If the guitar gods who came before him were the likes of Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, then Eddie Van Halen was the young upstart who crashed the rock ‘n’ roll party in the mid ’70s and literally refused to quit. With the band’s self-titled debut album in 1978, along with his Van Halen bandmates, Brother Alex on drums, guitarist and fellow showman David Lee Roth and bass player Michael Anthony, Eddie Van Halen introduced himself to the nation.
Eddie Van Halen came along, grinning from ear to ear and ripping out guitar solos like he was having the time of his life at a time when the pursuit of rock ‘ n ‘ roll stardom was taking itself a little too seriously and disco was crushing the charts. He studied classical piano from an early age, and the double-handed tapping style he used on his guitar’s neck always looked like he was playing the piano. More notably, as a fearless innovator, a true party starter and guitar player who thrived in the spotlight, it contributed to his worldwide appeal.
After his death at the age of 65 on Tuesday, it is time to take a look at five of Eddie Van Halen’s biggest guitar moments.
A few years before David Lee Roth’s original singer ‘Diamond’ was replaced, Van Halen released their 1984 chart-topping album. It was six years after their debut album with their own title, and the band was literally on fire. 1984 featured the Hot for Teacher song with its immediately identifiable drum and guitar intro, each seemingly competing for the greatest attention, plus a classic Van Halen film clip. It was, however, Panama, with Eddie’s riffing, that stood out for its sheer bombast, distilling into one mighty song all his years of practice, the countless gigs and endless good times.
In 1984, there was another track that also made some waves. Jump, released in late 1983, was the first single from the album and featured one of Eddie’s signature guitar solos. For Van Halen, the song is a little odd, in the sense that it is largely constructed around a massively distinctive keyboard sound, but Eddie put his stamp on the song. He breaks into a solo that is unmistakably him, about halfway through. The video clip is pure showmanship with Eddie grinning all the time and making complicated guitar solos look like the simplest thing in the world. Let us not forget that this is exactly when MTV was bursting.
Eruption is the second track on the band’s self-titled 1978 debut album, and an instrumental one. For a moment, let us think about that. By this point, Van Halen has been blasting through stages for around five years, so they know that they are fine. They know how a performance can be put on. This, however, is their first album and Eddie throws caution to the wind on Eruption after opening with the comparatively sedate Runnin ‘with the Devil. In 1996, he told Guitar World magazine, “I like the way Eruption sounds. I’d never heard a guitar sound like that before, like some classical instrument,” “Back then, bands like Fleetwood Mac and Boston were spending something like three years on album [sic], so you can just imagine the cost. Eruption, like most of the other songs on the first album, was performed pretty much live.” It is as much a declaration of intent as anything, and at this early moment in the career of the band, there is no mistake about the talent of Eddie Van Halen.
Why Can’t This Be Love?
Van Halen released one of their most famous albums with 5150 in 1986 after the shock of parting ways with David Lee Roth and appointing Sammy Hagar as the band’s new frontman. In the same 1996 interview, Eddie Van Halen told Guitar World magazine that Why Can not This Be Love “sounds so elaborate because of the instrumentation” and says the song is “more pop-popular, but I don’t see what’s wrong with that. I would love to have written a Christmas carol.” On the Billboard Hot 100 chart, the song reached number three and helped propel 5150 to top spot on the albums chart. Eddie said, “I think people were afraid that Van Halen would start sounding like one of Sammy’s solo albums,” “But I knew it wouldn’t happen because I’d be writing the music.”
Why limit yourself to just six strings on an electric guitar when you are able to play 12 or more? Poundcake, from the 1991 For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge album, along with his usual six-string assault, has Eddie blasting away on a couple of 12-string electric guitars. It is certainly one of his more complicated studio projects, so why not have some fun if you have so much technology at your disposal and the swagger to pull it off? It is classic Eddie Van Halen and why he is going to be remembered in the studio as a genius, a shooting star on stage and one of the truly great guitar slingers of rock ‘ n ‘ roll.