I cannot say that the death of Eddie van Halen hit me quite as hard in the solar plexus as the loss of, say, Chris Cornell or Freddie, but I was still sad to see that he had gone, even if I thought that his band had long since passed their best days. His health had reportedly not been good for a while, to the extent that I was surprised that he had continued to play even over the last ten years or so.
Van Halen was one of three bands that I wished I had seen, but passed up the opportunity to do so because I felt that letting down a work commitment would not be the right thing to do, so I never got to experience them in the flesh. That was in the Hagar days, so between Roth’s stints and before Cherone’s stuttering single album, but it would still have been quite the show.
I dug their first album off the shelf on Wednesday and gave it a listen, and have to say that I was blown away by how fresh and inventive and energetic it feels, barely showing its forty two year old age at all. It is the sound of a ferocious live band dancing on the edge and, importantly, having an awful lot of fun while doing so.
It helped, of course, that they had Eddie on guitar, who, as the obituaries have quite rightly pointed out, made all that fast widdly stuff actually sound essential rather than some massive ego trip. Get in, do your stuff, get out, as Brian May tried to do on Hot Space, and never tread on what the other people are doing. Meanwhile up front, Roth would do his ringmaster stuff while Michael Anthony and Alex van Halen powered away as a tight and explosive rhythm section. Get that combo right, as Queen also did, and you can hit paydirt.
I love the moments in that album when it suddenly breaks down into barbershop, the way that they totally own The Kinks’ Where Have All The Good Times Gone?, and, of course, the seaside postcard saucy innuendo of Ice Cream Man, but there is so much else that dazzles as well, not just Eruption. Even at the very start they were incendiary at their best and they knew it, but it seems that they rarely took themselves seriously, at least until Eddie played for Michael Jackson whose album then kept Van Halen’s 1984 off the number one spot. These, though, were happier times.