Halen embarked on a world tour through much of 1978 before returning to California in December to immediately begin work on this second album. Warner Brothers decided to give the group a smaller recording budget, in spite of the first album’s phenomenal success. Because of this, there was very little studio time allotted to get the recordings done and many of the recordings were first takes. Further, with little time to compose new material, they drew some material from the demo tracks they recorded prior to the first album.

The entire recording process was completed in three weeks, and this frenzied pace spawned some sonic innovation. Templeman reverted back to some of his pop sensibilities from earlier in the seventies. Eddie Van Halen achieved a thick guitar sound by overloading the circuits on his amplifier, while bassist Michael Anthony used a smaller than normal bass amp to get a sharper, less rounded sound.


Van Halen II by Van Halen
Released: March 23, 1979 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Ted Templeman
Recorded: Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, December 1978-January 1979
Side One Side Two
You’re No Good
Dance the Night Away
Somebody Get Me a Doctor
Bottoms Up!
Outta Love Again
Light Up the Sky
Spanish Fly
D.O.A.
Women In Love
Beautiful Girls
Group Musicians
David Lee Roth – Lead Vocals  |  Eddie Van Halen – Guitars, Vocals
Michael Anthony – Bass, Vocals  |  Alex Van Halen – Drums, Percussion

“You’re No Good” is, frankly, an odd cover selection to start off Van Halen II. However, in reviewing the album as it is laid out in total, it seems to be that this bit of static electric spark starts the chain reaction that leads to the musical inferno portrayed toward the end of the album. Starting with the doomy, slow meandering of Anthony’s flanged out bass before the song slowly marches in. The song proper has all of the Van Halen elements prevalent on the first album and, while certainly not the finest on the album, “You’re No Good” builds enough to make the listener feel like it is cut too short at the end. The mood brightens with the pop rock of “Dance the Night Away”, the group’s first Top 20 hit. The melodic vocals of David Lee Roth accompanies the catchy guitar riff with the bouncy bass perfectly locked with the bright kick drum of Alex Van Halen. There is a higher pitched counter-riff during the chorus and a simple yet brilliant bridge riff variation, while the outro is also done well with Roth inverting his lead vocals with the backing chorus.

Next come a couple of classic barroom songs. A short intro leads into the heavy riff which launches “Somebody Get Me a Doctor”, which dates back to the years before the first album’s release. “Bottoms Up!” has a moderate, unplugged intro by Eddie Van Halen before it breaks into an upbeat quasi-rockabilly song with Anthony slightly outshining the Van Halen brothers musically, as Eddie’s short leads fall just short of the historic precedent he set on the first album. The first side closes with “Outta Love Again”, the oldest composition on the album, notably interesting for its wild, space-like drone intro and clever use of rudiments and vocal timings. Overall, this is probably one of the strongest tracks for drummer Alex Van Halen with his shuffle rhythm through the verses and use of a variety of roll techniques elsewhere.

Van Halen recording Van Halen IIThe second side is where the true genius of Van Halen II lies, with every track being interesting, original, and entertaining. The multi- sectioned “Light Up the Sky” is amazing for how much is packed into this barely three minute long song. Pure hard rock verses with Roth’s precise and complex lead vocals moving through the various sections. During the scaled-back bridge section Roth performs a raspy falsetto before Eddie ignites into a blistering lead guitar, before Alex takes his turn with a short drum solo and then an interesting outro with backwards-masked harmonies leading into the closing hook. The acoustic instrumental “Spanish Fly” is brilliant just in how unlike anything else it is. Sounding almost intentionally non-professional, this is a close up trek into Eddie Van Halen’s genius stripped down to a nylon-stringed guitar and one single minute. In sharp contrast, “D.O.A.” is the heaviest rocking song with an absolutely brutal grind by Eddie Van Halen and the pure rock action of everyone else. Roth’s verse vocals are rather reserved but contrasted later with screams to match the song’s intensity. The later guitar lead is brilliant with an excellent complimentary bass underneath.

