Let’s ease the seat back, doodle “VH” on our binders and finish the countdown of Every Van Halen Song Ever, right down to Number 1.
50) “THE TROUBLE WITH NEVER,” A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH, ROTH
Another uptempo rocker from reunion VH. Fun harmonies, great lyrics and a sharp solo with a lot of playful feedback. Also: this Wolfgang kid’s got some moves, too!
49) “TAKE YOUR WHISKEY HOME,” WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST, ROTH
Opens folksy, then shifts into a strong, steady rocker in an almost AC/DC vein. Eddie’s sky-high (and too short!) solo is of the sort where you shift from nodding your head to the beat to rockin’ it side to side. Oh yeeeeeeah.
48) “GET UP,” 5150, HAGAR
Sammy’s first big noisy rocker. He’s caught in the middle of Eddie and Alex showing off and it comes together real well. Oh, the memories of my mother screaming at me to turn this song down. It was created just for that reason.
47) “CHINA TOWN,” A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH, ROTH
The opening to this tune is straight-up math rock. From the band that once asked “have you seen Junior’s graaaaades?” Van Halen pitches a wide tent! Then it shifts to a speedy number reminiscent of “Hang ‘Em High.” Dave was born to sing lines like “Welcome to Chiiiiiinnnna Towwwwwwwn!” (Extra points for referencing “Headless Body in a Topless Bar.”)
46) “BLOOD AND FIRE,” A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH, ROTH
Maybe I’m nuts, but this is one of the most “Broadway Musical” tunes in the VH repertoire. A great melody with a lot of drive and urgency. There’s restraint on the instrumentation, but that’s what differentiates A Different Kind of Truth from the later Sammy Hagar albums — you don’t need to drill holes in your guitar to cover up all the screaming. A great track, and young Wolfgang Van Halen kicks ass on this, too.
45) “SOURCE OF INFECTION,” OU812, HAGAR
This tune has the most hammer-on than anything else in the repertoire, so if that’s what you love about VH you’ll jizz-whizz all over this. It’s a sparkly rocker in a “Top Jimmy” vein and Sammy’s in clear voice here.
44) “GIRL GONE BAD,” 1984, ROTH
The ominous, echoey buildup is reminiscent of Rush, but the tune quickly comes to its senses and gets groovin’. There are a lot of minor chords, but I suppose it’s about a girl gone “bad,” so that makes sense.
43) “1984,” 1984, ROTH
A strange, short synthesizer solo that is both calming and strangely disquieting. You gotta remember, this came out just when, like, Space Invaders was the most modern thing anyone had ever seen. Kids would rewind this 67-second “piece” and play it over and over and say “so cool” a lot.
42) “(OH) PRETTY WOMAN,” DIVER DOWN, ROTH
Van Halen’s most famous cover, probably, and it’s done almost entirely with a straight face. It’s Roy Orbison in electric neon and it’s just terrific.
41) “SINNER’S SWING!” FAIR WARNING, ROTH
A rat-a-tat and a chorus that sounds like “good bush.” (Alas, they’re saying “Get out and push.”) This is a peppy and lively classic VH deep cut. Also, the solo here is something a preview for what’s coming on “Hot For Teacher.”
40) “POUNDCAKE,” FOR UNLAWFUL CARNAL KNOWLEDGE, HAGAR
Led somewhat by Anthony’s machine gun bass, this straightforward tune is pretty damn catchy. I always hoped for follow-up tunes like “Black and White Cookie” but it never happened. I don’t quite know what the heck is going on what the electric drill opening.
39) “LITTLE GUITARS,” DIVER DOWN, ROTH
A completely unique tune in VH’s repertoire. It has a solid rocker beat laced with an Eddie riff flying all over the place, charging in unexpected directions. The vocal line is gorgeous, and stretches Dave’s range. God only knows what this song’s about (it’s not about an Etch-a-Sketch) but the harmonies are smooth and the chord changes are perfect.
38) “SECRETS,” DIVER DOWN, ROTH
A sweet, smooth and mellow tune that is deceptively simple. The drumming has a jazzy edge and Eddie’s playing around with sly chord combinations and harmonics. I don’t know why this one isn’t as well known.
37) “CABO WABO,” OU812, HAGAR
The longest non-Gary Cherone Van Halen tune. It’s Sammy’s cri de coeur, so let him have it, right? The beat is sturdy and tough, then the backing vocals bring out the singalong flavor. I guess what I’m saying is that this song is pretty good if you aren’t turned off by Hagar.
