Fresh And Vital

By Paul Rigg

*(We had originally prepared this piece to appear on Monday October 12th, to celebrate David Lee Roth's birthday a couple of days before, but we have decided to publish it as a tribute to the guitarist who starred in the 70s in the second 'Big Bang of the guitar', after Hendrix's in the 60s. Rest in peace Eddie Van Halen, from Guitars Exchange we could not be more indebted to you and your band)  


 stylized as MCMLXXXIV (9 January, 1984; Warner Brothers), was Dave Lee Roth's last album with Van Halen before the lead singer jumped ship in 1985. Specifically it was guitarist Eddie Van Halen’s desire to use a synth, along with the video for Jump - the band's first and only number 1 hit - , which inflamed the tensions that led to Roth’s departure.

Somewhat ironically, Eddie Van Halen had become frustrated with Roth’s and producer Ted Templeman’s insistence on heavy guitar riffs on the group's 1982 album, Diver Down. The guitarist wanted to use an Oberheim OB-Xa synthesizer on Jump, but Roth believed it would look like the band were selling out. Musically it was a huge departure for the group, but in the end both fans and almost everyone else involved (Roth, Templeman, drummer Alex Van Halen, and bassist Michael Anthony) were won over.


The video for Jump, produced by Robert Lombard, also caused tension. The extrovert Roth wanted the video to show himself being outrageous by riding a motorbike and getting arrested by police while naked. These sections were shot on location but the producer ended up leaving the footage on the editing room floor, which led to an unhappy Roth, and Lombard being fired. Roth has given a number of accounts about the lyric’s meaning, but the most convincing comes from his memoir, in which he says he was inspired by a TV news programme showing a man about to launch himself off a
tall building (Roth allegedly thought: "jump!").

 produced four singles, including I'll Wait, co-written by Doobie Brother Michael McDonald, Roth and the Van Halens, again featuring prominent synthesizers, which also upped in-group tensions. The song is very unusual in that there is no bass through the first verse and chorus, but that didn’t stop it reaching number 13 on the US Billboard charts. It is said that “Roth's lyrical inspiration came from a female model appearing in a print ad for Calvin Klein's men's underwear, which he reportedly taped to his television set while he wrote the lyrics.”


A very different kind of innovation was used on the third single, Panama, which included Van Halen
revving up his Lamborghini next to the studio, with microphones placed near the exhaust pipes. Those fans stunned by the synths up to this point were relieved to hear the famous axeman returning to his guitar, with both a heavy riff and some lovely textures. 

Hot for Teacher
, the final single release, opens the B side, and features an outstanding drum intro by Alex Van Halen, while his brother Eddie cuts loose on his 1958 Gibson “Flying V” guitar. Aimed at MTV, the video stars a stereotypical nerd named ‘Waldo’; Roth as Waldo's bus driver; and – to predictable controversy - a number of teachers stripping. Amusingly, the band held a contest to allow a fan to participate. The competition drew over one million responses, despite Roth’s warning that "You won't know where you are, you won't know what's going to happen, and when you come back, you're not gonna have any memory of it."


Another great song on 1984 is Girl Gone Bad. Eddie explained that this “was written in a hotel room that he and then-wife Valerie Bertinelli had rented. Valerie was asleep, and Eddie woke up during the night with an idea he had to put on tape. Not wanting to wake Valerie, Eddie grabbed a cassette recorder and recorded himself playing guitar in the closet."

Despite the controversy over Eddie Van Halen’s insistence on synths, Guitar Player  praised the "deeper cuts" of the album, saying that Drop Dead Legs, House of Pain, and Girl Gone Bad all contain "fresh and vital guitar work "; and eulogizing Eddie's "dark, complex sense of harmony and melody". With its great guitar riffs, synth lines, and powerful hooks, 1984 was certainly one of Van Halen’s most accomplished, novel and varied albums to date.