“Women in Love…” starts with a bell-like intro solo by Eddie which is pure melody and harmonic technique. The body of this steady song is a quasi-ballad with lyrics apparently about groupies and is the best song vocally on the album. Every note is pure sonic bliss right down to Roth’s word “scream” tailed with a slight inflection of an actual scream. The verses mix a somber riff with the harmonized vocals above a thumping bass and drum rhythm, while the guitar assentation mixes with the harmonies during the chorus. The album ends with the entertaining pop/rock song “Beautiful Girls”, which contains chanting vocals with some slightly clever rhyming before the song builds in crescendo excitement through the entertaining outro.

Van Halen II peaked at number six on the American album charts and has sold nearly six million copies since its release. Over the next two years the band released a couple more albums, Women and Children First and Fair Warning, which closely followed the same formula as this record and continued the band’s popularity.

~

1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1979 albums.

1984 by Van Halen

Buy 1984

1984 by Van HalenThe original lineup of Van Halen reached their artistic and commercial apex with their final album together. 1984 (officially titled using Roman Numerals MCMLXXXIV) was released near the start of the year, 1984. Due to a radio-friendly song with an MTV-friendly video, the album had an immediate pop crossover effect that ultimately propelled the album to the highest charting position and sales by the band to date. But beyond the commercial appeal of the album, there lies a solid core of rock compositions and exquisite production by Ted Templeman that demonstrates Van Halen at their absolute peak.

Van Halen had steadily grown in popularity from their fine 1978 debut album, through 1983, when they were entered in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “highest paid band of all-time” for its headlining at the US Festival. However, there were some internal creative issues as guitarist Eddie Van Halen had felt dissatisfied by the concessions he made to Templeman and front man David Lee Roth on the group’s previous 1982 album Diver Down. During the sessions for that album, Roth rejected the idea of developing a synth riff by Eddie Van Halen into a full-fledged song (that riff would later be re-purposed for the song “Jump”). For his part, Templeman was instrumental in the vast amount of cover songs used on Diver Down, to which Eddie had objections.

In this climate, Van Halen decided to build his own studio with the help of engineer Donn Landee and named the studio 5150 (after the LAPD code for “escaped mental patient”). Some music analysts claim that 1984 is the only Diamond selling album (over 10 million copies) to be entirely recorded and mixed in a “home studio”. As a result, 1984 has more influence from Eddie Van Halen than any other album. Always the innovator, Van Halen’s radical electric guitar tapping technique on the Van Halen I track “Eruption” was mistakenly thought by some to be a synthesizer. When he actually did use synthesizers on this album, it brought a new mainstream appreciation for the instrument and sales of them increased overnight.


MCMLXXXIV by Van Halen
Released: January 9, 1984 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Ted Templeman
Recorded: 5150 Studios, Hollywood, CA, 1983
Side One Side Two
1984
Jump
Panama
Top Jimmy
Drop Dead Legs
Hot For Teacher
I’ll Wait
Girl Gone Bad
House of Pain
Group Musicians
David Lee Roth – Lead Vocals
Eddie Van Halen – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Michael Anthony – Bass, Vocals
Alex Van Halen – Drums, Percussion

Like all of the group’s previous five albums, all music and lyrics on 1984 were credited to all four member of the band. However, in negotiations years later bassist Michael Anthony was removed from this album’s credits. The title track opener, “1984” is little more than synthesized soundscapes by Eddie Van Halen, but this does offer an effective intro to “Jump”

The only #1 song of the band’s career, “Jump” is undeniably infectious, with solid rock rhythm allows the long-string synths to play out and still be effective. Eddie Van Halen’s guitars are slight, only present during the pre-chorus, first half of the lead section, and outro. The second half of the lead is reserved for his interesting synth solo over slowly descending chord structure for great effect.

