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Credit: Van Halen

Music

Listen to David Lee Roth's isolated vocals on Van Halen song 'Runnin' with the Devil'

@TylerGolsen

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the single greatest video on the internet. There are no cute animals, tours of million-dollar apartments, or people falling down in spectacular ways. In fact, the video in question is just a static picture of a man in his 50s complete with an a capella vocal of a song that had come out over 30 years prior. But that picture is of a manically-grinning David Lee Roth, and that vocal is from Van Halen and their magnetic early single ‘Runnin’ with the Devil’.

For many young and impressionable rock fans in 1978, ‘Runnin’ with the Devil’ was the first time they had heard Van Halen. It was track one on side one of the band’s self-titled debut album, the same record that would get passed between hard rock aficionados like it was a sacred text. Fully formed from the very beginning, Van Halen brought the world-changing guitar work of Eddie Van Halen, the brilliant bashing of Alex Van Halen, and the heavenly harmony work of Michael Anthony to the world. They also brought with them a gonzo ringleader who was part acrobat, part vaudeville comedian, and part real-life cartoon character.

The appeal of David Lee Roth is nearly impossible to articulate but obvious to see. On paper, he’s the third-best vocalist in a band where his job is to be the lead vocalist. As a lyricist, he’s passable at best and oftentimes shallow and weirdly gross at his worst. During concerts, he would frequently drop entire verses and melody lines of songs. Why was this guy here? What purpose did he serve?

Simply put: David Lee Roth is an entertainer. The man could leap off the stage, make ungodly noises with his mouth, sing about sex and booze, and come off as the quintessential rock and roll party animal frontman without anyone ever complaining for a second. He was a megalomaniacal, patronising, arrogant asshole, and he made that look like the coolest thing to be in the entire universe.

No matter what you want to say about technique, Roth was a talented vocalist. He had a unique tone that was as flamboyant as his stage act was, and his ability to pitch up to dog whistle-like screams was unmatched in the world of hard rock. He was an unlikely – but still perfect – foil to Eddie’s monster guitar work, and when Anthony was able to fill in the more melodic vocal lines, Roth could actually sound like a legitimate demi-god.

But when you strip it all away, the results are pure entertainment. To hear Roth scream, squeal, and try to act suave on ‘Runnin’ with the Devil’ is a masterclass on going big or going home. Roth was never going to outsing anyone, but he could outwork them with ad-libs, vamps, energetic yells, and even scat-singing. This was a man who was made for the biggest of stages, even if his actual tonality probably would have gotten him laughed out of a high school choir.

It’s all there in ‘Runnin’ with the Devil’: the opening drawn-out “yeaaaaaaah”, followed by his wild signature squeal; his “let me tell you all about it” before the second verse; his ability to just barely hit the note at the end of the verse. But the highlight is obvious: during the second chorus, Roth ad-libs/scats the immortal jumble of made-up nonsense that goes “goddamnitbabyyouknowIain’tlyingtoyouI’monlygonnatellyouonetime HIYYYYYAAAAHH”. It’s the moment where Roth goes full cartoon, and to hear it without the hard-hitting backing track is comedy at its highest form.

Check out the isolated vocals for ‘Runnin’ with the Devil’ down below.