Balance by Van Halen

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Balance by Van HalenThere is no doubt that the decade-long Sammy Hagar experiment had run its course by the time Van Halen had gotten to their tenth studio album (the fourth with Hagar), Balance. Released in early 1995, this album did continue their commercial streak by giving the “Van Hagar” lineup a perfect 4-for-4 when it comes to #1 albums in the USA. However, while still interesting and entertaining, this album was the less cohesive than any of the group’s previous efforts, probably due to the internal fighting within the band.

Following the late eighties success of 5150 and OU812, Van Halen started the 1990s by producing and releasing the album, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, which was marketed as the “return” to Van Halen’s hard rock roots. This was particularly due to Eddie Van Halen‘s abandonment of synth sounds in favor of guitar riff driven or, at the very least, hard rock piano tunes. In 1992, the album won a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance and the band continued to enjoy top-level success in the rock world. However, with the emergence of grunge and alternative music, the rock world was drastically changing throughout the early nineties.

In 1994, the band got together at Eddie’s 5150 Studios with producer Bruce Fairbairn, dedicating eight hour days to write, rehearse, and record this new album. However, this dedication was less cohesive as Hagar and bassist Michael Anthony were less able to dedicate as much time as Eddie and his brother, drummer Alex Van Halen. Nevertheless, Balance was one of the quickest records the group had made to that date and Alex cites it as one of his favorites.


Balance by Van Halen
Released: January 24, 1995 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Bruce Fairbairn
Recorded: 5150 Studio, Studio City; CA, May–September 1994
Album Tracks Group Musicians
The Seventh Seal
Can’t Stop Lovin’ You
Don’t Tell Me (What Love Can Do)
Amsterdam
Big Fat Money
Strung Out
Not Enough
Aftershock
Doin’ Time
Baluchitherium
Take Me Back (Déjà Vu)
Feelin’
Sammy Hagar – Lead Vocals
Eddie Van Halen – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Michael Anthony – Bass, Vocals
Alex Van Halen – Drums, Percussion

 
Balance by Van Halen

An apocalyptic chorus of polyphonic chants by The Monks of Gyuto Tantric University starts off the opener “The Seventh Seal”, before the song breaks into a steady and standard rock beat and riff. The mystical overtones of this track were inspired by Eddie Van Halen’s newfound sobriety and his first attempt in twenty years to write songs without the aid of alcohol. “Can’t Stop Lovin’ You” was inspired by Hagar’s relationship with his wife and features bright guitars and a moderate, pleasant and accessible approach with thumping rhythms and slight harmonies in the background. The song was commissioned by Fairbairn who wanted a more pop-oriented song, and this was successful as it was the only single from this album to reach the Top 40. “Don’t Tell Me (What Love Can Do)” is another accessible pop song but with some extra-intensive lead vocals by Hagar and the first real traditional guitar lead by Eddie Van Halen. The lead single from Balance released in late 1994, the song reached #1 on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart.

With its overt promotion of marijuana and prostitution, “Amsterdam” was a bit controversial in 1995. Musically, Eddie’s verse riff and slow-walk interludes are the highlights in an otherwise clunky arrangement. “Big Fat Money” is a frantic rockabilly song with an energy that harkens back all the way to their debut album, 17 years earlier. A bizarre but entertaining hyper-jazz guitar lead accompanied by odd rhythmic rudiments by Michael Anthony and Alex Van Halen makes this a unique track for Van Halen. A plethora of old, out-of-tune orchestral instruments fashion the avant garde instrumental “Strung Out”, with the plucking and sawing effects acting as an intro to the ballad “Not Enough”. This final pop-oriented track features a grand piano intro in a somber, minor key before building into a full rock arrangement to make it a pleasant overall power ballad. “Aftershock” features a cool intro by Eddie Van Halen and, during the song proper, Anthony’s rapid bass pattern gives it a definite edge which elevates this track above standard rock fare.

Van Halen in 1995

The album winds down strongly with four unique tracks, starting with back-to-back instrumentals. “Doin’ Time” features a percussive orchestra by Alex Van Halen, perhaps meant to symbolize the “aftershock”. The second part of this piece has an interesting Caribbean flavor and leads in to “Baluchitherium”, which seems more like filler to extend the album beyond traditional album length (< 45 minutes) to CD length (> 50 minutes). “Take Me Back (Déjà Vu)” starts as an excellent acoustic, down-home ballad with excellent vocal melodies by Hagar. It eventually kicks in to being another standard pop/rocker but does feature a slow, bluesy, and moody guitar lead and an equally impressive closing section where Eddie craftily doubles acoustic and electric guitars. The closing track “Feelin'” features a dark, solo electric intro by Eddie Van Halen. Later comes a very rich backing vocal chorus and an intense crescendo section before Eddie’s quiet guitar phrase gently puts the song and the album to rest.

