Fire and Water Records: Van Halen

Eddie Van Halen, arguably the greatest guitar player in the history of rock 'n roll, passed away on October 6, 2020. In honor of this legendary musician, Fire and Water Records presents a massive tribute to Van Halen. The brothers Neil and Ryan Daly welcome a panel of returning guests and friends of the Fire and Water Network, including Tom Panarese, Omar Uddin, and Chris Zegunis, to celebrate the monstrous, game-changing talent that was Van Halen, from its jaw-dropping debut in 1978 to its chart-topping peaks in 1984 and 1986; from the original lineup with circus ringmaster David Lee Roth, to his more pop-sensitive replacement Sammy Hagar, to... the third lead singer, Gary something. What has Van Halen meant to rock 'n roll, and where does Eddie belong in the pantheon of rock legends? Tune in to find out on this special episode!

Listen to the FWR Van Halen playlist on Spotify.

Track list

  1. "Runnin' with the Devil" from VAN HALEN
  2. "Jump" from MCMLXXXIV
  3. "Hot for Teacher" from MCMLXXXIV
  5. "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" from VAN HALEN
  6. "You Really Got Me" from VAN HALEN
  7. "Eruption" from VAN HALEN
  8. "Unchained" from FAIR WARNING
  9. "D.O.A." from VAN HALEN II
  10. "I'll Wait" from MCMLXXXIV
  11. "Panama" from MCMLXXXIV
  12. "Why Can't This Be Love" from 5150
  13. "Dreams" from 5150
  14. "Summer Nights" from 5150
  15. "5150" from 5150
  17. "Not Enough" from BALANCE
  18. "Stay Frosty" from A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH
  19. "Mean Street" from FAIR WARNING
  20. "Jamie's Cryin'" from VAN HALEN
  21. "Beautiful Girls" from VAN HALEN II
  22. "When It's Love" from OU812
  23. "Dance the Night Away" from VAN HALEN II

Additional songs: “Beat It" by Michael Jackson.

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13 responses to “Fire and Water Records: Van Halen

  1. “Jump” was also my introduction to Van Halen, although I have never been sure about whether or not it’s advocating euthanasia. But yeah, it was a big enough hit that I saw the music video on broadcast television, and knew the song well enough, despite not actively listening to popular music in 1983. Where I had hang-ups about “butch” girls, semi-androgynous long-haired dudes never really put me out. Van Halen affected the general appearance of those scary “rocker” guys, but their sound was so soft and safe that I regarded them as just mildly harder pop. I recognized “Jump” as catchy and might sing along on occasion, but it was never a favorite.

    “Panama” came a few months later, and I liked the slightly rougher sound, while “Hot for Teacher” had a raunchy element that I responded to. Definitely moving into the “like” category. I even knew the cherub album cover. On the other hand, 1986’s 5150 passed me completely by. I don’t remember any of that stuff getting radio play, and when I did hear it a few years later, it smelled like snatch. I wasn’t aware of personal changes back then, so when David Lee Roth went solo, I just assumed the band had broken up. The “California Girls” cover was cute, but the one I dearly loved was “Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody.” By 1985, I’d already moved around to several different schools in the greater Houston area, and a few years later I’d start leaving the state of Texas behind. Something about that medley really spoke to me in those early vagabond years, and singing it to myself as I was coming or going from an area gave me an odd comfort. Roth didn’t do so great on originals though. so after that I think his only other hit was “Just Like Paradise,” plus I vaguely recall “She’s My Machine.” In retrospect, it really would have been to Roth’s benefit to stay with Van Halen, but I’d have never gotten that medley, and I don’t think the band would have been able to transition into the 1990s with him as their face.

    By the late ’80s, I’d had exposure to the back catalog of “You Really Got Me,” “Runnin’ with the Devil”, “Jamie’s Cryin'”, and “(Oh) Pretty Woman”, either from radio, sourced in movies, and used in commercials. It was all fine, but it was this melange of ingratiating pop-rock that didn’t stand apart from one another. It also had the ’70s KLOL vibe that was for the older guys who smoked the funky-smelling hand-rolled cigarettes, not kids like me. I didn’t hear “I’ll Wait” for several years, but that’s a very solid exception to my vague aversion, as it had a slightly icy new wave quality.

    I was more fully committed to mainstream music by 1988, so I more readily accepted “When It’s Love” and “Finish What Ya Started” as appropriate for my ears. I still don’t know if I recognized that the “I Can’t Drive 55” guy was the new lead singer, but I accepted that this is what Van Halen was now, and I was cool with it.

    1991 brought “Poundcake”, a relatively minor hit but easily one of my favorites from the band, and the omnipretentious “Right Now.” That was such a huge cultural moment of proto-wokeness that in retrospect is only slightly less cringey than “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (though way less sonically palatable even then). I will never forget SNL mock commercial for Crystal Gravy that effectively underlined what a bunch of ridiculous sellouts VH was for running straight to Pepsi with their self-important infographics. Yeah, the ’90s could be insufferable like that. I’m so grateful that I never had to hear “Evenflow” playing as 7-Up was poured into a tall glass of ice.