36) “DANCING IN THE STREETS,” DIVER DOWN, ROTH
I always forget about this track. It’s great, but it’s the silver medal of cover versions for this tune. The Grateful Dead’s take heard on mid-1977 concerts are revelations of improvisational rock. At first those weird, bubbly synths are annoying but as they mix with Alex’s cowbell and shuffle beat it starts sounding allllllll right, yeeeeeeeah. It’s sure as hell better than Jagger and Bowie’s version.
35) “DROP DEAD LEGS,” 1984,ROTH
One of the more prurient Van Halen tunes. And that’s saying something. Great one to do that thing with your neck where you bop it in and out like a goose. Seriously, I’ve tried it.
34) “TOP JIMMY,” 1984, ROTH
Slick and badass at first (oh, those harmonics!) and then the bass kicks in and the shuffle beat zooms us along. A metal “Johnny B. Goode,” this is a cookin’ classic with so much going for it.
33) ““DIRTY MOVIES”, FAIR WARNING, ROTH
You wanna talk about VH’s influences, listen to Alex’s opening beat and during the “take it off!” break. Then compare it to the entire live output from Jon Fishman of Phish. The similarities are incredible. As is this little number celebrating the joys of porn.
32) “LIGHT UP THE SKY,” VAN HALEN II, ROTH
I want to get in a Datsun and drive really fast in the field beyond the bleachers and play “Light Up The Sky” really loud on the tape deck.
31) “HEAR ABOUT IT LATER,” FAIR WARNING, ROTH
The effect setting on the intro guitar may as well be called “John Carpenter Characters Hang Out At An Amusement Park.” And if you can’t connect with that means you are blessed to be young enough not to remember the early ‘80s. This is a gorgeous mid-tempo number with a great melody and ample cowbell. God, I love Van Halen.
30) “WHY CAN’T THIS BE LOVE,” 5150, HAGAR
Even with that weird synthesizer snarl, this is classic rock gold. Great beat with an urgent catchy melody. This song saved Van Halen during the transition from Dave to Sammy.
29) “CATHEDRAL,” DIVER DOWN, ROTH
Pound for pound, nothing tops Diver Down for experimentation. One of Eddie’s techniques was to play with the volume knob, so they figured why not do a whole (short) instrumental on that. It does kinda sound like a church organ, doesn’t it? It’s a very “pretty” melody, but it is centered on complicated gear so it’s still cool for dudes to dig it while smoking out behind the gym.
28) “YOU REALLY GOT ME,” VAN HALEN, ROTH
Van Halen’s first hit was a cover, a well they’d return to time and again. The Kinks’ original was great on its own (a piece of pop perfection, actually) so they had a head start here. The VH touch was the SoCal backing harmonies, Dave’s coos and ahhs and Eddie shredding up the place. What a blast.
27) “HANG ‘EM HIGH,” DIVER DOWN, ROTH
A galloping beat and weird multi-tracked vocal sets this one apart. Eddie’s incredibly busy here. A fast and furious album cut.
26) “FEELS SO GOOD,” OU812, HAGAR
Controversial, but I freakin’ love this tune. It sounds more like Genesis than Van Halen, but I think it is one of the best integrations of Sammy Hagar with the group. He’s kinda the star of the show, out in front of a repetitive synthesizer groove, but isn’t shrieking and howling all over the place. This is a solid pop song, with just enough Van Halen production to make everyone proud. “Right Now” steals from this and it ain’t as good.
25) “JUMP,” 1984, ROTH
A monstrous hit. Parents even liked this song. Hardcore teen fans rolled their eyes because of the synthesizer, but that’s part of what gave it such mainstream appeal. (Same with Rush’s “Tom Sawyer,” but that’s a much better song all around.) This was great for its video and the solo is terrific, but I guess the only silver lining about the VH/DLR breakup is we didn’t get too many other songs trying to replicate this success. That would have been a disaster.
24) “DREAMS,” 5150, HAGAR
Get out the lighters, it’s power ballad time. One thing in Sammy Hagar’s defense, he pulled this stuff off far better than Dave ever could. Dave was too much of an imp, too much of a rascal. Sammy can get earnest and make the girls cry with these inspirational anthems. I listen to this tune and I want to do pull-ups.
