One of the finest guitar players of all time in rock history, Eddie Van Halen was world-famous for popularising the tapping guitar solo style, which allowed rapid arpeggios to be played on the fretboard with two hands.
He, alongside his brother and drummer Alex Van Halen, Mark Stone (bassist) and David Lee Roth (vocalist) formed the band Van Halen in Pasadena, California in 1974 which was credited with “restoring hard rock to the forefront of the music scene”. They were instated in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007 which further cemented their legacy. Eddie, during his time in the band, produced songs that went down as some of the greatest in rock music history.
Their music ranged from hard rock to heavy metal as well as glam metal. Van Halen’s album For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge won the award for the Best Hard Rock Performance at the 34th Annual Grammy Awards and Favourite Heavy Metal/Hard Rock Album at the American Music Awards, both in the year 1992. They received two other Grammy nominations and either AMA nominations. Upon Eddie’s death on 6th October 2020, Wolfgang Van Halen, a later addition to the band’s lineup, announced on The Howard Stern Show that they would not be continuing as a band, saying, “You can’t have Van Halen without Eddie Van Halen.”
Here, we explore Eddie Van Halen at his very best.
Here are Eddie Van Halen’s 10 best songs.
For a song that was reportedly written about a car, ‘Panama’ sure created a buzz among its audience. This song was a product of a reporter accusing Van Halen of never writing songs on anything other than partying, women or sex. Even with its suggestive lyrics, David Roth, the band’s lead singer, maintained that the song was about a car he had seen at a race in Las Vegas, which was called the Panama Express.
The song started with a heavy rock and drum piece. Even though this song primarily highlighted Roth’s vocals, Eddie’s contribution in adding the sound of his Lamborghini during the bridge of the song left quite a memorable mark and made ‘Panama’ one of its kind.
‘Hot for Teacher’ (1984)
‘Hot for Teacher’, quite unusually for a single, started with Alex Van Halen playing a 30 seconds drum solo at the beginning of the song, followed by Eddie on the guitar and it featured all four members (David Lee Roth on the vocal and Michael Anthony on bass guitar, being the other two among the four) at their best.
From the lyrics of the song, explicit as they were, to the music, to the vocals, this song was one of the finest works of the band and helped in making them one of the biggest rock personae of all time. It peaked at 56 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart.
‘Runnin’ with the Devil’ (1978)
This song was the second single from the band’s eponymous debut album. The track was named the ninth greatest hard rock song of all time by VH1 in 2009. It peaked at number 14 on the U.S. Hot Rock & alternative Songs (Billboard) chart.
This song created quite a stir with the audience interpreting its lyrics to be satanic. However, it seems that the song was more about the band’s life on the road and their individual journeys. The number began with a cacophony of car horns and progressed into song with a four-measure guitar solo being played after the second and third chorus.
Even with his reputation as a guitarist, Eddie was no less adept with the keyboard. In this single, Eddie’s keyboard solo certainly dominated the song, one which also featured some of Eddie’s best guitar leads. It was released as the lead single for the band’s album 1984.
‘Jump’ peaked at number one on the Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. It was nominated in the “Best Rock Performance By a Duo Or Group With Vocal” category at the 27th Annual Grammy Awards in 1984. The live performance of the song recorded at the Selland Arena in Fresno, California was released as a single in 1993.
‘Dance the Night Away’ (1979)
‘Dance the Night Away’ was Van Halen’s first single to reach the top 20 U.S. hits by taking position 15 in the Billboard’s Hot 100. Inspired by Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Go Your Own Way’, the song originated from the members humming a tune to each other in the recording studio. Eddie purposefully left his signature guitar track out of the song and replaced it with a riff of tap harmonics.
The song made an appearance in the 2012 film ‘Argo’. It was also included in the Van Halen tribute album- Strummin’ with the Devil: The Southern Side of Van Halen – where it was performed by Mountain Heart. It made to the US Top Pop Singles (Billboard) at number 95 in 1979.
‘Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love’ (1978)
To think one of the top fan-favourite songs of the band’s and it wasn’t even going to make the cut. The song, as Eddie said in an interview, “Was a stupid thing to us – just two chords.” Eddie incorporated a melodic drone of instruments accompanied by an electric sitar to add an edge to the song.
‘Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love’ was the fourth and final single released from Van Halen. Eddie originally made this to poke fun at the emerging punk scene, but it clearly struck a chord with his fans and became a popular track.
‘Somebody Get Me A Doctor’ (1979)
Another one of the band’s commercial successes, this song was inspired by Eric Clapton during his Cream-era. The song was released in 1979 and was the third song on their second album Van Halen II.
As Eddie said in an interview, “His early stuff is what inspired me to pick up a guitar. What I really liked was Cream’s live recordings, because you could hear the three guys just play.” As a tribute, the song certainly stepped up to the plate with its harmonic yet edgy instrumental interludes as well as its upbeat rhythm.
‘Right Now’ (1991)
One of the more profound songs by the Van Halen, the lyrics for this track came out of a conversation between Eddie and Sammy Hagar where they wanted to talk about world issues. Even with the heavy message that it carried and its grave yet emphatic melody, the striking instrumentals and Eddie’s guitar solo simply made it all the more memorable.
Released in 1991 on their album For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, the music video for ‘Right Now’ bagged three MTV awards and several other nominations. An early version of the melody of the song appeared in the 1984 movie ‘The Wild Life’ which was scored by Eddie himself.
If there were a Van Halen song that just screamed “EDDIE”, this would be it. With a minute and 42 seconds long guitar solo at the beginning of the song and revolutionising rock guitar forever, Eddie’s guitar solo reached and popularised guitar playing skills (the two-hand tapping), that were not unknown but were widely unheard of before.
It was not even considered as a track for the album as it was just a guitar solo until Ted Templeman overheard Eddie rehearsing it in the studio and decided to make it a part of the album. As Eddie recalled later, “I didn’t even play it right. There’s a mistake at the top end of it. To this day, whenever I hear it, I always think, ‘Man, I could’ve played it better.'”
Another one of Eddie’s finest instrumental works, this song celebrated using instruments and technology alike in the most productive way. The song was recorded on a 1961 Fender Stratocaster and was performed by Eddie tapping notes on the fretboard with his left hand while simultaneously rolling the volume know on and off with his right hand.
Eddie said about this song, “I’ve been doing ‘Cathedral’ for more than a year and I wanted to put it on record… It sounds like a Catholic church organ, which is how it got its name. On that cut I use the volume knob a lot. If you turn it up and down too fast, it heats up and freezes. I did two takes of that song, and right at the end of the second take, the volume knob just froze, just stopped.” Cool, right?