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Thirty-Five Years Later: Van Halen – 1984

Man, are we ever getting a throwback for yours truly here! Van Halen have been one of my favorite bands for a long time now, with my love for them reaching its peak my freshman year of high school (2010, in case you were wondering). The debut album and 1984 in particular were the ones that really got me into them. It’s a great day to talk about 1984 because today marks thirty-five years to the day since this album came out. This disc dropped right when glam metal was firing up the ranks on charts, and it couldn’t blend in anymore if it tried. Eddie Van Halen would put down the guitar for multiple tracks here and focus on pouring glittery synth leads and solos into the songs as if David Lee Roth’s stage antics and outfits didn’t make them fit in enough

But as far as how the band was going, things were looking rough. 1984 is the last album of the David Lee Roth era, as there had been tensions between the Van Halen brothers and Roth brewing up for a couple years. Shortly after the release of this album, Roth would begin a solo career, starting off with a covers EP known as Crazy From The Heat. He told the band he’d look into recording some stuff with them later on, to which they responded with “we’re not waiting around on your ass.” Despite these tensions, the record actually did very well, which was likely a shock since the previous album Diver Down is widely looked at as that era’s worst record. 1984 was almost entirely written by Eddie Van Halen in his newly erected studio 5150 without much input from Roth, who discouraged the usage of keyboards and ultimately led to the creative differences that would make the band split.

That said, you can essentially break the music here into three sections: the keyboard drenched tracks, the heavy metal bangers, and the musical oddballs. Starting with the synthy songs, the first two should be the most obvious ones. The instrumental title track is comprised only of a keyboard, which then leads right into what is possibly the biggest song the band ever released, “Jump.” This track hardly has a guitar within earshot until you get far into it. Everyone and their brother has heard it on the radio, the upbeat pop tune with keys making up the entire rhythm section, and a guitar making its entrance for a solo only to give way to a synth solo. You can hear traces of the electric guitar at the end though (tell me the end of this song doesn’t sound exactly like the riff for “Top Of The World”). The last of the three is the ballad “I’ll Wait,” which is heavy on the synths but incorporates slightly more guitar, and has some of the best harmonies on the whole record.

On the flip side, there is a decent selection of numbers here to keep the headbangers happy, like “Panama,” “Hot For Teacher,” and “House Of Pain,” all for different reasons. “Panama” is another radio hit that has a lot of pop lingerings in the composition, but focuses on banger riffs all surrounded by lyrics about a car. “Hot For Teacher,” whoa boy! This was a song I probably played daily in my early high school days, as it played through my head almost constantly; no it wasn’t because I had a thing for one of my teachers. It simply encapsulated all of the annoying things about high school and made a giant party out of them, so it was a liberating tune to me. It also features some fantastic shredding done in a very rhythmic manner, introduced by Alex Van Halen’s furious drumming intro. David Lee Roth did everything he could to bring silliness and fun into something about the dreading days of school. And lastly, “House Of Pain” is a slower one, bringing in more minor keys and some of the heaviest guitar work on the album. Michael Anthony also has some pretty thunderous bass-work here, and it’s the perfect closer to the disc.

This leaves us with “Top Jimmy,” “Drop Dead Legs,” and “Girl Gone Bad.” “Top Jimmy” is to this day one of my favorites just because of how groovy and dancy it is, and the bouncy vocal styles are neat as hell here. It’s a goofy one, but worth the time. “Drop Dead Legs” is a slow and sensual song based around whinier guitars and choppy rhythms. “Girl Gone Bad” is a bit more complex on the fretboard, but probably holds the least value on the record.

What does this all mean then? Essentially, 1984 is a very inconsistent work that is all over the place, yet is done in all the right ways. Even though the songs really don’t follow one end goal, one stylistic make-up, or even similar lyrical themes, they keep your interest and are over so fast thanks to the combination of catchiness, strong harmony, and ripping guitar work. But does it hold up well today?

As dated as this record is, it surprisingly does. I don’t think anybody would have a difficult time guessing which decade this came out of (assuming they also didn’t read the album’s title). However, the big hits are still big, even to those my age. “Jump” is basically a stadium jam that will likely be blasting through speakers in a hundred years still. “Hot For Teacher” and “Panama” are iconic, and even folks in their teens can get a lot out of those. Roth’s charismatic vocals and the ability these songs have to hook the ear right in are proof of how something so dated can also be timeless, which I realize is extremely contradictory.

Ultimately, this was the final blow from a band that would soon change immensely with the introduction of Sammy Hagar, thus dividing the fans as well. If you’re anything like me, you love both vocalists and are glad that this happened, as it led to more fantastic Van Halen records with a different feel, and a few solo David Lee Roth discs that are parties within themselves. If nothing else, this album helped push the glam movement even further and was a big part of helping other ‘70s rock bands jump on the glamwagon. The music videos for the hits here were also pretty monumental, with the simplicity of “Jump” being one of my favorites, and the exaggerated nature of “Hot For Teacher” being a fun one as well. This album did a lot for a time period where music was making a big change, and fans all over the world enjoy it to this day.

1984 was released on January 9th, 1984 through Warner Bros. records, and can be found on CD, cassette, and vinyl just about anywhere for pretty cheap, as many copies of this were made due to the demand. There is a re-mastered CD of this, along with all of the early albums, plus re-pressings on 180 gram vinyl, all available here.

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