Updated: Oct 23, 2020
Today the music world lost a legend. Eddie Van Halen was a legendary guitarist who laid the foundation for a whole new school of rock virtuosity and sheer awesomeness with his groundbreaking guitar playing which the crazy days and even crazier nights of the 80’s simply could have not existed without. Guitar virtuosity was nothing new in the rock and roll world.
The guitarists of the 50’s like Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley took their cues from blues, R&B, and country to forge their legacies in stone, and the players of the early 60’s all had their moments in sun.
Virtuosity really begins in the mid 60’s when a whole new group of amazing guitarists came of age simultaneously. Names like Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton (all culled from the same band!!), Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, Neal Schon, and many more injected virtuosity into rock and roll, firmly cementing the guitar as the instrument that the music would forever become known best for.
As the 60’s entered the 70’s new axe handlers like Tony Iommi, Richie Blackmore, Ted Nugent, Brian May and many more continued this attack. Yet by 1978, the influential well had run somewhat somewhat dry. Rock had started to become somewhat repetitive, and a new sound was desperately needed to reinvent the music for a new decade and a new generation.
Van Halen had recorded a series of demos with Gene Simmons who may have been the first person to discover them. Through that and touring, they got their message out and released their eponymous debut in 1978. Once the opening track Runnin’ With The Devil exploded out of stereo speakers that year, people in and around the music world knew right away who the rock and roll sweepstakes winners were.
Music like this was something that had been desperately needed, and Van Halen delivered the goods. With the follow up track Eruption listeners all over the world were absolutely floored at what at that particular time just might have been the craziest, virtuosic, and most influential guitar solo in years. Eddie Van Halen’s guitar work was amazing, and few if any had heard anything quite like it before. The style of tapping that he incorporated was not new, but it just may have been the first time that the rock world had ever heard playing of this variety.
There had been influential solos before from Dick Dale, Chuck Berry, Richie Blackmore, Eric Clapton et all, but Eruption was groundbreaking in much the same way Boston’s eponymous debut two years earlier had been. Tack on an awesome reinterpretation of The Kinks classic You Really Got Me and you had the ingredients for perhaps the best one two three punch in rock that year. With unbelievable sonics and great production by former Van Morrison producer Ted Templeman, Van Halen an instant success that rattled off classics like Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love, Ice Cream Man (another cover), and Jamie’s Cryin’, this album absolutely smoked, and critics and listeners alike hailed it as one of the best records of the year.
With lead vocalist David Lee Roth acting as the showman with Eddie the quiet musical virtuoso, Van Halen was a perfect mix of irony and virtuosity, and the excellent rhythm section was also an important part in what drove this rock and roll death machine. Van Halen 2 was released shortly thereafter, and it continued their excellence with winners like Dance The Night Away, Beautiful Girls, and a surprisingly good cover of You’re No Good, a Clint Ballard song that Linda Ronstadt had taken to the top of the charts in 1974. The deep cuts were awesome too, as cuts like DOA, Somebody Get Me A Doctor, and Bottoms Up all became staples at live shows, and were just as good if not better than the radio hits.
The band continued with Women And Children First in 1980, featuring the classic Everybody Wants Some and the great As The Cradle Will Rock. There was also another Kinks cover Where Have All The Good Times Gone. 1981 brought us Fair Warning, the darkest record of VH’s early period, with Mean Streets, Unchained, and So This Is Love. After 1982’s Diver Down with a pair of hit covers, Van Halen entered it’s most popular period, with 1984’s 1984 (surprisingly enough) cementing them as rock and roll legends. It featured Jump which would become the band’s only chart topping single as well as other megabits like Panama, I’ll Wait, and the mind blowing Hot For Teacher which saw them adapting to the MTV era quite beautifully. As a matter of fact, a whole new rock scene was beginning to form in the wake of the school that Van Halen’s brain busting music had been built upon, and this foundation would last from the late 70’s up until 1991 when the whole genre exploded and changed permanently.
1985 saw the departure of original singer David Lee Roth which changed the band’s style permanently. They replaced Roth with former Montrose lead vocalist Sammy Hagar who was excellent and seemed to be a perfect fit for the more synthesizer keyboard filled direction that their sound was headed in. Yet the music did not really suffer for it, and the great guitar work of Eddie was able to coexist with the new sound effectively retooling the band for a musical era that they had heavily inspired. With a whole new school of rock bands that specialized in virtuosity and songwriting as much as they did androgyny and style, the 80’s became an unforgettable period for rock and roll which when merged with MTV gave the decade a soundtrack as well as a video anthology as well.
Albums like 5150, 0U812, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, and Unbalanced varied in sound, but launched a seemingly endless tsunami of hit singles that carried the band straight into the 90’s. These two periods will be what the band is best remembered for. And without the presence of Eddie’s remarkable guitar work rock music simply put would not have been as great as it was during that period. RIP to a guitar legend...