With Balance, Van Halen successfully took the honor of being the first act to debut at #1 in 1995 and the album eventually went triple platinum in sales. However, tensions between Hagar and the Van Halen brothers boiled over in 1996 while planning a career-long Greatest Hits album, which led not only to Hagar’s permanent departure but also to a very short (initial) reunion with original vocalist David Lee Roth. Van Halen’s third lead singer, Gary Cherone, would span the group’s next release, Van Halen III in 1998.

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1995 page images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1995 albums.

 

Van Halen II

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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

The 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.

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1979 Images

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

1984 by Van Halen

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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.

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1984 Images

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

 

OU812 by Van Halen

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OU812 by Van HalenFollowing the success of the group’s first #1 album, 5150 (as well as the mammoth tour which followed), Van Halen scored similar success with the followed-up OU812 in 1988. These were the first two albums with lead vocalist Sammy Hagar (the “Van Hagar” era) and the first where Hagar began as a full and equal member of the group and his influence was reflected in the diversity and new direction of the music. None of the material for this album was written prior to the recording sessions at the band-owned 5150 studios and this led to a more improvised evolution to the material, resulting in OU812 being the final high quality output by the group overall.

The album also included no official production credit because the band felt there was no one who went in with a sold idea and dictated a sonic vision to everyone else. Unofficially, engineer Donn Landee and the band produced the record, which was the eighth overall for Van Halen. Work began on the album in September 1987 and continued for about seven months, with recordings taken place mere weeks before the album’s international release. While Hagar brought some elements of the band’s sound in new directions, guitarist Eddie Van Halen returned to the form of the band’s earliest work while continuing to purse keyboards as a second instrument for certain radio-friendly tracks.

The album’s unique title originated when Hagar spotted a delivery truck on the freeway with the serial number “OU812”. Finding this humorous when spoken aloud, he told the band and they decided to change the title in the 11th hour from the previously planned “Bone”, which no one really like all that much anyway.

 


OU812 by Van Halen
Released: May 24, 1988 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Donn Landee & Van Halen
Recorded: 5150 Studios, Hollywood, September 1987 – April 1988
Side One Side Two
Mine All Mine
When It’s Love
A.F.U. (Naturally Wired)
Cabo Wabo
Source of Infection
Feels So Good
Finish What Ya Started
Black and Blue
Sucker In a 3 Piece
A Apolitical Blues
Band Musicians
Sammy Hagar – Lead Vocals
Eddie Van Halen – Guitars, Synthesizers, Vocals
Michael Anthony – Bass, Vocals
Alex Van Halen – Drums, Percussion

 

The rather awkward synth rhythm of “Mine All Mine” kicks off the album. The pure-eighties-soundtrack-like vibe does contain a bit of an off-beat edge by Alex Van Halen and a good lead guitar by Eddie Van Halen, but the corny ending makes it a parody of itself. “When It’s Love” is the album’s first classic with a great long synth intro before breaking into a 1984-era Van Halen riff. Hagar’s chorus melody is the real highlight here along with an excellent closing section which builds with intensity. “When It’s Love” reached the Top 10 and was the most popular song from that album.

After the album’s weakest moment, “A.F.U. (Naturally Wired)”, comes “Cabo Wabo”, which on the surface is a brochure for the Mexican resort town. That being said, this is still a pretty entertaining song with a good riff and harmonized vocals by bassist Michael Anthony. Hagar shines vocally on this extended track, came up with the song’s concept and later parlayed this into a premium tequila brand which later became a major point of contention between him and the Van Halen brothers. “Source of Infection” finishes the first side and was later dismissed by band members as a “joke song” with lyrics referring to a health scare.
 

 
Something totally unique for the band, “Feels So Good” is heavily synthesized but works its way through many interesting sections in an atypical arrangement. The unique drum beat by Alex Van Halen guides this pop song, which Hagar said was developed “Genesis style”. “Finish What Ya Started” is another one of the more unique songs in the Van Halen collection with a combination of picked electric and strummer acoustic throughout. The song was spawned on Eddie’s Malibu balcony when he jammed with Hagar with two acoustic guitars at 2:00am one morning.

“Black and Blue” contains a slow riff that is total Eddie Van Halen and raunchy lyrics inspired by groupies during the 5150 tour and became one of the most popular radio songs from the album. “Sucker In a 3 Piece” is the weakest point on the fine second side, seeming to be feeling its way through the first minute and a half, before settling on then vacuous lyrics and boilerplate melodies of the song proper. The closer “A Apolitical Blues” was originally recorded by Little Feat and written by Lowell George. This is pure blues, complete with piano and two bluesy guitars and was one of the rare covers during Hagar’s stint with the band.

