Nov 182012

Go All the Way

A band that’s been wildly popular through 3 lead singers, a record-setting run of bad taste, and dozens of hissy fits is usually not thought of as being in need of a world famous Rock Town Hall Critical Upgrade, but while watching the movie Argo this weekend and hearing “Dance the Night Away” crank up during a scene it occurred to me that I might have been more receptive to Van Halen in their time, if not even liked them a little better, if they had been marketed as a power pop band rather than some kind of badass hard rock act featuring a lead guitarist who was taking the next giant steps after Hendrix.

They were marketed as some kind of badass hard rock act featuring a lead guitarist who was taking the next giant steps after Hendrix, right?

Maybe I missed the point. Maybe they were supposed to be taken as some sexually charged version of The Raspberries. Pull down Eric Carmen’s bellbottoms and you’d be looking at the smooth, plastic crotch of a Ken doll. You know David Lee Roth, on the other hand, was packing heat inside his Spandex tights. I don’t think he needed plugs down there.

Is that what the little girls have understood all along? Should I have been grading Van Halen as a power pop band more than a hard rock act? Thought of in those terms were they actually kind of great?

As I get stuck on the intro to “Dance the Night Away” I am, probably fortunately, not having much luck recalling how their other songs go except for a few key bits, like the talking blues intro to on song and the chorus of “Panama,” at least the opening line of the chorus, when they sing the song’s title. Come to think of it I just heard “Jump” about a week ago and realized how decent a power pop song that was.


  14 Responses to “Critical Upgrade: Van Halen”

  1. This RTH critical upgrade is a great way to help me come to terms with Van Halen . . . this can also be my first step in accepting AC/DC and Guns n’ Roses. May their music fill baseball, football, basketball, hockey, and soccer stadiums forever and ever. Amen.

  2. ladymisskirroyale

    I don’t know about an upgrade to the Land of the Lauded but they were sorta cute, had rockin’ bods, and were highly entertaining live.

    Maybe a critical upgrade to Great Party Bands of the 80’s…

  3. misterioso

    No quarrels with VH for most of the DLR era. I enjoy the first 4 records in particular. After Roth, forget it.

  4. Bronzed Nordic God

    I always thought Chuck Klosterman got to the heart of Van Halen better than anyone with this quote:

    “Listening to Clapton is like getting a sensual massage from a woman you’ve loved for the past ten years; listening to Van Halen is like having the best sex of your life with three foxy nursing students you met at a Tastee Freeze”

    The only beef I have with the quote is the positives attributed to listening to Clapton.

  5. cliff sovinsanity

    I’ll admit to tapping my feet on occasion to Jamie’s Crying, I’ll Wait, Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love, but before we bestow a full RTH pardon on VH they have a lot to answer for. Especially their dodgy parade of covers (Pretty Woman, You’re No Good and Dancing In The Steets) and juvenile pandering (Hot For Teacher, Everybody Wants Some)

  6. Van Halen … great!

    For me, the whole Eddie Van Halen “guitar god” thing never impressed me, but the fact that they have some of the best background vocals ever!

    And adding to Cliffs comment ….two of those covers “pretty woman” and “dancing in the streets” were on Diver Down which had 5 covers on it all together. Apparently the band was such a mess that they couldn’t figure out making a real album so they threw that together. I have to admit that I love the “Pretty Woman” cover especially the intro.

    And to your “toe tappin'” list, those three are excellent and I’d add “Beautiful Girls” “And The Cradle Will Rock” and “Unchained” ….which both might cross over into your juvenile pandering area, but whats wrong with a little pandering.

    I’ve never had much use for music genre bigotry, if I dig it, i dig it! So, Mr Mod …..have you heard Motley Crue do The Raspberries “I’ll Be With You Tonight” ?

    and what I think is one of the best power pop songs I have heard in the last 10 years is “Ritual” by a swedish metal band called GHOST

  7. Wow, that Raspberries cover by Motley Crue is abominable. That is one relentlessly crap-sounding band.

  8. 2000 Man

    I’ve got their first album and I like it. It’s really dumb, but I just don’t care.

  9. I don’t think they could have been marketed as power pop. They are too agressive and over the top, especially with DLR. Their schtick was always tounge in cheek stadium bombast.

    I like Dance the Night Away. Jump is okay and maybe Panama too, but that’s it. When they first came out, I somehow decided that the world was divided into either VH fans or Aerosmith fans and I was in the latter camp. I can’t stand EVH’s playing or his tone (something that he is inordinately proud of), and AVH has the worst drum sound ever.

  10. No to the VH upgrade. I think you’ve got the classic rock rose-colored glasses version. I can work with “Ain’t Talkin Bout Love”, “Dance the Night Away”, “Unchained” but for every one of those there are two crap cover tunes, bone-head bashers or Eddie-is-a-guitar-god jamz.

    They precede but fit closer to the LA Hair Metal scene, which had a bit of tuneful power pop in there, but that was more for bringing the chicks to the party. Mostly chest-banging arena rock.

  11. To me a c ritical upgrade would be replacing Sammy Hagar with a much more exciting musican. I like everyone in Van Halen except Sammy Hagar. Maybe its just me but when ever he plays he commits the cardinal sin regarding rock music. He’s boring as listening to a lecturer who talks in a monotone on a topic you couldn’t care less about.
    I know he’s written a pretty interesting book on his views . I just wish that would translate to his musicianship.

  12. machinery

    I would argue that Hot for Teacher is possibly the BEST hard rock song of the 80s and certainly the best thing VH ever did as far as “being in the pocket” with a genuinely great solo from Eddie — even with his guitar masturbation. Call it a guilty pleasure. They were without a doubt the best of the LA hair bands I was lucky enough to miss while in college.

    But a power pop band? Nahh.


    I say this vid represents the fulcrum of polarization for the Van Halen Debate. Those that Love are too busy pointing and laughing in exaltation to elucidate a coherent defense themselves. Those that Hate need more paper to list all the rock cliches contained herein.

    I Love


  14. You knew I would defend VH, right?

    I love EVERYTHING about the DLR era of Van Halen. They were the best cover band in America (Pretty Woman,You”re No Good, You Really Got Me, Dancing In The Streets, Where Have All The Good Times Gone, Ice Cream Man, Happy Trails), they were the best hard rock band in America (Mean Street, Atomic Punk), They were the best power-pop band in America (Beautiful Girls, Dance The Night Away). They did not rhrow a party, they were the party Ed was the best guitar player in the world, not for his hammer-on stuff but for his VERY musical chord playing and song writing. 100% of their songs are 100% written musically by Ed jamming with Al. Any singer they have had has merely added words and some melody to his completed (or nearly completed) fully arranged songs.

    Love or hate Dave (or both) but if you hate him you were not paying attention. He is the real deal. Stole everything he does, every look every move from the 1920’s – 1950’s stars of song and screen and pop culture and reprocessed it into an often (badly) mimicked but never duplicated style of cool.

    The 2012 comeback CD is as strong as their 1st 6 CDs

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