Thirty seven years ago this week Van Halen’s “Jump” knocked Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon” off the top of the charts and started a five week run at number one on the Billboard Hot 100.
“Jump” was released a single on December 21st, 1983 and began its ascent atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart beginning on February 25th, 1984. It stayed there until the week of March 24th, when it fell to Kenny Loggins’ ‘Footloose.’ It also hit #1 in Canada and Italy while going to #2 in Australia and Ireland. It was top ten in Austria, France, Switzerland and the UK.
For the long-time fans of the band, hearing “Jump” for the first time was quite a shock to their stereo sound system. They were used to hearing Eddie Van Halen’s monster guitar riffs dominate a song. Instead their hearing synthesizers at the beginning and right through to the end. Being that it was the very first single from the ‘1984’ album, fans were wondering if the rest of the album would be the same. As we know that wouldn’t be the case. Aside from “I’ll Wait”, there would be plenty of guitar-heavy rockers [including the singles “Panama” and “Hot For Teacher”] on the album, which reached #2 on Billboard and sold ten million copies.
It turns out that the new musical direction of “Jump” had been stirring around in Eddie’s musical mind for quite a while. In fact, it was as far back as possibly 1979 although Eddie couldn’t pinpoint exactly when during interviews. He did tell rock journalist Lisa Robinson in 1985 that it was written sometime before or during the time of Van Halen’s 1981 album ‘Fair Warning’, adding that he wrote it on the back of a tour bus.
“For the first six records and tours, we all traveled together on the same bus, which Dave called the disco sub,” Eddie later gold Guitar World. “All I did was write. You can hear the bus generator on all of the demo tapes I recorded.”
While Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony were on board with recording “Jump”, David Lee Roth and the band’s producer Ted Templeman gave it the thumbs down. Neither felt it fit in with the band’s guitar-heavy image.
“The only falling out we ever had was over ‘Jump,’ because I didn’t – and I don’t – like it,” Templeman told Rolling Stone in a recent interview. “It’s stupid because I produced it, but the keyboards just hit me as wrong. He would call me up in the middle of the night and say, ‘Ted, you’ve got to hear this. I’m gonna come and get you.’ And he drove down in his Porsche to Century City and picked me up at three in the morning and drove me up there: ‘Listen to this.’ And they had ‘Jump’ down.”
Eventually Templeman came around and agreed to record “Jump”. He then instructed Roth to write lyrics. With the instrumental track on a cassette tape, Roth left to work on the lyrics and vocal melody. He hopped into his 1951 Mercury Low Rider with his roadie Larry Hostler behind the wheel, Dave in the back seat. They played the tape over and over again on the stereo while they cruised around the LA canyons and along the Pacific Coast Highway. By ride’s end Roth had the lyrics completed.
“‘Jump’ was written for several different reasons,” Roth later said. “Primarily because it is leap year and secondly, because I was watching television one night and it was the 5 o’clock news, and there was a fellow standing on top of the Arco Towers in Los Angeles and he was about to check out early, he was going to do the 33-story drop — and there was a whole crowd of people in the parking lot downstairs yelling ‘Don’t jump, don’t jump’ and I thought to myself, ‘Jump.’ So, I wrote it down and ultimately it made it onto the record, although in a much more positive vein. It’s easy to translate it the way you hear it on the record as a ‘go for it’ attitude, positive sort of affair — an I-jog-therefore-I-am approach.”
Templeman later said Roth recorded the vocals the same afternoon he wrote the lyrics. The song was mixed that night. A song that took almost a decade for Eddie to finally record was now on tape.
The result was Van Halen’s biggest hit single ever, their one and only #1 song. “Why Can’t This Be Love” would come close, going to #3 in 1986.
Van Halen – “Jump”
The Van Halen News Desk‘s Eric Senich has devoted an entire episode of his classic rock podcast DISCovery to “Jump”, which you can hear below. Hear the story behind the song from it’s inception to the making of the video along with some very interesting cover and mash-up versions of this Van Halen classic!