23) “BEAUTIFUL GIRLS,” VAN HALEN II, ROTH
A happy, poppy, slightly sleazy hit with some Dave’s vocals bordering on jazz scatting. Just the number the second album needed to end on. VH’s Beach Boys influence in its best form here.
22) “ROMEO’S DELIGHT,” WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST,ROTH
It was always hard for bass player Anthony to get a lot of attention in Van Halen. For many songs, he’s sometimes just jammin’ out on one note. This tune he’s flappin’ and flyin’ all over the place like Chris Squire or Geddy Lee. But in addition to that there’s the rapid fire riff and space-y break where things get way chill and Eddie is sprinkling in echoey notes as Dave murmurs “feel my heart beat” before a massive eruption of sound. This is a biggie.
21) “INTRUDER,” DIVER DOWN, ROTH
We’re counting this as its own song, even though part of what makes it so great is its 180-degree slam into “(Oh) Pretty Woman.” The juxtaposition of the two complement one another so well. And what’s happening here is a horror movie on guitar, synthesizer, bass and drums. For a minute and forty-seconds, dark fury takes over Van Halen in a complex and sinister manner, building to a truly frightening crescendo. That Roy Orbison is at the end of the tunnel is quite possibly the greatest punchline in all of classic rock.
20) “JAIME’S CRYIN’,” VAN HALEN, ROTH
Alex’s opening thumps were good enough for Tone-Loc, they’re good enough for us. The melody gets a wee bit annoying after a while, however.
19) “ATOMIC PUNK,” VAN HALEN, ROTH
With DLR as frontman, Van Halen was more playful than dangerous. But back in the day, concerned parents and teachers and squares would still call this music “heavy metal.” This is one of the few tracks that has a hint of threat to it. The swishy-scratchy opening riff adds to the foreboding. Hard now to think of VH positioning themselves in the Black Sabbath demo, but this has a bit of their horror movie style. (Maybe the Atomic Punk knew Iron Man?) A great headbanger and DLR’s wails are extraordinary (not to mention Eddie’s solo.)
18) “OUTTA LOVE AGAIN,” VAN HALEN II, ROTH
This is just VH showing off. Alex and Mike’s beat is gliding at doubletime and Dave is spitting out arpeggio phrases, shifting into controlled falsettos. Eddie busts in with the squeaky solo just as the drums and bass get funky. At under three minutes this one was born to get played five times in a row.
17) “FINISH WHAT YA STARTED,” OU812, HAGAR
What an extraordinary riff. That effortless snap and twang. The best song about the case of azure glands ever recorded.
16) “MEAN STREET,” FAIR WARNING, ROTH
VH’s fourth album announces itself with heretofore unheard guitar tricks of fuzz-tone harmonics gliding directly into a riff so strong it deserves to be chiseled into Mount Rushmore. Then comes the smooth R&B beat and nasty DLR lyrics for a pure Van Halen masterpiece. You name your song after a Scorsese movie you had better come correct. This one kills, and gets the “says the name of the album” bonus, too.
15) “I’LL WAIT,” 1984, ROTH
Coming as it does right after “Hot For Teacher,” it took me a while to recognize the greatness of this song. It’s just a lovely melody. (One that was co-written by Michael McDonald.) It’s an uncharacteristic work, and unlike “Jump,” it’s one that I wish could have been perused more by this band.
14) “BEST OF BOTH WORLDS,” 5150, HAGAR
The best Hagar tune, and not just because of the Star Trek “I am Locutus of Borg” connection. It’s a slick riff that builds and capitalizes on the power in Sammy’s voice. Great chord changes along the way and when the chorus comes I dare you not to sing along. Eddie’s solo clinches it.
13) “AND THE CRADLE WILL ROCK…” WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST, ROTH
A solid li’l headbanger with guitar effects meant to simulate the inside of a Saturn V rocket. This one has some of the best “screw you, Mom & Dad!” lyrics in the entire VH repertoire. Have you seen junior’s grades?
12) “ON FIRE,” VAN HALEN, ROTH
For a lesser band, this would be the best track on their debut album. Van Halen tacked it on at the end and I can’t recall ever hearing it on classic rock radio. An effects-heavy solo (take that Alex Lifeson!) and blazing DLR’ falsettos make this one of the more prog-metal efforts in VH’s catalogue, but the “Fie-yuuuuuuuuuuuuh!” refrain in the backing vocals is just made for middle school kids to howl when they are supposed to be doing whatever the dumb P.E. teacher wants them to do.
