Van Halen – 1984 (1984)
Welcome back to YDCS! We’re taking a listen to one of the biggest albums of the mid-1980s rock scene, 1984 by Van Halen. This album is notable for two things: First, it was the last Van Halen album to feature the original band lineup as frontman David Lee Roth would leave shortly after the album released due to creative differences (bassist Michael Anthony would go on to leave in the 1990s). Secondly, the album features a more commercially appealing, synth driven sound than previous Van Halen albums. 1984 was the band’s most successful album, thanks in no small part to the heavy airplay that the iconic music videos for “Hot for Teacher” and “Jump” received on the then-new MTV.
For me, this is one of the last great Van Halen albums. 5150 and For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge have some good singles, but the sound of the band shifted more towards a commercial rock sound with the debut of Sammy Hagar (all credit to Hagar where it’s due, he’s a fantastic vocalist). While there are a lot of synth rock tracks designed to chart on this album thanks to Eddie Van Halen’s persistence, there are still plenty of classic rockers to keep purists entertained. “Girl Gone Bad” and “House of Pain” are two of the most prime examples of that. I prefer that more classic rock sound personally but understand that the synthesizer drove the commercial success of the album. There are some great Van Halen tracks on this record so let’s ‘Jump’ in!
Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown
1984: This is an interesting way to start the album. You immediately know that you’re not listening to the Van Halen of old, this is new Van Halen. This synthesizer track makes that abundantly clear. The clean transition into “Jump” is a nice touch. Dad’s Rating 5/10
Jump: I’ll go ahead and say it, “Jump” is overrated. It’s not particularly musically interesting and I dislike the synth-driven sound; it’s just not Van Halen for me. “Jump” feels like Van Halen sold out. The one thing that it does have going for it is a pretty killer guitar solo, but then it transitions straight back into a synth solo. As far as iconic songs go, this one is up there, but there are better Van Halen songs out there that display their ability to rock out (See On Fire from their debut album). Dad’s Rating 6/10
Panama: David Lee Roth actually wrote this song in response to a reporter who said that he only sang songs about partying, women, and cars. Roth realized that he had actually never written one about a car and “Panama” was born! This is a Van Halen staple and one of the most rocking songs on the album. The guitar riff is heavy and one of those that makes you want to break out the air guitar. “Panama” is a great rock song that you’ll want to turn up the volume for every time it comes on. Great track! Dad’s Rating 9/10
Top Jimmy: “Top Jimmy” is an okay song. It’s not particularly exciting and understandably buried in the middle of the album. One of the high points that it does have going for it is that the soft guitar that picks up a few times throughout the song is a cool throwback to songs like “Spanish Fly.” It’s a nice touch in an otherwise standard rock track. At the very least it doesn’t have a heavy synth line! Dad’s Rating 5/10
Drop Dead Legs: “Drop Dead Legs” is a real heavy rock track! If you just listen to the instrumentation at the beginning you could almost be mistaken for thinking this was an AC/DC song. This track suffers from the same problem that “Top Jimmy” does though, it’s entirely forgettable. Not to say that it’s bad, but you’re not going to write home saying that “Drop Dead Legs” was your favorite song on the album. Dad’s Rating 5/10
Hot for Teacher: “Hot for Teacher” is a perfect rock song in my book; it really hits all the marks! Iconic opening with that pounding drum solo? Check. Rocking guitar riff and shredding solo? Check. Howling vocals? Check. Top all of that off with a not-so-absurd concept about a student with a crush on a teacher, delivered with hilarity I would add, and you’ve got all the ingredients for a great song. The high mark (get it?!) is always on the opening drum solo. I could press repeat for that all day long. Top marks for “Hot for Teacher!” Dad’s Rating 10/10
I’ll Wait: I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest fan of Van Halen’s synth sound (you might have figured that out by now though…), but “I’ll Wait” does as good a job of using it as any other song on the album. Something interesting that I found with “I’ll Wait” is that the song is almost completely devoid of a guitar portion, nearly being a complete drum/synthesizer song. I tie it with “Jump” because it shows a slightly higher degree of musicianship, particularly in Roth’s vocal performance, than “Jump” does, but “Jump” has the iconic factor going for it. Dad’s Rating 6/10
Girl Gone Bad: We make a shift back to the classic Van Halen sound on “Girl Gone Bad” from the synth rock of “I’ll Wait.” I really liked “Girl Gone Bad,” and it even has some slightly proggy guitar riffs on the beginning and incorporates a few more prog elements through the solo to show an elevated musical ability. It almost reminds me of a Rush song at points! All of that combined makes this a fun song to listen to and makes it stand out from the rest of the band’s catalog. This is a solid, straight rock track! Dad’s Rating 7/10
House of Pain: We close 1984 with a solid heavy rock track that doesn’t pull any punches. I’m not sure what else you should have expected out of a song titled “House of Pain!” “House of Pain” doesn’t do anything special as far as rock songs go, but the performance is clean and it feels like a fitting way to close the album. The musicianship is really good as far as the instrumental performances, and I really enjoyed listening to Eddie’s guitar line on this track; it’s one of the better ones on the album. Dad’s Rating 7/10
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