In contrast to the guitar-light “Jump” is the drenched riff of “Panama”, where Van Halan’s guitar textures are as fine as ever. Anthony and drummer Alex Van Halen lay down strong rhythms while Roth adds excitable vocals. The cool, spoken word mid-section following the guitar lead also features Eddie Van Halen revving his Lamborghini in the background, as the car was backed up to the studio and microphones were attached to the exhaust pipe.

The album’s first side concludes with a couple of forgotten classic gems. “Top Jimmy” is a tribute to James Paul Koncek of the band Top Jimmy & The Rhythm Pigs and starts with overdubbed guitar effects in its long intro. It then breaks into a frenzied, upbeat rock blues, with Van Halen showmanship, alternating back and forth between the deep intro riff and good-time verse/chorus section. Van Halen says “Drop Dead Legs” was inspired by AC/DC’s “Back in Black”, but you can also hear a lot of early Aerosmith in the way this song is constructed and delivered. Built on a slow guitar grind, the song really comes to life with great harmonized vocal chorus by Anthony and Van Halen, which augments Roth’s finely strained rock lead vocals.

The second side starts with “Hot for Teacher”, a unique and entertaining song built for the younger MTV audience. The tremendous drumming of Alex Van Halen, offers a fine long intro for the pure rock theater of the song proper. “I’ll Wait” is the second keyboard-dominated song (and the second single) on the album. It was also very controversial within the group as Roth and Templeman wanted to remove the song from the album, But Eddie Van Halen refused. The song is also unique in that there is no bass through the first verses and choruses, just in the lead section, and it is co-written by Doobie Brother Michael McDonald.

Van Halen in 1984

The finest jam on the album comes on “Girl Gone Bad”. It begins with a long and dramatic beginning, with bass creeping ever closer during intro picked and chimed guitars by Eddie and fast-moving, high-end percussion by Alex. When it all kicks in, it is as good as any Van Halen song instrumentally, even seeming to be a bit Rush-influenced with the great instrumental rudiments and includes some cool scat vocals by Roth during the long bridge section. The album’s closer, “House of Pain” originally dated back to the demos Van Halen recorded with Gene Simmons prior to being signed by Warner Bros. in the mid 1970s. Consequently,it is the most like a traditional Van Halen song on side two, being upbeat and riff-driven with a slight section of guitar excellence.

1984 peaked at #2 on the Billboard album charts, ironically blocked for 5 consecutive weeks from the top spot by Michael Jackson’s Thriller, on which Eddie Van Halen contributed a guitar solo to the song “Beat It”. It would be the last Van Halen album to feature all four original members, as Roth left the band following the 1984 tour and did not record with the band again until 2012’s A Different Kind of Truth, which was recorded after Anthony had already left the band.

~

1984 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

 

Van Halen

Buy Van Halen’s Debut Album

1978 Album of the Year

Van Halen 1978 debut albumVan Halen‘s debut album is a pedal-to-the-metal hard rocker with a distinct approach that thundered onto the scene in early 1978. This self-titled album continues to rank among the top debuts of all time and makes appearances on other straight-up rock album lists. While not particularly original musically, Van Halen was completely original sonically. This was due to the jaw dropping speed and flair guitar work of Eddie Van Halen. With a noted lack of blues-based licks, which were replaced by a furious placement of picked, crunched, and hammered notes, Van Halen’s leads, solos, and riffs are the most indelible moments on a very memorable album. Forged in the fresh shadow of punk rock, the Van Halen sound showed that musical talent can be every bit as fresh, energetic, and bombastic. With this innovative record which sounds every bit as fresh 35 years after its release, Van Halen has risen to become Classic Rock Review’s album of the year for 1978.

