To celebrate the fact that Van Halen has been packing ’em in all summer on their ongoing 2015 tour, Rolling Stone has put together a list of the coolest rare and unreleased tracks and deep album cuts in both the official and unofficial Van Halen discography.
They declare, “Van Halen have never failed to deliver. There are of course the hits — ‘Jump,’ ‘Running With the Devil,’ ‘Finish What You Started’ — that anyone who has ever tuned into a rock radio station knows backwards and forwards, but digging deeper uncovers countless album tracks and unreleased gems that reveal a band with a musical range and sensibility that extends far beyond feel-good anthems and screeching rockers — not that there’s anything wrong with either of those. Crank them up as you head out to see the show!”
Here’s a few of their picks…
“In a Simple Rhyme”
Van Halen would impact the charts with their fair share of sweet-hearted power ballads after Sammy Hagar joined the fold, but songs expressing deep sentiments were few and far between in the David Lee Roth era. A notable exception is this Who-inspired track from Women and Children First, in which Diamond Dave suddenly goes all emo and admits that a girl has “up and left, and I almost died.” The song rocks hard (there’s even a brief bass solo) to mitigate the unexpected outpouring of feelings, but Roth reveals himself to be just as vulnerable to the love bug as the rest of us mere mortals.
A deep cut from 1982’s Diver Down — an album that features no less than five covers songs, including “(Oh) Pretty Woman” and “Happy Trails” — “Secrets'” boasts a mellow shuffle, shimmering guitars and intricate chord changes that could just as well have been conceived by jazz-rockers Steely Dan. The song’s smooth fuzoid solo, reportedly nailed in one take, is among Eddie’s best and most melodic, and demonstrates that he is probably justified when he grumbles in interviews about being pigeonholed as a “heavy-metal guitarist.”
An instrumental available only on the soundtrack of the Cameron Crowe–penned 1984 movie The Wild Life, “Donut City” is as long forgotten as the teens-bongs-and-nunchakus romp for which it was penned. But while the film, which starred Eric Stoltz, Lea Thompson and Rick Moranis, might deserve to remain buried in the rubble of pop culture, “Donut City” — named for the shop that Thompson’s character Anita works at — is a propulsive and memorable rocker featuring a beat lifted straight from Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” baritone guitar riffing and Eddie Van Halen indulging in a Hendrix-inspired backwards guitar solo.
The epic title track from the 1986 5150, Van Halen’s maiden voyage with vocalist Sammy Hagar, showcases the band making full use of their new singer’s extended vocal range and is a one stop shop for all things excellent in the Van Halen lexicon. Rad intro that provokes uncontrollable air-guitaring? Check. Chunky, funky verse riff? Check. Anthemic, fist-pumping sing-along chorus? Check. Face-melting extended shred interlude that will pretenders to the throne never want to pick up an actual guitar again? Check and double check.
Eddie Van Halen originally wrote the darkest and most emotionally raw song in the Van Halen catalog in 1983 after the suicide of a close friend. The mournful track was later dusted off and repurposed after the death of Van Halen manager Ed Leffler in 1993. Released as a bonus track on the Japanese version of 1995’s Balance and as the B-side of the U.S. CD-single (remember those?) for “Can’t Stop Lovin’ You,” “Crossing Over” superimposes new instrumentation and vocals over the song’s original demo, recorded a decade earlier. Careful listeners will notice that one can still hear Eddie’s demo vocal underneath Sammy Hagar’s more high-octane take on the lyrics.
“Blood and Fire”
“I told you I was coming back. Say you missed me. Say it like you mean it.” David Lee Roth certainly deserves to puff out his chest on this A Different Kind of Truth highlight, in which he hits a succession of high notes that would have cowed him as a young buck. The lyrics spin Halen’s origin story over a riff that harkens back to Diver Down‘s classic “Little Guitars,” and Wolfgang Van Halen ably steps in for excommunicated bassist Michael Anthony not only on the four-string, but also on background vocal duties.