The music detectives at Loudersound have just returned from what we can assume was a very entertaining undercover mission: To come up with the ten greatest Van Halen cover songs of all time.
As fans know it was Van Halen’s 1978 cover of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” that helped launch the band’s career. But there are plenty more masterful Van Halen-ized cover songs the band either performed or recorded both before and after their debut single.
“From their earliest days in Pasadena, California, party rockers Van Halen honed their not inconsiderable chops by performing tons of cover versions,” wrote Howard Johnson. “They nicked songs from every era and every style, yet always added their special VH sauce – that inimitable mix of the late Eddie Van Halen’s unique guitar-playing and David Lee Roth’s cheerleading vocals – to make them their own. Here are the 10 best VH covers for you to rock out to.”
We’ve listed Loudersound‘s top five Van Halen covers below. To see the rest of the list (which includes some early VH club day covers) just head over to their website.
1. You Really Got Me (1978)
For many, this Kinks song invented heavy metal. Maybe so, but on Van Halen’s incredible debut album Eddie’s guitar sound, the tightened-up riffing and squealing licks make the original sound soft and flaccid in comparison. Roth’s cocksure delivery, an undeniably enjoyable case of style over substance, only goes to affirm the band’s ‘fuck you’ attitude. And the breakdown section, which features a girl sounding suspiciously close to orgasm, is simply the icing on the cake.
2. Ice Cream Man (1978)
Blues guitarist John Brim originally recorded this sticky little number in 1953, though it wasn’t released until 1969. Nine years later VH took the original, plugged it into the mains and delivered a delightfully cocky, supercharged interpretation. Roth’s lascivious vocal tees the tune up perfectly over a deceptively gentle intro, before Eddie finally pushes the ‘go’ button and unleashes the mother of all boogie riffs, then blows the roof off with a ridiculous solo that just can’t be licked!
3. Dancing In The Street (1982)
A perfect example of how to take a classic song and add your own touch. The original Martha Reeves and the Vandellas version was a huge 1964 hit and defined the classic Motown pop sound. In the hands of Eddie and co. it becomes a different beast entirely, a surprisingly modern-sounding dance rock mash-up. Is that a sequencer we hear? Or Eddie masterfully controlling the song’s rhythmic thrust with nothing but guitar? Hard to tell, but it’s an ambitious interpretation that really hits the spot.
4. You’re No Good (1979)
An early ‘60s R’n’B tune by Clint Ballard Jr. became a 1975 US Number One hit for Linda Ronstadt. In contrast to the bitter lyric, Ronstadt’s version is almost jaunty. But on VH II, the quartet make the tune a whole lot nastier, riding a throbbing beat and adding interesting multiple harmonies to get to the song’s true meaning. Roth piles up those trademark yelps for an indulgent interpretation that definitely works.
5. A Apolitical Blues (1988)
You can find the original of this slow blues strut powered by a soulful vocal from singer Lowell George on Little Feat’s 1972 album, Sailin’ Shoes. On 1988’s OU812 album VH took the blueprint, then slowed it down the teensiest bit to make it even more sleazy. And any rock song that features Chairman Mao has to be good, right?