OU812 was the second of four consecutive number one albums by Van Halen with Sammy Hagar at the helm, stretching into the mid 1990s.

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1988 Images

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

 

Thriller by Michael Jackson

Thriller by Michael Jackson Thriller is the sixth studio album by Michael Jackson and the best selling album of all time. Seven of the nine songs on the album were released as singles and each one of those seven reached the top ten on the pop charts. The album went on to win an unprecedented eight Grammy awards, was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records as the all time top seller worldwide, was instrumental in providing racial harmony among music fans, made the most amount of money ever for a single performing artist, and was given credit by many in the recording industry for boosting sales industry-wide. So, why have so many of us loathed this record for three decades?

After listening to this back to front several times in preparation for this review, I may have an answer and it isn’t the music itself. In fact, I think this more mature and objective version of myself can honestly say that Thriller is quite fine musically. It hits the sweet spot in the genre we used to call “soul” (now referred to as R&B) and most of the songs are melodic, entertaining, and well composed. And then there is the title song “Thriller” and its monstrosity of a video (pun intended) where Michael Jackson and the hype machine jumped the proverbial shark. Why, Michael, why? You already had the best video ever made with “Billie Jean” and had shown you can do the choreographed dance thing on another video. There comes a point when one has to learn to just accept success and move on to other things.

The album was produced by Jackson and Quincy Jones and the two reportedly butted heads throughout the production process, which took seven solid months. Jones produced Jackson’s previous album, Off the Wall in 1979, but felt that it was too “disco” for the early 1980s. Jackson had felt that album did not get the proper acclaim that it deserved and was on a mission to make something which simply could not be ignored by the critics. Jackson and Jones worked on about thirty songs in total and nine were chosen for inclusion on the album. Jackson ultimately “wrote” four of these songs, but not by committing anything to paper. Instead, he would dictate directly into a sound recorder and commit his songs to memory for further performance.
 


Thriller by Michael Jackson
Released: November 30, 1982 (Epic)
Produced by: Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson
Recorded: Westlake Studios, Los Angeles, April-November 1982
Side One Side Two
Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’
Baby Be Mine
The Girl Is Mine
Thriller
Beat It
Billie Jean
Human Nature
PYT (Pretty Young Thing)
The Lady In My Life
Primary Musicians
Michael Jacksson – Lead Vocals, Percussion
Rod Temperton – Keyboards | Steve Porcaro – Keyboardss | Louis Johnson – Bass

 
The album starts off with “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'”, an excellent funk piece written by Michael Jackson. The song was originally recorded in 1978 and later slated to be recorded by Michael’s sister La Toya, but Jackson eventually decided to keep it for himself. “Baby Be Mine” follows, written by keyboardist Rod Temperton, famed for writing the song “Rock With You”, the biggest hit from Off the Wall.

The Girl Is Mine single“The Girl Is Mine” is a duet with ex-Beatle Paul McCartney and was the first single released from the album in late 1982. Written by Jackson, it contains a nice mix of soft/pop instrumentation and lyrically tells of two friends’ fight over a woman, arguing over who loves her more, and concludes with a spoken rap. The song was recorded during the very first session for the album in April 1982. The song “Thriller” was written by Temperton and went through several names, including “Starlight” and “Midnight Man”, before settling on “Thriller” because of merchandising potential.

The second side kicks off with “Beat It”, the most rock-oriented song on the album, intentionally composed for cross-over appeal. The song contains a strong anti-gang-violence message and features a guitar lead by Eddie Van Halen. “Billie Jean” is the finest composition on the album by Jackson with its nice mixture of uptempo funk and somber themes of paranoia and obsession. The signature bass line was played by Louis Johnson and the song employed some unique recording techniques, including Jackson singing vocal overdubs through a six-foot-long cardboard tube and jazz saxophonist Tom Scott playing the lyricon, a rare, wind-controlled analog synthesizer.
 

 
“Human Nature” is an excellent ballad and true highlight on the album. Written by Toto keyboardist Steve Porcaro and lyrisist John Bettis, the song has moody and introspective lyrics and haunting, beautiful music and melody. It is the last great moment on the album, which concludes with a couple of relatively weaker songs. Although released as a single, “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” is really a throw-away filler, best remembered for the backing vocals by Michael’s sisters La Toya and Janet. “The Lady in My Life” is a soulful ballad by Temperton, but not quite as strong as some of the earlier tracks on the album.