Van Halen was formed in Southern California in 1972 by the brothers that give the band its name – guitarist Eddie and drummer Alex Van Halen. Born in the Netherlands, the Van Halen brothers were the sons of jazz musician Jan Van Halen and were “forced” to study classical piano at very young ages. When the brothers began playing rock and roll, Alex was actually on guitar and Eddie was on drums.  But once Alex heard his younger brother pick up the guitar and play more naturally, he forced him to switch instruments and took over as drummer. In 1974, the group rented a sound system from David Lee Roth and soon invited him to join as lead vocalist. Roth was the son of a renowned eye surgeon, who had considerable wealth and was the nephew of Manny Roth, who built and owned the New York establishment Cafe Wha?, which featured performers such like Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix. Roth possessed an in-your-face charisma that demanded attention (like a true frontman should). While not considered a particularly accomplished crooner, his yelps and screams fit perfectly within the high-energy sound of the group.

Soon after Roth joined,  the band decided to replace their current bass player with Michael Anthony, bassist and lead vocalist from a rival band called “Snake”, who impressed the Van Halen brothers during an all-night jam session. In subsequent years, the group played everything from backyard parties on a flatbed truck to some of the most famous night clubs on the Sunset Strip. They forged what Roth calls a “girl-friendliness” to heavy rock. In the summer of 1976, Gene Simmons of Kiss saw Van Halen perform and offered to produce a high end demo tape for the group. After a few recordings in Los Angeles and New York, Simmons opted out of the arrangement after the group declined his suggestion to change their name to “Daddy Longlegs” and Kiss management told Simmons that they had “no chance of making it”.

In mid-1977,  Ted Templeman of Warner Bros. Records saw the group perform in Hollywood and was so impressed that he scored Van Halen a recording contract within a week (although the group now laments that this contract was not financially favorable to the members who ended up owing money by the end of 1978). Templeman produced the debut album at Sunset Sound Recorders over a three week period in the Fall of 1977. All of the tracks were recorded with minimal over-dubbing and a simple musical set-up was used to give the record a “live” feel. After the sessions, the group returned to playing small venues in Southern California until the album was released in early 1978.


Van Halen by Van Halen
Released: February 10, 1978 (Columbia)
Produced by: Ted Templeman
Recorded: Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, CA, September – October 1977
Side One Side Two
Runnin’ with the Devil
Eruption
You Really Got Me
Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love
I’m the One
Jamie’s Cryin’
Atomic Punk
Feel Your Love Tonight
Little Dreamer
Ice Cream Man
On Fire
Band Musicians
David Lee Roth – Lead Vocals
Eddie Van Halen – Guitars, Vocals
Michael Anthony – Bass, Vocals
Alex Van Halen – Drums, Percussion

 

The album is made of nine original compositions, credited to all four band members, along with two re-interpreted covers. Drummer Alex Van Halen and bassist Michael Anthony drive the opener “Runnin’ with the Devil”, which arrives like an alien visitor and then comes off heavier than it actually is in reality. It is down-and-dirty but short of hedonistic and got its lyrical inspiration from the Ohio Players song “Runnin’ from the Devil”. While released as a single, it failed to chart in 1978 but has  become a classic rock radio staple and still a signature tune of Van Halen.

The instrumental “Eruption” contains some of the best 100 seconds of guitar ever recorded. This masterpiece by Eddie Van Halen was not intended for the debut album but was overheard by Templeman as Eddie was rehearsing it for a club date and he decided to include it on the album. The piece is the first to feature Van Halen’s custom two-handed finger-tapping technique which had not been perfected by any other player to that date (but went “viral” among guitarists in the eighties). Played on his custom Frankenstrat with a custom array of effect units and vintage tube amps, the piece has been named the 2nd greatest guitar solo ever by Guitar World magazine. “Eruption” works as a perfect lead-in to the kinks cover “You Really Got Me”, the lone charting “hit” from this album. You Really Got Me singleThis may be one of the very few remakes that actually best the original, which is saying something since the 1964 tune by Ray Davies is a bona fide classic which features a young session player named Jimmy Page. But Van Halen takes this simple, two and a half minute piece, and brings it to a fevered level of excitement with Eddie performing riffs within riffs, Roth adding vocal ad-lib screams in the chorus, and the post solo guitar dribble leading to a unique mid section with sound effects by both. The song became the lone Top 40 single from Van Halen.

