Posted April 14th, 2012 by Dave at VHTrading.com:
So Diver Down turns 30 today. I love this album. I admit that I’m biased. It was my first time hearing Van Halen, so it’s what got me hooked. When talking about David Lee Roth era Van Halen, most people are quick to put this at the bottom of the original 6 pack of albums. Not me. It’s one of my go-to albums. Why? It’s just fun. Fun!
First of all, before we talk about the music, let’s all admit the album’s marketing genius. To this day, if you like the album, all you have to do is go to a dive shop and get yourself a Diver Down flag, bumper sticker or shirt. No need to buy some rare tour shirt!
Now admittedly, most times you hear about Diver Down, you hear the complaints lobbed at it.
“It’s too short, barely over half an hour.” Got news for ya – so are the other 5 Roth albums. No one complains about Fair Warning being too short.
“There are too many covers.” Oh please. Did anyone really hear the original version of “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)” first? Even “Where Have All The Good Times Gone!” isn’t that well known as a Kinks song. Besides, everybody & their brother were releasing cover albums in the 90’s. Van Halen was just ahead of their time. Plus, when Van Halen did a cover, they had the rare gift of making it their own without abandoning the spirit of the original. A good song is a good song! No one ever gave Frank Sinatra crap because he didn’t write his own material. That may be because everyone was scared of Frank & his “associates,” but I digress.
“There are a lot if instrumentals used as filler for songs.” Yes, and Eddie is playing them. Ain’t it great?!
“The album is a total cash grab since the band only did it because they had a hit single to follow up with.” You know what? I really don’t care why they made the album. Good music is good music. EVERY album is a cash grab. I don’t work for free, why should Van Halen?
“Ed doesn’t like the album.” Hey, that’s his problem, not mine. And these days, I really don’t think he hates it that much. When the band whips out songs from Diver Down on its latest tour, die hard fans go nuts. See the band on the right night and you’ll hear up to 4 songs from the album (maybe 5 if you think Ed is playing “Little Guitars (Intro)” in his solo).
Some years ago, a magazine did an article on the most underrated albums of all time. Diver Down was on the list. Why? Because if you don’t get Diver Down, then you don’t get David Lee Roth. And I agree. His stamp is all over the place. Things like wacky covers and him actually playing no less than guitar, harmonica & synth. The album is just fun to listen to. It’s what David Lee Roth is all about.
So the album starts off with “Secrets.” Yes you read that right. What’s that you say, I’m wrong? Listen again, that’s the end of “Secrets” played backwards that starts off the album, off before Ed goes full tilt into “Where Have All The Good Times Gone!” Yeah, I didn’t know that either until about a year ago. “Hang “em High” is just classic Van Halen with some nice vocals from Dave. Instrumentally it’s the same as its original demo “Last Night,” but you can hear how far the band had come since then. “Cathedral” – who else can make a guitar sound like a keyboard?! And then there’s “Secrets,” my favorite song off the album. It’s one of the best group efforts by the band. Dave actually sings. Heavenly background vocals abound (actually a lot of the album is a testament to the band’s vocal prowess). Mikey’s bass is actually audible & contributing something to the song. It’s the best hit single they never had. Find yourself the rare single mix with some keyboards mixed gently in the background for an added treat. Then off to “Intruder.” You know who the real star of this song is? It’s Alex. Yeah Ed gets some crazy gonzo sounds out of his guitar, but Al is the one who keeps the song flowing. Then right into “(Oh) Pretty Woman.” Van Halen rocked it like Roy Orbison never did. Even if they did forget part of the song.
Side 2 (remember when albums had those?) starts with “Dancing In The Street.” It’s pretty well known to fans that Ed had put one of his own synth riffs to the song in order to get everyone to agree to record it. But it works! To me it’s like one of the first mash-ups….except no one knew it. Then we get “Little Guitars (Intro)” and when you realize that Ed’s doing it without any overdubs – holy cow, that’s just cool. “Little Guitars” – that song is just another Van Halen classic. It just kills! Next up is “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)” and really…can any other metal (yeah I said it, please don’t start a metal vs. hard rock fight) band pull this off besides Van Halen? Not like they can! A clarinet solo?? Sounds like I just left the Mos Eisley Cantina (and yes, Han shot first). And then The Full Bug. Originally I wasn’t too crazy about this song. A schoolmate of mine called it the “Hey we need one more song for the album” song. He might be right. But I’ve grown to appreciate it over the years. Not often you hear harmonica from Van Halen. And then a nice little conclusion of “Happy Trails.”
And hey…here’s a bonus: we got a great tour from this album, especially the South American leg. The band was on fire (pun intended)!
Is this album the best ever? No. Is it the best Van Halen album ever? No. But it doesn’t suck. Far from it. It just makes people happy. I know that’s what it does for me. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Happy birthday Diver Down!