So, I have to admit up front that I’m just not a fan of Van Halen. But it’s pretty much only because of the lyrics. For whatever reason, no matter who the vocalist was, the lyrics were nearly always crap… at least in my opinion (and I understand others don’t agree… that’s fine).
See… lyrics are pretty important to me. If you’re going to write music that involves lyrics, all I ask is that you don’t make them out-and-out cringey. A lot of 80s hair metal bands claim to take their inspiration from Led Zeppelin, but it sometimes seems like they took their inspiration from Whole Lotta Love and Sick Again while ignoring basically everything else. Yes, Robert Plant had his lyrical duds, but he also had his lyrical genius, and at least with him, even his worst, most uninspired lyrics (like Thank You), aren’t ridiculously cringey (except maybe that line about bustles and may queens in Stairway to Heaven… because a bustle is a pair of panties, and May Queen was a popular brand of washing machine at the time… and I really cannot see how it fits with the rest of the song; I think it’s that line that really throws off any attempt to find a deeper meaning to the song). But so much of the 80s hair metal lyrics somehow manage to fly past cringey to just plain insulting, and Van Halen was no exception.
That said, if Van Halen had been a purely instrumental group, I would listen to them every single day, because musically they were phenomenal, and a lot of that was in no small part to Eddie.
So I want to highlight Eddie playing Eruption. I know this one is quite cliche, to the point where it’s relative “goodness” may be somewhat controversial these days, but to my ears, even though it absolutely is a technical masterclass missing much of the emotion I usually look for in guitarists, it’s still an absolutely brilliant piece of guitar work.
What I’m highlighting here is not the studio version. This is the live, 10 minute and 57 second solo. There isn’t much in the way of backing music, either. This is a guitar solo in the truest sense of the word…