By Kevin Dodds, author of Edward Van Halen: A Definitive Biography
Chances are you heard someone say it during the past few months: “It’s the Summer of Van Halen again!” The summer of 2012 was one of only a few true ‘Summers of Van Halen’ in the band’s history. I’ll explain that statement…but first, let’s take a look back at the band’s history.
The summer of 1982 was truly the first-ever real ‘Summer of Van Halen’. After the Fair Warning tour, which was short by Van Halen standards, public hunger for VH was intensifying. Unfortunately, at the same time, tensions in the band were growing. They decided to cut a single, “(Oh) Pretty Woman”/“Happy Trails,” to temporarily satiate the record company and the public. The single was released in January, and their plan completely backfired on them. The band was forced by Warner Brothers to immediately record an album to be rush-released in April.
Reaching #3 on Billboard, demand for Diver Down was a new height for Van Halen. The build-up started in January with the single, continued on with the album release in April, so that by the time the tour started in July, the situation for Van Halen became truly epic. The tour commenced in the heat of summer, July 14, 1982 in Augusta, Georgia. The tour did continue on into the fall and early 1983, but the band played 46 concerts in just 74 days during the summer time. This stretch included several runs of four nights in a row, five nights in a row, and, during the final stretch in September – an astonishing six nights in a row. Almost 75% of the tour took place over the summer of 1982.
I was deemed too young at the time to see the concert as I was only ten (concerts in 1982 were a lot different than in 2012). All of my older friends went, including my sister’s best friend who took at least a half-dozen excellent photographs of the band playing the Summit in Houston in September during that insane stretch of six consecutive shows. That was my only access to a Van Halen concert at the time – her photos. I looked at them every single time we visited her apartment. One day, she just told me to take them. I did without hesitation. Even to the casual Van Halen fan, Diver Down is the most-maligned of the original six albums for having too many cover songs. David Lee Roth recruited the Van Halen’s father Jan to play on “Big Bad Bill.” That alone puts Diver Down into a category that no other Van Halen album can touch. “Hang ‘Em High,” “Secrets,” “Intruder,” and “Little Guitars” aren’t too bad either.
Apart from “Beat It” and the Showtime Network’s US Festival video footage, 1983 was an inactive year for the band as far as the outside world was concerned. The truth is they were hard at work on the game-changing 1984 album. In fact, despite the publicity and crazy payday, Edward openly complained that the US Festival in 1983 constituted a huge disruption in the recording schedule. The preparations for just that one show took at least 3-4 weeks – a lifetime when working on an album. This was a particularly disturbing disruption as it occurred during the construction of the initial wing of the 5150 studio, the creation of which many describe as Ed’s attempt to wrest control of the direction of the band back away from Ted Templeman and David Lee Roth. Looking at straight numbers, Ted and Dave were right. Do not fix what is not broken. But Edward was driven by the direction his need to create art was leading him. It was a tough fight. Ted and Dave initially thought Ed was crazy to go ahead with “Jump.” Ed thought Dave and Ted were crazy not to realize the song’s potential. It was, in fact, a gamble, and Ed won. The band did lose some fans, but they gained a hell of a lot more than they could ever have hoped for. Recollections of individual personal objections to “Jump” seemed to have softened over the years.
1984 is more than another Summer of Van Halen. It truly was the Year of Van Halen. Though the official release date was in December of 1983, this imprint was to satisfy Warner Brothers who wanted an album per year. I know for a fact that I did not get 1984 for Christmas that year and I do not recall it being an option. I didn’t hear “Jump” until around mid-January. I admit that I had mixed feelings at first, but as soon as I heard the guitar solo and the keyboard solo, I was forever sold on the classic song. The record shows that the overly simplistic “Jump” video was released on New Year’s Eve in 1983. I was an MTV junkie and I know that I did not see the video until late January of 1984.
