Happy Birthday, ALEX VAN HALEN!
It’s the perfect nickname, really. We’re talking about the man who has led many-a-Van Halen classic song with some of the most mammoth-like beats in rock history.
Alexander Arthur Van Halen was born May 8th, 1953 in Amsterdam, Netherlands to a Dutch musician father Jan and Indonesian mother Eugenia. “Little Alex” and his little brother Edward spent their childhood days in Nijmegen – a city in the Dutch province of Gelderland – before moving to Pasadena, California in 1962.
Alex initially aspired to be a guitarist while his little brother wanted to become a drummer. When Edward was out delivering newspapers to pay for his drum kit, Alex would practice playing on them. It was quickly becoming obvious that he was born to be a drummer, while Edward’s musical destiny would be mastering the guitar.
“When I first started playing drums I admired Ginger Baker, John Bonham, Keith Moon,” Alex told MTV back in 1986. “I approached the drums not as an instrument per se but more an attitude …[like] viciously attacking something!”
In Alex’s interview for Van Halen’s live video “Live: Right Here Right Now” he talked about the influence his father had on him as a musician.
“When I was first starting to play my dad, who was a musician, told me that I should play each night like it was my last [but] knowing that you were going to play forever,” he said. “What I’m trying to convey to you is that you live by the sword, you die by the sword. I’ll probably do this until the cows come home.”
Here’s hoping the cows don’t come home anytime soon.
These are the ten best Van Halen songs featuring the big and bad Alex Van Halen [according to Eric at VHND!]:
10. “Light Up The Sky” [From ‘Van Halen II’ – 1979]
On this classic deep cut from Van Halen’s second album Alex lays down a fierce beat for Edward to riff aggressively over but it’s Al’s drum solo interlude at the 2:20 mark where he really “lights” it up big time.
9. “Right Now” [From ‘For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge’ – 1991]
Alex not only delivers an enormous beat on this classic Van Halen track but also adds some really nice work on the cymbals. His blend of muscle with finesse is just another reason why this song was great then, why it’s great right now and why it’ll be just as great tomorrow.
8. “Doin’ Time/Baluchitherium” [From ‘Balance’ – 1995]
Internal battles were coming to a head at the time Van Halen was recording their 1995 album ‘Balance’ which resulted in aborted lyrical contributions from Sammy Hagar. As a result, Alex, Edward and Michael Anthony had some space to fill and they filled it to the brim; especially with this Alex-led drum solo which transitions seamlessly into a killer instrumental from Alex, Edward and Michael.
7. “A.F.U. (Naturally Wired)” [From ‘OU812’ – 1988]
Who needs a Red Bull when you have this high-powered Van Halen track cranking through the speakers? This one will have you feeling naturally wired right from the start thanks in big part to Alex’s high octane intro. There must have been some serious smoke comin’ off his hi-hat in the studio the day this was recorded.
6. “Panama” [From ‘1984’ – 1984]
It’s hard to imagine what it would be like hearing this iconic riff from Edward Van Halen without Alex’s big thumping drum beats chugging alongside it. You’d get the feeling only without the power steering if ya catch my drift. I’ll put it to you another way – Alex keeps those pistons popping.
5. “Intruder” [From ‘Diver Down’ – 1982]
This big, dark and dangerous intro to “(Oh) Pretty Woman” was only created to fill empty space left on the song’s music video which ran longer than planned. You could call it a happy accident Van Halen fans are still thankful for. On “Intruder” Alex doesn’t just dive in on the drums. (Oh) no, he dive-bombs his way into this track from “Diver Down” and never lets up.
4. “Poundcake” [From ‘For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge’ – 1991]
Gimme summa that, gimme summa that “Big Al” beat! Edward Van Halen was inspired to write “Poundcake” after hearing his brother “pounding” out this drumbeat one day at 5150 studios. On 1991’s “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” album Alex wanted his drums to sound as big as John Bonham and the late great producer Andy Johns made that happen. Who better to go to than Johns, the very man who produced some of the classic Led Zeppelin albums during the 70s? Bonzo would be proud.
3. “As Is” [From ‘A Different Kind Of Truth’ – 2012]
Alex didn’t lose a step nor did he miss any of his big-beat magic in the years that passed between the band’s 1998 album with Gary Cherone ‘Van Halen III’ and 2012’s ‘A Different Kind Of Truth’; the band’s first with David Lee Roth since ‘1984’. Alex gets his engine revved up with a monstrous drum intro before kicking it into breakneck speed. It’s the Alex Van Halen Steam Train folks. Get on board or get out of the way!
2. “Everybody Wants Some!!” [From ‘Women & Children First’ – 1980]
This tribal drumbeat from Alex is dripping with attitude. It’s often been stated that David Lee Roth and Edward Van Halen have that rare creative chemistry together but let’s not forget the Dave & Al magic either. This song is an example of just how well Alex could keep stride with Dave when venturing through the rock ‘n’ roll jungle together.
1. “Hot For Teacher” [From ‘1984’ – 1984]
This is the drum beat that is as iconic as a classic Edward Van Halen guitar riff. From ‘1984’ comes Alex’s crowning moment. He takes every other rock ‘n’ roll drummer to school with a double bass drum opening akin to a classic Harley Davidson engine. It makes Waldo’s jaw drop to this day….wherever he is. “Big Al” gets a big A+ on this one.
Hope you enjoyed Eric’s Top en AVH Songs. Which songs did he miss? Mention your favorites in the comments.
Check out our Alex Van Halen bio!