Although very repetitive, “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” is an extremely entertaining song which borders on being a Van Halen-flavored punk epic, especially with closing “Hey! Hey! Hey!” chant. Unlike the totally feel-good “You Really Got Me”, this has a much darker feel, especially with the deep bridge lyrics;

I’ve been to the edge and there I stood and looked down, you know I’ve lost a lot of friends there baby, ain’t got time to mess around…”

“Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” displays the effortless expression of the band, which replaces the pretension and self-consciousness of many of their late seventies peers. The hyper-blues shuffle of “I’m the One”, which highlights the entertaining showmanship of the band. With dynamics which range from the monstrous rhythmic surge to the later a cappella do-wop section, “I’m The One” is an underrated gem, which concludes the fantastic first side of the album.

Although not nearly as memorable, the second side of Van Halen does contain its share of high moments. “Jamie’s Cryin'” and “Feel Your Love Tonight” shows that the band definitely can play pop rock anthems. These two tracks share similar memorable riffs and catchy harmonized choruses and they both sound like they should have been bigger radio hits. Sandwiched between the two is “Atomic Punk”, an almost experimental song with intro guitar effects giving way to theatrical verses. However, this song’s title may be more provocative than the overall tune is actually substantive and the disorganized return after the guitar lead appears to be one of the few faux pas of the recording.

Van Halen

“Little Dreamer” is the finest tune on side two and may be the one true band effort on Van Halen. Eddie comes down to Earth with a standard riff and more subtle theatrics while the rest of the group steps forward as Michael Anthony’s bouncing bass contrasts yet compliments Alex Van Halen’s steady drum beat and Roth’s actual singing is at its finest on this record. “Little Dreamer” also offers a preview of some of the more substantive music featured on upcoming albums Van Halen II and Women and Children First. “Ice Cream Man” is cover from Chicago blues artist John Brim, which features David Lee Roth solo on acoustic guitar and vocals for a couple of turns before it finally breaks into a full-fledged rocker, ala Led Zeppelin. Unfortunately, the most forgettable song on the album is the finale “On Fire”, making for the only true weak spot on this incredible debut. While Eddie’s guitars are still impressive, the overall vibe makes really feels more like weak, hair-band material from a future Van Halen clone.

Van Halen initially peaked at #19 on the U.S. Albums chart and made a reappearance in 1984. By the end of the century, it was certified a Diamond album (over ten million copies sold or 20x platinum) and it made yet another appearance on the album charts in 2012 to coincide with Van Halen’s latest reunion. The band toured for nearly a year as the opening act for Black Sabbath before returning to the studio in late 1978 to record the follow-up Van Halen II, an album similar in style to their debut.

~

1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums and our Album of the Year for 1978.

 

Diver Down by Van Halen

Diver Down by Van HalenWith their 5th album, Van Halen decided to take a less intense approach. Diver Down was developed by accident as the band, exhausted from constant touring and the production of four studio albums in three years, decided to put out a cover single in lieu of a new album. At the beginning of 1982, they recorded and released a cover of Roy Orbinson’s “(Oh) Pretty Woman” and it shot up to number one on the mainstream rock charts, their highest charting single to date. As no good deed goes unpunished, the band’s label (Warner Brothers) started to pressure Van Halen to record a full album to take advantage of this new level of pop fame. Eventually the band capitulated and Diver Down was recorded, mixed, mastered, and released in less than three months.

By all traditional metrics, this should be an awful album. It is a 31-minute (extremely short to be considered an “LP”) hodge-podge of cover songs, short instrumental pieces, and demos from the band’s earliest days, wrapped around just a few new original numbers. But there is an undeniable charm which makes this somehow all gel into one of the more interesting Van Halen albums. Although guitarist Eddie Van Halen admits that making the album was a lot of fun, he also states that it is his least favorite album because of all the cover songs stating, “I’d rather have a bomb with one of my own songs than a hit with someone else’s.” However, some critics have noted that cover songs, starting with “You Really Got Me” from the band’s 1978 debut album, are the perfect mechanism for the band to showcase their unique sound.