Inspired by Ed’s synthesizer work, I asked for a Casio keyboard for my 12th birthday in April of 1984 as well as the 1984 songbook. I learned “1984,” “Jump,” and “I’ll Wait” from sheet music. That is hilarious to think about now. There was not a single day in February that “Jump” didn’t air on MTV at least once every two hours. In March, Van Halen filmed one their most famous and fan-favorite videos of all time, “Panama.” When that hit MTV, most of us ticket holders finally realized what we were in for. The live footage from Philadelphia was fantastic. Also, obviously no one knew that the footage of Dave getting arrested was faked, so when you talk about a video having a “holy shit” factor – that was a big one.
First “Jump,” then “Panama,” and then the story video to end all story videos, “Hot for Teacher.” This video hit just as summer started and the school theme absolutely nailed the feeling in the air at the time. I emphasize the videos made in this period because of how important they were as vehicles for reaching an exclusive, national audience on MTV. We watched it eight hours a day, especially during the summer, and that’s nothing to really be surprised about. We put on MTV, and went about hanging out. Or if you were just hanging out, you put on MTV. It was such a powerful medium for driving the popularity of an act in terms of concert ticket and album sales. Paul Stanley of KISS once said that one play on MTV was equal to 50,000 plays on radio. The world had never seen anything quite like the influence MTV carried, and it, like so many other mediums, did not last long, and the likes of it will never be seen again. During that brief window, Van Halen knocked it out of the park three times in a row – not to mention the songs even without the videos are three of the greatest classic rock songs of all time.
When you are a 12-year-old, having a concert ticket in your hand for a show five months away is a lot harder to take than when you are, say, 40 years old. Growing up in Houston, we had the wicked torture of being the second to last stop on the 1984 tour (which in fact ended up becoming one of the very last few shows the original incarnation of Van Halen ever played). I can’t emphasize this enough: in July of 1984, the band sold out three nights in a row in Houston at the Summit followed by three sold out nights at Reunion Arena in Dallas. Such a feat is damn near unfathomable today – that sheer level of fan demand is practically unheard of. Even the extremely popular modern bands or singers are lucky to make it to each city’s basketball arena for one show, and often not a full-house setup.
For me, the Summer of Van Halen finally reached its zenith on July 10, 1984. Some references show July 10 as Austin, however, I still have the ticket stub and remember the date quite well. Van Halen played Houston on July 10, 11, and 12. They then snuck in a show in Austin on July 13 at the Frank Erwin Center on their way to the final three shows in Dallas. One of those nights in Dallas, Eddie made it across town to perform “Beat It” with The Jacksons at Texas Stadium and had to race back to Reunion Arena. Only a few European dates followed before the original lineup was over forever.
In my writing, I have delved extensively into my personal experience at the show as a 12-year-old, awe-stricken, idol worshipper. The ultimate part of the show for me was after they opened with “Unchained” and went straight into “Hot for Teacher” without skipping a beat. Finally, the band left the floor wide open for applause from the crowd of 15,000. It was deafening, and it never waned – ever. It went on for, at a bare minimum, five straight minutes. Alex came down, and he and Dave, Mike, and Ed just soaked it in, bowed, and Dave egged on the crowd. The duration of the applause, the level of it, and the fact that it never waned are the things I can never forget. I cannot imagine a band or any act receiving that level of adoration ever again. It was a unique moment in rock music history. In a way, I think the level of applause was driven by the fact that the audience was actually seeing the band in live in person – Van Halen had become virtual comic book characters because of the non-stop rotation on MTV and the never-ending coverage in the fanzines Hit Parader, Circus, and Creem. That “There they are right there!” realization drove people to Beatles-level hysteria.
And then a ‘Summer of Van Halen’ was over. I saw the Texxas Jam show in 1986 at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas in front of 80,000 people. I saw the Monsters of Rock show in 1988 in Houston at Rice Stadium in front of 50,000 people. They were good, but not ‘Summers of Van Halen’ to me.