    So yeah, 23:23 into the podcast, I’ve mostly wrapped up my input. I think Van Halen were alright. Eddie was a great guitarist whose highlight for me was probably working on Thriller. I never had a logo patch sewed onto a denim jacket like I did with Def Leppard.

    Hey Ryan, did Sgt. Slaughter follow you on Twitter yet? His following me is my #2 favorite Twitter celebrity brush after that time I explained to Cher why John Kasich was not in fact the one reasonable conservative candidate for president in 2016. Slaughter’s a democrat, thankfully. You know I checked.

  2. Oh, man. Van Halen. My god, I adore Van Halen. So much so that I’m mildly offended not to have been invited to participate in this fab roundtable, despite the fact that nobody knows who I am, so why would you? Really excellent discussion, folks. Very insightful.

    Growing up in the UK, my experience of Van Halen was very different. They had nowhere near the same kind of cultural presence that they did over the pond. I think they were so big and bright and shiny, so quintessentially American, that they just didn’t resonate on our dreary little island, and very rarely toured over here. I came to them via whispers. I started getting into rock and metal around 1989, when I was 14. I’d obsessively pore over interviews in metal magazines like Kerrang and Raw Power, and a lot of the bands I liked kept mentioning Van Halen. So I didn’t really know who they were, but this name took on a quasi-mythic significance. I eventually picked up the first album on cassette, having not heard a single note, and was blown away. Ah, I get it now. They kind of became my band for a while – a little underground act that no one around me knew, which is weird considering how massive they were in the US. I bought every album and amassed a pretty decent collection of bootlegs (the 1983 US Festival video being a particular highlight!). Roth’s acrobatic stage antics were a big influence on me physically, too – I was doing a lot of karate and stuff at the time, and it’s possible I attempted to mimic his moves during my training sessions, with mixed results…

    A curious side note: I was amused by the discussion of how bold it was to put Eruption as track 2 on the first album, because it’s not that way on the UK cassette at all. It starts with Running, then Feel Your Love, Atomic Punk, Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love, I’m the One, then side 2 starts with You Really Got Me, *then* Eruption. I think I prefer the US version, tbh (even though in general, I’m not keen on You Really Got Me – the Kinks original is really well known over here, so it’s a pretty obvious choice of cover version).

    Have to say, I’m fully with Omar on the Roth/Hagar divide. I did go through a Hagar period, especially because I started getting into the band not long before F*CK came out, so I was there and excited, and played that thing to death. For that reason, I think that’s my favourite of the Hagar-era albums, despite the lyrics being, admittedly, dumb as shit. A little curious detail: the main riff to Top of the World is actually a recycled one from 1984 – you can hear it in the outro to Jump! I even saw VH on their UK tour in 1993, their first since a festival appearance almost ten years earlier. It was… fine.

    I think the thing with Hagar is that I loved Van Halen and wanted as much Van Halen as I could get, and the Hagar version was the one that was active when I was getting into them. So yeah, OK. I’ll take it. I even dutifully bought Balance on the day it came out. But as the years have gone by, I just can’t listen to Hagar anymore. Technically a better singer than Roth, sure, but he’s just such a charisma vacuum. He makes me wince. Add to that a more polished streamlined sound from the band, and the whole thing just beiges out.

    Those Roth albums though… incredible at their best, though admittedly a bit patchy. I keep coming back to them and finding new things to grab onto. I love their darker mid-period most – Women & Children and Fair Warning. Unchained, Fools, Dirty Movies, Romeo’s Delight, Sinner’s Swing, Loss of Control… those albums really appeal to my metalhead heart.

    One thing I wanted to mention that didn’t really get brought up is the band’s weird, ingenious sense of timing. For a band that has a reputation as a straight-ahead party outfit, they had a tendency to throw in all manner of complex, almost-prog rock sections that somehow just glide by. Think of the ‘Blue eyed murder’ bit in Unchained – even their biggest hit, Jump, has some bizarre time signatures going on behind the guitar solo. They’ve got this approach that’s ridiculously well-planned and mathematical, but also feels super-loose at the same time. Don’t know how they do it.

    Oh, and I met David Lee Roth! He played a solo gig in Liverpool, probably 1996. I chatted to him outside. And I was surprised by how short he was for such a massive presence – ever the self-aggrandiser, he even describes himself as six feet tall in his autobiography. Yeah, right. I’m 5’11 and towered over him!

