The incredible talent of inspirational guitarist Eddie Van Halen may be lost on an earthly plain but we can still look back and enjoy the masterful technique, unparalleled showmanship and untouchable artistry that Van Halen brought to his band, the music industry and the world.
As a tribute to the man who changed the face of rock and roll in the 1980s, we thought we’d revisit some of his most iconic performances in the studio and bring you five isolated guitar tracks that prove he was a genius. He, alongside his brother Alex on drums, showman extraordinaire David Lee Roth on the mic and Michale Anthony on bass, Van Halen arrived in the mid-’70s with a thunderous thud and refused to move out of the way of rock’s ageing giants.
With the band’s debut album in 1978, they announced themselves as the brand new rock and rollers to be feared and met every snort of derision with proof of their impending dominance. As punk was sizzling under pressure, Van Halen set their course for universal appeal and classic rock infamy. But the real moment the ruling legends of the rock music game began to quiver was when Eddie Van Halen’s guitar was plugged in. The guitarist was like a blast from the past, a true impresario for the new generation.
Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello said of Van Halen after his passing, “Eddie Van Halen was one of the greatest, most inventive, truly visionary musicians of all time. He was an unparalleled titan in the annals of rock & roll. And on the Mount Rushmore of guitarists, he is neck-and-neck for the pole position.” If you’re sitting there and wondering if Morello truly believes Van Halen to be one of the best, then you only need to reflect on the isolated tracks below.
Through these recordings, we get a sense of the artist and his art. Once you remove the rest of the band in these tracks Van Halen’s impeccable instrumentation and unwavering style is given more room to breathe and flourish.
Below, we’re bringing you five reasons that Eddie Van Halen is a guitar genius.
6 isolated tracks to prove Eddie Van Halen was a genius:
Perhaps one of Eddie’s most beloved solos actually came from a spot of moonlighting. Michael Jackson was the biggest star of the time when he asked Van Halen to contribute a guitar track to his new song ‘Beat It’. What arrived would blow the heads off all those who heard it.
The searing solo provides not only one of the best moments on a Michael Jackson record but ultimately influenced the entire decade as it engulfed everything around it. It is arguably the man’s defining solo.
‘I’m the One’
Not one but two solos serve this song from the band’s 1978 debut album and each one provides a keen reason for Van Halen’s brilliance. While the entire LP is full to the brim with amazing guitar parts, EVH kicks it up a notch on this one and builds a fiery intensity that the rest of the album misses.
A genre-bending display that incorporates blues licks and hair metal phrasing meant that EVH was able to not only show off his musical roots, but also hint at the new style that would soon be popping its head through the dirt.
‘Hot For Teacher’
We simply couldn’t leave this one out. 1984 is Van Halen in their showmanship pomp, driving riffs and wreckless lyrics straight into your brain like a rock and roll lobotomy. Having ascertained their audience and decided on their point of delivery (a searing cacophony of DLR and EVH), all that was left was to grab America by the undercarriage and take them to school.
Naturally, that led to their classic rock radio track ‘Hot For Teacher’. While there’s not much here in the way of subtlety, there is more than enough guts to make up for it. It also provides perhaps one of the most recognisable guitar intros of all time.
The opening track of the band’s album Fair Warning meant this song was always going to be a heavy-hitter, after all, why would you open an album with anything less? ‘Mean Street’ doesn’t disappoint and arrives with a roundhouse kick to the chops in the form of EVH’s dominant guitar display.
The isolated track shows off just how complicated EVH had begun to become. Using a harmonic pitch, the guitarist is able to create enough depth to provide the perfect starting point for the final ascending notes. It is joyous.
A few years before David Lee Roth would depart the band and be replaced by Sammy Hagar, Van Halen released their monstrous chart-topping record 1984. The album arrived six years after their first and suggested that the band were in no mood to mess around. As well as containing the classic track ‘Hot For Teacher’ it also contained ‘Panama’.
While ‘Hot For Teacher’ has one of the most iconic guitar intros you will ever hear, ‘Panama’ was a more direct display of Eddie’s incredible riffing, proving that flammable solos weren’t his only bag.
Taken from Van Halen, the group’s 1978 debut album, ‘Eruption’ is a fitting title for the song which sent the band skyward. It wasn’t just a launchpad for the band though, it also provided all rock guitarists with a brand new starting point. Eddie Van Halen had laid down a new marker.
The intro to the song may be simple enough, no worries there. But when EVH kicks it up a notch and begins delivering a searing fluttering of notes, it was enough to make a whole generation of guitarists shake in their boots and a whole new generation pick up a guitar.