VAN HALEN ROCKS THE CRADLE!
Van Halen were voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of the class of 2007. This struck me as the pick of this litter, far more significant to me personally than REM, the college boy champions. All in all, this has me realizing that I never properly appreciated Van Halen in their prime.
That's a damned fool shame on my part too, cause I was just the right age. The Van Halen album was out my freshman year of high school. At the time, I liked them all right, but I don't even remember specifically owning a Van Halen album while I was in high school. They were kind of fun if I happened to hear them on the radio maybe, but they weren't any kind of serious artists to pay attention to.
About the time of that first album, I was in the throes of deep Beatlemania, and just discovering Bob Dylan and the Stones. Among their contemporaries, I was latching on to Elvis Costello, obviously much more of a critic's darling than any kind of hard rock guitar band. As Diamond Dave famously noted, critics perhaps liked Elvis more than Van Halen cause he looks more like them. Perhaps some of that applies to me as well. Elvis Costello was much closer to my headspace.
But at least during the DLR years, Van Halen was nearly as good. They certainly had sharper playing than any of those contemporary Elvis Costello albums. The Attractions were no slouches, but Van Halen was the best playing guitar band in the land. Van Halen were also halfway competitive as songwriters. Not to say that they'll make you forget Elvis, but "Dance the Night Away" "Unchained" and "Jump" are among the best pop song compositions of the era.
I have tended to discount Van Halen unfairly - not giving them due credit for their outstanding achievements. I can see how someone might even have preferred Van Halen to Elvis Costello, at least through the end of the Diamond Dave era in 1984. Elvis Costello was the king of the underground, Dostoevsky's Underground Man turned vengeful rock singer, the hero of all trolls. Van Halen, however, were lords of the whole Earth. They were the Nietzchean alpha male music for the proud young lions joyously claiming their inheritance. I guess I wasn't enough of one myself to fully appreciate them.
Another thing helping me connect the dots that I've been underrating Van Halen was this essay Best Band in the Land by Bill Tuomala. He cleverly argues in a backwards manner through an alternate history in which the Ramones had been the predominant commercial guitar band of the era, with Van Halen the struggling kings of the underground. He very effectively makes the point that Van Halen were a far greater artistic force than the much more highly touted Ramones, not just as instrumentalists, but as songwriters and as purveyors of a subtle and sophisticated artistic vision. I mean yeah, the Ramones were great - but they weren't in a league with classic Van Halen.
I certainly didn't quite get the borscht belt humor of our favorite Southern Indiana hometown Hoosier Hebrew hero Diamond David Lee Roth. At one point in "Happy Trails," I swear he's channeling Al Jolson. Some of those videos like the classic "Hot for Teacher" were some kind of high vaudeville - and also the kind of naughty wit Benny Hill would have killed for.
As an idea of being pop songwriters, I'd particularly submit for your consideration "Dance the Night Away." It's an alpha male version of the Lovin' Spoonful's classic "Do You Believe in Magic?" There's such a tenderness of emotion and real appreciation for the heart of the young girl that when he says "don't skip romance" it sounds actually romantic. "Shes on fire, cause dancing gets her higher than Anything else she knows"
Then of course, there's the guitar champion of his generation, Edward Van Halen. There's just hardly another player on the planet that could sit on a stage with him. He's been very disciplined as well, playing meaningfully composed parts as complimentary parts of songs, not extended jack-off showy Yngwie Malmsteen shredding. His guitar parts mean something.
Plus, he's done some good with a keyboard. Listening again to "Jump" and some Sammy Hagar era stuff like "Right Now" makes me appreciate Eddie Van Halen as one of Pete Townshend's best students. You can see how Eddie learned some special tricks listening to Who's Next.
In short, it seems to me now that some of that high school time I spent sulking with the punk rock weenies might have been better invested in the prime celebratory alpha male pop music of the era, Van Halen. Heck, at this point I'm even feeling some love for Sammy Hagar.
Van Halen rocks the cradle.
VAN HALEN PICTURES 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30
Music Sustains the Soul
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