    Sorry, I’ve rambled on for ages and could ramble on for ages more. Thank you for doing this celebration of VH in general and Eddie in particular. A huge and influential talent, who will be sorely missed. For a perfect encapsulation of his unbelievable talent, there’s a great video on YouTube of the isolated guitar track from I’m the One (which 9 days out of 10 is my favourite VH song). Absolute genius. Again, so unbelievably tight and precise, but so loose and flowing, too. It’s like this stuff just pours out of him. Pure magic.

    1. For the record, because we all love a list, right?

      1. Unchained
      2. I’m the One
      3. On Fire
      4. Fools
      5. Hot for Teacher
      6. Everybody Wants Some!
      7. Loss of Control
      8. Dirty Movies
      9. The Full Bug
      10. Outta Love Again

      1. Women and Children
      2. Fair Warning
      3. VH1
      4. 1984
      5. VH2
      6. Diver Down

      I really need to revisit A Different Kind of Truth…

    2. So interesting that you mentioned the “Top of the World” riff being the outro to “Jump.” I had noticed that back in the ‘90s as well and even had that in my notes for this show but just never got around to mentioning it. I didn’t think it was all that important. So the fact that you brought that up is amazing! Great insights (especially from a UK fan). Thanks for listening and for your thorough comments!

      1. Thanks Neil. And you were absolutely right about Eddie’s endless sound tinkering after 1984, btw. I think that’s one of my issues with the post-Roth stuff too. There’s less bite and grit in his tone, for sure.

  3. Impressive Pod cast. Most impressive. Ed was a great guitarist. Irony. That was the last of the 3 big instoments he picked up. Well 3 out of 4. As his parents started him as a pianist. Then to the Drums. Though his brother is better known as a drummer. And finely as a guitarist before picking up the Synthesis. Yeah he and Dimond Dave ware never buddies, but like Stan and Jack. They were better together than apart. Though yeah Eddie is the Jack Kirby of the 2. He was still great on his own, but the 2 togther on stage worked magic. When I was 12 my friend Errol who went by Eric, but his parents named him Errol. Probly fans of the actor.

    And he called him self Eric cause of the D&D cartoon and he mixed up Hank and Eric… no idea. Was a fan. So we’d watch Jump on tv. As we played with Transformers or GI Joe or Secrete war toys. Idabeh And Ashely would also hang as part of the group of friends. Errol and Ideabh were kind of the ring leaders of the group till latter. I moved up. Long story. Any way Errol was a big fan. I think we were all 12 at the time. So we got into them. Though I 2 thought Dimond Dave was the leader of the band. Till latter. When Dave tried to make His solo charare. Calli Girls was fine. The other song…. not so much. While Van Halen still did good. Patty Smyth with Van Halen…that would have been good.

    1. Also on the subs of Guitar hero’s that eclipse the singer. I think there is a case for Angus Young. Of AC/DC. John Bottoms is good. Wow band is called AC/DC and your lead singer is named Bottoms. LOL I know it’s just an odd happenstance. Still. Pour guys. Any way Brian Johnson has a great voice, but like with Van Halen some do think of Young. It’s neck and neck on whom people think of more with them. Though Eddie’s Brown sound is better known. He was still pretty good in the Sammy years. Odd though that Wikki and other sights never mention he was half Asian. His Mom being Indonesian and his dad being Dutch.

      Not that it matters. His terless work ethic coming from her. And his music coming from his dad who was in a band. And I think an uncle taught him and his brother piano. It was on VH1 ware he Alex and Dimond Dave talked together about their lives. From one interview for a golf game of all things. Seemed he liked better being part of a band than being a solo player.

  4. Being quite a bit older than Ryan, I was coming into my burgeoning musical preferences right when the great change from Roth to Hagar was happening. Since I got some age on me, I’ve always looked at it as Van Hagar is the more mature version of the band. Roth represented the teen/early 20s partying time of life, while Hagar was all about finding someone to settle down with, buying a house, your first new car, and having kids. In some ways it’s the best of times, but you miss the carefree party days too, even though some of those friends (like Roth) are best left behind.

    I’d much rather spend a day with Sammy than 5 minutes with Roth, for certain.

    And since Extreme’s “More Than Words” was seminal in the early days of Cindy’s and my relationship, I’m always going to give poor Gary Cherone a pass.

    Great discussion guys!!!


  5. What excellent (and comprehensive) episode! Well done, everyone! It was great to hear everyone talk about their personal experiences with Van Halen. There’s nothing I could say that hadn’t been said already (you guys did amazing with the homework), but I will say my personal experience with Van Halen isn’t the same as most people……

    Like a lot of you, “Jump” introduced me to Van Halen. Though, the reason it brought me in was the amazing sounding Oberheim synthesizer! Though later I would come around on how amazing a guitarist Eddie was, the synth is what brought me in, and what made most of their other albums a disappointment for me. Like I said, I’ve come around on Eddie being an amazing guitar player, but forever 1984 will be my favourite album just for that synth!

    It’s sad that we lost such an amazing musician at a relatively young age, but you guys did a great job covering his career. Keep up the great work!

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