“Unchained” is the 5th track on Fair Warning.

As seen in Dave’s original lyric sheets below, (VHND exclusives!), the working title for this song was “Hit The Ground Running”.

This song was voted the #1 favorite Van Halen song by the fans in the Winter 1997 issue of The Inside magazine. Likewise, the live video of this song (shown below) is also a fan favorite and is part of the Fair Warning set of live videos filmed in Oakland, California in the summer of 1981.

If there is a fully anthemic track on the album without a light iteration, it would be the first song on the second side of Fair Warning, “Unchained”.  Introduced with a monster guitar riff with a quirky interlude of its own, leading into a full band outburst, the song reeks of the reckless abandon that the speaker professes. Hitting the ground running, not asking for permission, with the speaker’s chance to finally fly, the lyrics and music are the total combination of a hard rock band at their pinnacle. It would never again be the same for the band despite what the sales figures might say about future releases. “Unchained”, still widely played on rock radio, also features one of Roth’s most clever interludes, coming after the guitar solo – which is dispersed within a funky bass-drums time signature – even breaking the fourth wall to have Templeman tell Roth to give him a break and Roth ordering up that break. A final humorous distortion-free guitar chord is all that there is to tell you that the bombastic song is over after only three-and-a-half glorious minutes.

Eddie said this about “Unchained”: “I love that song. It’s rare that I can listen back to my own playing and get goose bumps, but that’s one of them.”

Like “Hear About It Later“, this song was originally written on keyboards.

Ted Templeman is the man behind the line, “Come on, Dave, Gimme a break!” The rumor is that Ted felt that Dave was getting a little too obnoxious during the song’s interlude, so he interjected, asking Dave to give it a rest. The band liked how it sounded, and the tongue-lashing was left in. However, Dave’s lyric sheets below show the “give me a break” line written out. But perhaps the rumor is true – the conversation could have been ad-libbed between Dave and Ted during early recordings, and then used or rerecorded for the final recording.

From Guitar World:

“Unchained” is not just a welcome major-key party anthem in the middle of the moody Fair Warning – it’s the Van Halen song that sold a million MXR M-117 stomp boxes. By carefully setting the flanger speed to sweep up in pitch one half of the main riff and down the next, Eddie created a rising-and-falling roller coaster ride that gave the fans a chance to throw their hands in the air and go along for the wild ride. A short, surprisingly restrained solo begins with some flash but quickly swings straight into melodic territory, bringing the break to a crisp crescendo. The song makes the perfect showcase for Roth’s swagger, Michael Anthony’s harmonies, Alex’s percussive thunder, and, per Eddie’s choice on this album, plenty of guitar overdubs. And hearing Eddie play several guitar parts at once is just more of a good thing.

Whether the ad-libbed conversation between David and the apparently sharp dressed producer Ted Templeman was really a spontaneous creation or a rehearsed bit is still up for discussion, but it hardly matters – it’s proof that the band’s playful personality was still in evidence, despite a widening rift between producer and artist. “I felt at the time that [Templeman] didn’t understand me anymore,” Eddie says. “I get so frustrated at not being able to do what I wanted. I ended up doing 90% of the guitar tracking at four o’clock in the morning with our engineer, Donn Landee.” They say adversity inspires greatness, and with “Unchained,” the ire clearly fueled the fire.

Official Music Video

Eddie’s isolated guitar

David Lee Roth’s original hand-written lyrics from 1981:


“Unchained” / “So This Is Love?” Spain 7″
"Unchained" / "So This Is Love?" German 7"
“Unchained” / “So This Is Love?” German 7″
"Unchained" / "So This Is Love?" Japanese 7"
“Unchained” / “So This Is Love?” Japanese 7″