Lead vocalist David Lee Roth said the album’s title was meant to imply that “there was something going on (with the band) underneath the surface that’s not apparent to your eyes.” The simple album cover uses the marine flag to advise boats that a diver is currently submerged in the area.

 


Diver Down by Van Halen
Released: April 14, 1982 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Ted Templeman
Recorded: Sunset Sound & Warner Studios, Los Angeles, January-March 1982
Side One Side Two
Where Have All the Good Times Gone?
Hang Em’ High
Cathedral
Secrets
Intruder
(Oh) Pretty Woman
Dancing In the Street
Little Guitars
Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)
The Full Bug
Happy Trails
Band Musicians
David Lee Roth – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Synths, Harmonica
Eddie Van Halen – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Michael Anthony – Bass, Vocals | Alex Van Halen – Drums

 
The album begins with a driving cover of the Kinks 1965 song “Where Have All the Good Times Gone.” Roth pointed out that the band learned to play in their barroom days by covering a whole bunch of Kinks songs from a compilation album he owned. “Hang ‘Em High Dave” is a reworked version of a 1977 song called “Last Night”, and is the song which most reflects back to the traditional Van Halen song with fast pace driven by drummer Alex Van Halen. Eddie Van Halen has lamented that the recorded version of his solo is sub-par to his typical live performance.

Eddie’s first solo instrumental on the album is “Cathedral”, which got its name because he thought the volume-knob effects he used created something similar to the sound of “a Catholic church organ.” This acts as an intro to the fantastic original “Secrets”, the best song on the album. Here the true talent of Van Halen is best showcased in this calm and subtle setting which highlights Roth’s melodic vocals and Eddie Van Halen’s crisp and biting guitar solo. The song, which has been described as the “lightest” the band has ever recorded, has the quality of being at once a melancholy and hopeful.
 

 
“(Oh) Pretty Woman” was the first song for which Van Halen made a video to be played on the new MTV network, and in turn the video became the first to be banned by that network because of its portrayal of the as the “almost theological figure” of a Samurai warrior and because a woman (later revealed to be a drag queen) appears to be molested throughout the video. Roth directed the video but found that the single version of the song was much too short to be compatible, so he composed an intro to the song on synthesizer called “Intruder” and the band recorded it as part of the album.

Dancing In the Street single“Dancing In the Street” was the cover song originally intended to be the single at the beginning of 1982, but Eddie Van Halen was having trouble coming up with a signature riff for the song and “(Oh) Pretty Woman” fit that goal much more easily. When the band decided to do a full album, Eddie revisited this song and came up with some interesting synth effects, giving it an almost “updated disco” feel. This is also one of the few songs on the album which displays the signature backing vocals of Eddie Van Halen and bassist Michael Anthony. The last true highlight of the album is “Little Guitars”, which was actually split into two tracks on the original album with Eddie Van Halen playing a flamenco acoustic intro. The song proper is driven by a steady drum beat that backs up several riff variations before settling in with a choppy riff and more interesting rudiments and passages throughout the song.

Unfortunately, the weakest material on the album is reserved for its conclusion. “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)” was done as a laugh when Roth recorded a radio broadcast with the original 1924 version of he song. The Van Halen’s enlisted their father Jan Van Halen to play clarinet on the song. “The Full Bug” sounds unfocused and incomplete with the only true highlight being the short acoustic intro by Roth. The album concludes with the joke “Happy Trails”, a fully vocal performance of the Dale Evans stand, that actually breaks down to laughter near the end.

The band’s previous album, 1981’s Fair Warning was a dark and intense record and Diver Down acted as an almost polar opposite counterpart to lighten the mood. This album also brought the band to a wider commercial audience, setting the stage for their blockbuster  album, 1984.

~
R.A.
 
NOTE: Modern Rock Review reviewed Van Halen’s new album today, A Different Kind of Truth.
 

 

 
1982 Images