By 2007-2008, with the lineup of Dave, Edward, Alex, and Wolfgang, fan demand for ticket sales in major arenas was once again incredibly strong. In 2008, ticket demand was so high in Dallas, for example, that the band played American Airlines Arena twice. However, considering the tour mostly fell in the fall and spring, that tour can’t really be considered for ‘Summer of Van Halen’ status. It was a great tour, but something was missing…
An album! There were loose, unofficial promises of a new record. There were comments that led some to believe they’d never make another album together again. Fortunately, we now know they spent nearly every spare minute of 2011 recording the instant classic A Different Kind of Truth, released in February of 2012. Although the tour commenced almost immediately, the timing of the release of the album gave those of us in later markets months and months to listen to, dissect, and enjoy ADKOT repeatedly as the weather got warmer and warmer. Once again, by geographical coincidence, the shows I saw in 2012 were three of the last four shows of the entire tour in the heat of June.
All spring and into summer, ADKOT never left the car. My son got just as into it as I did, which was of course made me an extremely proud father. There is no getting around the fact that the young kids these days are fans of Wolfgang – it’s just a simple fact. We see our hero, and our children get to see the child of our hero. It’s such an amazing thing, it’s hard to imagine that it even exists. Every time my son and I got into our hot, black truck baked in the Texas summer sun – BOOM! – the solo to “She’s the Woman” cranked at full blast. BOOM! – the chorus of “Blood and Fire” came screaming out. Every day was a day closer to our shows in late June.
It truly was the ‘Summer of Van Halen’ again. It was like Haley’s Comet. This 21st century stuff made 1984 look like 1884. Fan activity on the VHLinks forums were at all-time highs. The number of articles that went through the Van Halen News Desk was incredible. Audio for every single concert was captured on torrent sites. The non-stop deluge of high-quality, fan-filmed videos on youtube – it was impossible to keep up. At one point, I decided to cut myself off so that I could somehow attempt to be more excited. The performances I saw in Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston in the blazing summer were more than I could have ever have hoped for. [Many fans online have said that the fan-filmed videos of the San Antonio show, in particular, were especially good quality.]
My own son, on the verge of ten, said the other day, “Wouldn’t it be cool if Van Halen was still touring in like ten years? I’d be twenty. That would be so cool.” What could I say? “Heck yeah, that’d be great, man. I sure hope so.” I try to emphasize to him how special 2012 was for Van Halen fans. A Summer of Van Halen is a rare thing, and if I experience it even once more, it would be an epic gift. If my son gets another one, he will know later in life how fortunate he was to bear witness on more than one tour. Here’s hoping it’s all happening however many summers down the road. And we’ve all learned to be very patient fans in the process.
Summer and Van Halen simply go together like red and green at Christmas. VHND even ran a poll a while back asking fans for their favorite summer Van Halen songs – talk about tough decisions. Classic VH has such a summertime vibe to it because summers are fun and carefree. Right off the first album: “Summertime’s here, babe / Need somethin’ to keep you cool?”
I have a very vivid memory of my older brother at 16-years-old: a beach-going, Camaro-driving, Van Halen freak. Van Halen II was his favorite. One summer day, he and I went blazing down to Galveston with the T-tops off, driving along the seawall belting out “D.O.A.” and “Beautiful Girls” at the top of our lungs. We were sixteen and twelve. We didn’t have a care in the world. The pure youthful electricity that was generated in that car on that day is still enough to raise the hair on my arms. Those were fortunate days. Stepping back and looking at the world at large – if you were anywhere near my shoes – it is unreal how fortunate those days were, how untroubled it was, and how everyone seemed to be loving life to the extreme.
The soundtrack is all that’s really left from back in the day. The soundtrack fuels the memories. Many thanks to the VH family for giving us all another ‘Summer of Van Halen’. Although, these days, you don’t just have to hold on to the memories – you can go watch it all again! Dave said many times in 2012: “This isn’t going out over the internet, is it?!” A youtube search of “Van Halen 2012” currently yields 45,400 results. That’s a hellacious bounty to enjoy forever.