Album Review: Van Halen 1984
With the release of their self-titled debut album, Van Halen broke into the American rock scene in 1978 and was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, hard rock band in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Their combination of metal-like playing and pop-like melodies and hooks brought something new to the rock genre and to the billboard charts. David Lee Roth, Eddie Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, and Micheal Anthony are the four original band members of Van Halen and it stayed that way for the first six years. Van Halen’s most successful album, 1984, is also the final album recorded with all four original members with lead singer David Lee Roth departing for his solo career in 1985. However, despite being the band’s final recording together, the album left a heavy impact on many which still lives on to this day.
As the opening track, 1984 sets the scene for the 33 minute album with an instrumental piece written entirely with keyboard synthesizers by Eddie Van Halen. Even though it’s one minute long, 1984 really shows off Eddie Van Halen’s talent as a musician, and how diverse he can be. The piece is slow, and doesn’t really build up, yet somehow it makes for the perfect transition into the next track.
Van Halen’s biggest hit. Jump opens with a catchy synthesizer melody, which contrasts the previous track, “1984” in a very interesting way. David Lee Roth builds up to the first verse with his vocal cry, declaring his place in the song. Later into the pre-chorus, we can hear Eddie Van Halen’s subtle guitar playing in the background, perfectly complementing the tension-building chord changes. Later into the bridge, Eddie Van Halen briefly shows his incredible skill on the electric guitar with a passionate, yet rapid guitar solo. Afterwards, the song comes back to a repeated, faded out chorus. As an opening vocal track, Jump definitely sets the bar high for the rest of the album.
In Panama, Van Halen moves away from synthesizers, and replaces it with crunchy, energetic electric guitar. The opening riff is powerful, and really catches the listener’s attention, until settling into a punchy, rhythmic verse, carried by a heavy kick drum and Dave’s dynamic voice. Panama keeps its energetic groove all the way to the end of the track, where it abruptly ends.
Top Jimmy is, in my opinion, one of Van Halen’s most underrated songs. It’s not as “loud” as any of the other songs on 1984, but rather has more of a smooth rhythm. Top Jimmy starts out with Eddie on the guitar playing a melody voiced in such a unique way, which really sets the song up for the verse, which focuses on rhythmic accentation. The bridge contains what I believe to be the most alluring, and unique guitar solo on 1984, not because of speed or technicality, but rather for the number of sounds and squeals Eddie squeezes out of his guitar. Top Jimmy really shows Van Halen’s experimental side, yet somehow, it works amazingly – especially on an album filled with heavier riffs and catchier melodies.
Drop Dead Legs
Opening up with one of Eddie Van Halen’s most mysterious riffs of all time. Drop Dead Legs starts out as a short guitar instrumental piece, before breaking into a snappy tune, accompanied by David’s sleazy lyrics and vocals. Drop Dead Legs is pretty basic in terms of song construction, however after the final chorus is where Van Halen shows of it’s musicality. Drop Dead Legs closes out with Eddie soloing over his own looped guitar tracks, creating an incredible sound. It’s a very different sound as opposed to having two different guitarists play over top of each other.
Hot for Teacher
Clocking in at 240 beats per minute, Hot for Teacher shows Van Halen going back to their roots of speed, and hard-hitting rhythmic lines. Putting aside the song’s questionable title, Hot for Teacher is one of Van Halen’s most popular songs, and is my personal favourite album on 1984. It’s aggressive, energetic, and has a very impressive rhythm section. The song opens with Alex Van Halen drumming so fast it almost sounds like a motorbike. It’s an incredible drumming piece, and is widely considered to be one of the best drum openings in rock. It’s not too long until Eddie Van Halen come in with a tight lead line, before bursting into an intense, hard-hitting verse. The beat doesn’t change throughout the song, and it doesn’t need to. Hot for Teacher is built around its intense, mechanical sound. It’s what makes the song what it is, and without it, the song wouldn’t have nearly the same impact.
Moving away from the intense sound of “Hot for Teacher”, I’ll Wait starts with a declaring synthesizer intro, before going into a subtle build into the verse. The song isn’t too fast, but isn’t too slow either, and leans more to the side of pop with its melody. Despite its speed, and softer rhythm, I’ll Wait is still a fairly predominant song on 1984. The song doesn’t build up significantly into the chorus, but like “Hot for Teacher”, it’s the consistency that gives the song it’s appeal.
Girls Gone Bad
Girls Gone Bad is exactly what would happen if “Hot for Teacher” and “I’ll Wait” combined into one song, although Girls Gone Bad is a bit more out of control than the two. Girls Gone Bad keeps the same rhythmic feel in “Hot for Teacher”, but also has the same feeling of presence heard in “I’ll Wait”, creating a unique and energetic song. The combination sounds like a tricky thing to do, and I can definitely understand it being very easy to mess up, but Van Halen managed to pull it off amazingly well. The song sounds natural, and doesn’t feel like it’s trying to push too many things at once, which is pleasantly surprising.
House of Pain.
House of Pain finishes off 1984 in a perfect way, it’s not too heavy, but it’s also not too soft, or experimental. House of Pain is just an overall rocker of a song, clearly written to signal the end of the album. House of Pain opens up with a declarational riff, and sets up a darker tone for the song. Into the verse, the song is clearly more mellowed out than any other song on the album. It’s still got the snap and groove all the other songs on 1984 carry, but feels quieter. Most of the songs energy comes from Eddie’s guitar playing, and is clearly shown in the bridge, where Eddie records his final solo for the album, which turns into a rhythmic fade out.
1984, being Van Halen’s most successful album, as well as being one of the major rock albums of the 80’s, definitely worth a listen. It’s an album full of different beats and styles, while still retaining its own signature sound that can be felt in every song on the album. Overall, I’d give the album a 9/10. 1984 has some of Van Halen’s most influential, and popular songs, which is very impressive considering how short the album is. Whether you’re into heavy, more rhythmic music, or pop-hook melodies, I’m positive that 1984 will have at least one song that you’ll enjoy.