When Eddie Van Halen was once asked to describe his band’s music he responded by saying it sounds like “Godzilla waking up.”
Get ready. Godzilla is about to wake up.
In celebration of the man who was born 66 years ago today, here are Eddie’s ten greatest guitar riffs.
10. “5150” (1986)
The 1986 Van Halen album ‘5150’ is led by hit singles like “Why Can’t This Be Love”, “Best Of Both Worlds” and “Dreams” but it’s this title track which remains one of the standout guitar-driven songs of the Sammy Hagar era.
From the feverish opening riff to the gargantuan take-no-prisoners riff that follows, this one proved Eddie could tear it up no matter who was fronting the band.
9. “Hear About It Later” (1981)
The melodious opening to “Hear About It Later” could have continued to play out as the perfect power ballad but, instead, Eddie shifted gears into a thick, flange-heavy rock ‘n’ roll riff that epitomized the Eddie Van Halen “Brown Sound”.
8. “Summer Nights” (1986)
When Sammy Hagar first entered the studio to record the ‘5150’ album Eddie Van Halen had two riffs intended for the recently departed David Lee Roth. One ended up on the album’s opening track “Get Up” while the other for “Summer Nights”, a mighty riff set to an infectious groove reminiscent of Cream-era Eric Clapton.
7. “Beautiful Girls” (1979)
From 1979’s ‘Van Halen II’ comes this classic track led by what Guitar World Magazine described as a “bump and grind” riff. Originally a demo called “Bring On The Girls” the title and lyrics were later re-worked. Talk about a guitar riff tailor made for David Lee Roth. This one has some serious swagger.
6. “Cabo Wabo” (1988)
“Cabo Wabo” is another phenomenal Eddie Van Halen riff from the Sammy era. Unfortunately, it’s one fans didn’t hear enough of live. After their 1988-’89 tour to support the ‘OU812’ album the band rarely, if at all, played this song in the tours that would follow.
5. “Mean Street” (1981)
The dark, aggressive tone of “Mean Street” was driven by Eddie’s mood at the time it was recorded. Feeling creatively stifled by both David Lee Roth and producer Ted Templeman, Eddie stuck around the studio after the others left. It was then he would release his frustrations with tapes rolling. Out from those secret sessions comes one of the nastiest riffs in rock history.
4. “Panama” (1984)
According to Eddie Van Halen himself, this riff was inspired by Angus Young of AC/DC. Eddie was amazed by the power of Young’s guitar playing in concert and wanted to come up with something that reflected that same force and intensity. He came up with “Panama”, featuring one of the most recognizable guitar riffs in rock history.
3. “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” (1978)
Even Eddie Van Halen’s simplest efforts are lead to mind-blowing results. Intended to be a parody of the punk rock bands of the late 70s, this riff is based around two chords with an electric sitar added to the solo. Eddie thought so little of this riff that he waited six months before playing it for his band mates.
2. “Runnin’ With The Devil” (1978)
Led Zeppelin has their “Whole Lotta Love”, The Rolling Stones have their “Start Me Up”, Van Halen has their “Runnin’ With The Devil”. To steal a quote from David Lee Roth, this riff is as familiar to fans as the McDonald arches or the Nike swoosh.
1. “Unchained” (1981)
Right out of the gate Eddie attacks the chords with blazing ferocity on this hard rock classic. After slowing things down just long enough for David Lee Roth’s “Hey man that is suit is you” moment he brings back the intensity, finishing with more of that killer guitar lick. This was Eddie’s chance to fly and he soared the entire way.
Give us your top ten Eddie riff in the comment section below!