Dance music wasn’t exactly the bread and butter of Van Halen. The L.A. hard rock quartet were better suited for headbanging, but frontman David Lee Roth made sure that audiences were always having a good time during concerts. Part of that was getting them up to dance during the songs that were groovy enough to inspire some hip-shaking moves. Of course, it helps when you have a song that literally calls for audiences to move their feet.
‘Dance the Night Away’ was a major step forward for Van Halen when it appeared on their sophomore LP, Van Halen II. It might not have included any of the synthesisers that were emblematic of Van Halen’s shift towards a more mainstream sound throughout the 1980s, but ‘Dance the Night Away’ was certainly the poppiest and most radio-friendly single the band had released up to that point.
It’s no surprise, then, that ‘Dance the Night Away’ became the first Van Halen song to crack the top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 15 in the summer of 1979. Many more hits were to follow, including the band’s only number one, ‘Jump’. But ‘Dance the Night Away’ showed Van Halen a path to the future, one that opened up an entire world of commercial success without sacrificing their hard rock bona fides.
Eddie Van Halen approached his guitar track with a minimalist mindset. Throughout the track, there’s only one pick slide, a few harmonic notes, and no tapping. There’s also no guitar solo, something that was almost unheard of for Van Halen at the time. Eddie had become frustrated with the hype surrounding him and wanted to prove that he was capable of more than just flash and histrionics. He wanted to show that all he needed was four chords and a monster melody to propel a song to success.
This is still Eddie Van Halen, though. There are plenty of classic hallmarks that were emblematic of his style – quick stops, hammer-ons, and yes, that one badass pick slide that seemingly comes out of nowhere. Also invaluable to Van Halen’s guitar playing is his simplicity. Early in the band’s career, Eddie rarely messed with any kind of array of pedals. He had his effects, but in order to change the tone of the guitar, he would mostly resort to simply turning down the volume knob. You can hear him crank it up to full power as the band descends into the final chorus.
Also interesting to note is Eddie’s countermelody that carries the song into its fade. Deviations from his standard riffing were relatively rare in the early days of Van Halen, but they would become more prominent as the band approached the 1980s. Those counterpoints would increasingly be handled by keyboards in later years, but here it’s just Eddie and his guitar, adding a few well-placed notes to give the final chorus a little bit of spice.
Check out Eddie Van Halen’s isolated guitar for ‘Dance the Night Away’ down below.