This infamous “Thriller” video moment, along with the burning accident while filming a Pepsi commercial that left Jackson scarred for life, came right near the beginning of 1984. Ironically, this turned out to be exactly at the midpoint of Jackson’s life (08/29/58-06/25/09) and may have been the inception of the freak show and tragic figure that Jackson became in the second half of his life, which is all the more tragic when you consider the genius this man displayed during the first half of his life. There is no denying that Thriller is the gold standard for pop albums and probably will never be topped commercially. At the time of death in 2009, the album had sold over 29 million copies, that is Platinum 58 times over.

~
R.A.
 


1982 Images

 

 

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
 

5150 by Van Halen

Buy 5150

NOTE: This review was original published in May 2011 but has been re-purposed for the 30th anniversary of the album on March 24, 2016.

5150 by Van HalenWith the possible exception of AC/DC, it is hard to find an example of an established rock band with a single, charismatic, lead singer that becomes even more successful once that singer is replaced. After the acrimonious departure of David Lee Roth in early 1985, Van Halen was at sea for a while as they actively searched for Roth’s replacement. Their record company, Warner Brothers, did not want them to continue on with the same name, feeling like it might distort the successful branding. Further, many long-time fans were hoping for reconciliation and dismissing any serious chance at reformation with a new lead vocalist.

Unfortunately, the rift between Roth and the rest of the band was far too deep and with Roth publicly declaring the band dead and making grand plans for a solo music and acting career, the band was determined to carry on without him. After briefly entertaining the idea of using multiple singers on their next album, Van Halen decided they wanted a permanent band member to front them. Enter Sammy Hagar, a well established rock star in his own rite, as the lead singer in the band Montrose and as a solo artist.

Further, Hagar was also a proficient guitarist, which freed up Eddie Van Halen to further branch out on the keyboards, as he had started with the previous album, 1984 (MCMLXXXIV). The band scored a couple of big hits from keyboard-driven songs on that album and that trend would certainly continue with 5150.
 


5150 by Van Halen
Released: March 24, 1986 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Mick Jones, Donn Landee, & Eddie Van Halen
Recorded: Nov. 1985 – Feb. 1986, 5150 Studios, Hollywood, CA
Side One Side Two
Good Enough
Why Can’t This Be Love?
Get Up
Dreams
Summer Nights
Best of Both Worlds
Love Walks In
5150
Inside
Musicians
Sammy Hagar – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Eddie Van Halen – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Michael Anythony – Bass, Vocals
Alex Van Halen – Drums & Percussion

 

Another factor that led to the new sound of 5150 was the absence of producer Ted Templeton, who had produced all of the band’s previous six albums. This left production duties to the band itself, led by Eddie Van Halen with the help of Mick Jones and Donn Landee. This production team moved away from the traditional “live” sound of previous albums and towards a sleeker 1980s sound, especially among the three keyboard-driven songs, each of which would become huge hits.

Two of these hits used the long-string sound that Eddie Van Halen had established on the previous album. “Dreams” is the standout here, showcasing Hagar’s vocal range as well as the band’s pop sensibilities, while maintaining a unique, dynamic edge. Perhaps the first true “love song” in the Van Halen catalog, “Love Walks In” features Hagar on lead guitar and showcases some excellent background harmonies by Eddie Van Halen and bassist Michael Anthony, which had become a longtime staple of the band’s sound.

The most unique-sounding and innovative of these keyboard songs is “Why Can’t This Be Love”, where Van Halen uses a wild-sounding synthesized clavichord for the main riff while Hagar providing some rhythm guitar support. Being the first single to be released by the band in the Spring of 1986, this song re-introduced the band with a fresh and unique sound that was mainly well-received. However not everyone was impressed with the new sound, as a lot of longtime fans felt alienated by the dual whammy of replacing Roth and moving further away from the guitar-driven sound of the group’s early days. Soon these fans would adopt the name “Van Hagar” for this new formation, so to derisively avoid acknowledging this as a continuation of that earlier band.

Van Halen in 1986

5150 does contain a solid handful songs that would have fit into the style of some on the band’s early work including the songs “Summer Nights”, “The Best of Both Worlds” along with the album’s opening track “Good Enough”. However, none of these really rise to the level of the band’s better guitar-driven songs of the past. One exception to this is the standout title song “5150”, an upbeat jam with a catchy melody that highlights the talents of both Eddie Van Halen and his older brother, drummer Alex Van Halen.

Van Halen did score their first ever #1 album with 5150, a feat that served to validate their decision to move forward with a new frontman and updated sound. The band would continue use this formula with similar success, as all four of their Hagar-era albums reached the top of the album charts, stretching well into the early 1990s.

~

1986 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration anniversary of the 30th anniversary of 1986 albums.