11) “I’M THE ONE,” VAN HALEN, ROTH
A deep cut from the first album that is, in actuality, a perfect encapsulation of l’esprit du Van. A shredding riff that downshifts into drones before pointillist tones and whirligig trills. Alex is at lightning speed on the ride cymbal, then more backing harmonies before DLR ad-libs you to “show it” in between barks and howls. And then an unexpected break into jazzy “shoo-be-doos.” Unbelievably great.
10) “5150,” 5150, HAGAR
A real gem, with a simply gorgeous intro and melody. Once the harmonies kick in and the vocal line starts building with Alex’s ride cymbal this crystallizes into triumphant pop rock with heavy metal edges. If you are blanking on the title, it’s the one that goes “I’ll meet you half the way…” Oh, if all the post-David Lee Roth songs were as good as this!
9) “LITTLE DREAMER,” VAN HALEN, ROTH
VH isn’t really known for being smooth and sexy, but their first album is all about range. There’s not much DLR silliness here, he’s being a real leading man. His low tones out in front of the full backing harmony blast makes this blues tune downright steamy.
8) “D.O.A.,” VAN HALEN II, ROTH
Zeppelin-esque riff, heavy beat and David Lee Roth saying “Poe-Lease-Man.”
7) “ERUPTION,” VAN HALEN, ROTH
Don’t roll your eyes at me: It is, in fact, the thing which set Van Halen apart at the dawn of their career and is, quite possibly, their most influential track. At a mere 1:42, this explosion of Eddie Van Halen pyrotechnics (with a few queues from Alex on drums) is meant as a sizzle reel of skills, showing off in blustery form just how new and innovative Eddie’s guitar technique was. When he shifts into the “Bach ‘N’ Roll” hammer-on technique it sounds like a magic trick. No, Eddie was not the first to do this (and neither was Zappa) but he was the first to do it on such a grand scale, and the first to glide through it with such grace. Like a switch, guitar enthusiasts had a new God and a whole new style to emulate. The song’s conclusion sounds like a jet receding in the skyline. Van Halen had announced itself and was taking off.
6) “RUNNIN’ WITH THE DEVIL,” VAN HALEN, ROTH
The first ever VH tune we heard. A slow, steady beat, DLR ahhs and oohs, great backup harmonies, smooth riff and then the solo. What an entrance.
5) “AIN’T TALKIN’ ‘BOUT LOVE,” VAN HALEN, ROTH
VH’s first brutal, flange-y riff. Maybe the first VF riff kids with dirtlip mustaches worked for hours in their garage to try and recreate. Passing of the torch from Zeppelin? Also: introduced the world to the phrase “semi-good lookin’.”
4) “EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!” WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST, ROTH
This song probably has something to do with sex. Opens with jungle rhythms, an unexpected wall of guitar noise and has some of the best Dave patter on record. (“I like the way the line runs up the back of the stockings.”) Enough of an anthem to get turned into claymation by Savage Steve Holland!
3) “HOT FOR TEACHER,” 1984, ROTH
Rock videos created a lot of careers in the 1980s. Van Halen was already doing all right before MTV came around. But a ham like David Lee Roth is going to do well in front of a camera. This ridiculous video (“dear, sweet Waldo”) was unlike anything anyone had ever seen, but it still had to be in promotion of the right song. And, holy crap, what a song. Alex Van Halen’s octopus-inspired drumming, a cookin’ riff, funny lyrics, marvelous harmonies and then that solo! And the ending! “Oh My Goddddddd!!!!” Dave spoke for us all there. Man, Van Halen rules! It says so right on my binder!
2) “UNCHAINED,” FAIR WARNING, ROTH
Fair Warning’s big single is a good time rockin’ number with a heavy chk-chk flanger effect that’s like a cross between the Six Million Dollar Man and a skillsaw. Michael Anthony’s one-note thump is like a heart attack and then there’s this classic exchange: “C’mon, Dave, gimme a break!” “One break, comin’ up!”
1) “PANAMA,” 1984, ROTH
At the end of the day, this is the one where it all came together. The final big masterpiece of the true line-up, with everyone at their apex. The riff, the solo, the harmonics, the furious rhythm, the peppy backing vocals, Dave’s hootin’ high notes and his mid-song patter. For a lot of people this is the greatest Van Halen song and in a way they are right.