Rolling Stone just released another Van Halen related Top Ten List. This list, however, was put together by their readers, so it’s not merely one person’s opinion, or a small group’s opinions, but rather, a list of what rock fans, in general, think about Van Halen songs. (Or at least what RollingStone.com readers think, in general).
From Rolling Stone:
The last two decades have been a strange time for Van Halen. The band’s last three tours have featured three different singers, and there hasn’t been an actual studio album since 1998. The band also made the highly controversial move to oust original bass player Michael Anthony in favor of Eddie’s teenage son, Wolfgang Van Halen. According to Anthony, they didn’t even tell him he was out – he had to read about it on the Internet. Despite all that, the band has an intensely loyal fan base. It’s impossible to argue with the quality of their early work, and it’s beyond debate that their 1978 self-titled LP is one of the greatest debuts in rock history. The group appears to be on the verge of announcing a new album, so we figured it was a good time to poll our readers to learn their ten favorite Van Halen songs. The results aren’t shocking. It’s 80% David Lee Roth era, 20% Van Hagar and 0% Gary Cherone era. That feels about right.
10. ‘Dreams’ (1986)
A lot of bands don’t survive the departure of a lead singer, especially one as charismatic and famous as David Lee Roth. But Van Halen brought former Montrose frontman Sammy Hagar into the band in 1985 and had a huge hit right away with 5150. “Best of Both Worlds” was a smash right out of the gate, and they scored again with “Dreams,” the follow-up single. They shot two videos for “Dreams.” One showed the Blue Angels doing aerial stunts, and the other showed them playing the song live at the Whiskey A Go Go, when they were celebrating the band’s 15th anniversary. We included the latter one here. Right around this time, David Lee Roth hired Steve Vai as the guitarist in his newly formed solo band. He started scoring hits of his own, and for a couple years it seemed like both Van Hagar and David Lee Roth would be equally popular, but that was not to be.
9. ‘Right Now’ (1991)
A lot of old-school Van Halen fans who felt the band sucked ever since David Lee Roth left secretly thought that “Right Now” was an amazing song. “That was the first serious lyric I had written for Van Halen,” Sammy Hagar writes in his memoir Red: My Uncensored Life In Rock. “It was a big statement.” The video – featuring text like “Right now someone is walking onto a nude beach for the first time” – went into heavy rotation on MTV in 1992, and it even won Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards. “It was the biggest video of our career,” writes Hagar. “Crystal Pepsi paid us 2 million bucks to use it as a soda pop commercial.” If you want to take a time warp back to early 1993, watch that Crystal Pepsi commercial.
8. ‘Eruption’ (1978)
This blazing instrumental on the first Van Halen album instantly established Eddie Van Halen as the new king of the electric guitar. The song had been a part of Van Halen’s stage show for years, but producer Ted Templeman heard it one day and decided it should go on the record before their cover of “You Really Got Me.” It’s been a key part of Van Halen concerts ever since. Eddie often gets credit for inventing two-handed tapping with the song, but the technique had actually been around for years. Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett was doing it was back in 1972, but he didn’t quite have the showman’s flair of Eddie Van Halen.
7. ‘Mean Street’ (1981)
This song first appeared under the title “Voodoo Queen” on Van Halen’s 1977 Warner Brothers demo CD. When working on their fourth album, Fair Warning, they wrote new lyrics for the song and gave it a new title. This became standard working practice for the band. Many of their most famous latter-day songs were cobbled together from old riffs and melodies. According to Sammy Hagar, that’s how the group is composing their new record with David Lee Roth. They must have been incredibly productive during those early days.
6. ‘Runnin’ With the Devil’ (1978)
It’s harder to think of a better first song from a band’s debut album than “Running With the Devil.” The song begins with the sound of car horns, which were actually from the band’s own cars. They connected them all with one car battery. A few years back, David Lee Roth’s isolated audio track from the song hit the Internet. It’s wildly entertaining. Take a listen here.
5. ‘Jump’ (1984)
Van Halen were a huge success before the release of 1984, but that album pushed them into the stratosphere. This song hit number one and, in many ways, has remained their most famous composition. The heavy synth sound turned off some older fans, but the video on MTV brought in countless new ones. Though the album kept producing hits, David Lee Roth quit the band after the supporting tour wrapped. Van Halen had many huge moments in the Sammy Hagar era, but they never quite seemed to own a moment in time again like they did when “Jump” was all over the radio and MTV in early 1984.
4. ‘Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love’ (1978)
Another classic from Van Halen’s 1977 debut, “Ain’t Talking ’bout Love” is one of the handful of Roth-era songs that Sammy Hagar was willing to perform in concert during his time as frontman. Velvet Revolver played this at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. Oddly enough, the only two members of the band to show up were Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony – and they were both out of the band by then.
3. ‘Hot for Teacher’ (1984)
“Jump” may have been a bigger hit from 1984, but “Hot for Teacher” was clearly the better video. The group had four young actors play miniature versions of themselves, and they turned a classroom into a strip club. MTV played it about five billion times that year. Just last week, Glee covered it. David Lee Roth was made for MTV, and in his solo career he built on the wacky persona from this video. The best thing about the video, however, may be watching Alex Van Halen attempt to dance. They supposedly filmed countless takes and were eventually forced to use what they had. The man’s a drummer, not a dancer. But it was 1984, and dancing was practically required in videos. Even Bruce Springsteen submitted.
2. ‘Panama’ (1984)
The big albums of 1984 produced a ludicrous amount of hits. Think about Born In The USA, Purple Rain, Like A Virgin, Footloose, Private Dancer, and Van Halen’s 1984. Now, at first glance one might think that “Panama” is a serious political song about the country of Panama. That would be incorrect. It’s about a car. More specifically, it’s about a car called the Panama Express that David Lee Roth saw race in Las Vegas. It also contains one of David Lee Roth’s greatest spoken-word moments: “Yeah, we’re runnin’ a little bit hot tonight. I can barely see the road from the heat comin’ off of it. Ah, you reach down between my legs. Ease the seat back…” The man has a way with words.
1. ‘Unchained’ (1981)
It’s not quite as famous as “Jump” or “Hot for Teacher,” but “Unchained” has frequently been voted the favorite song of Van Halen fans. During the interlude, producer Ted Templeman breaks in and says “Come on, Dave, gimme a break!” Dave responds with, “One break, coming up!” According to legend, Ted felt that Dave was being too over the top and he scolded him. The band liked the moment and kept it in. Recent evidence suggests that the bit was rehearsed, but it’s hard to say for sure. Like most things in the Van Halen world, there are two competing narratives of one event.