MANILA -- Rock 'n' roll music has its share of guitar gods whose riffs and solos are the stuff of legend and male fantasy. Jimi Hendrix showed everyone the potential of the guitar, while Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, to name a few, added a bluesy if not epic edge to the instrument.
When Van Halen’s self-titled debut was released right before Valentine’s Day in 1980, the album grabbed the rock music world that was blues-laden or had classic and progressive trappings. Yes, punk and new wave were making serious noises then, but Van Halen brought a crunch and melodic sheen to heavy metal. Theirs was a polished but heavy sound that was swiped by Mutt Lange who later gave Australian band AC/DC the same vibe.
Just when rock was becoming overly rebellious with the punk movement or too serious as with the case of the Brit Rock of that era, Van Halen brought the F-U-N back into rock ‘n’ roll.
And Eddie Van Halen was a star.
Van Halen and his band inspired many an axeman from Joe Satriani to Steve Vai to Nuno Bettencourt to Kiss’ Bruce Kulick and Limp Bizkit’s Wes Borland to the hair metal bands of the late 1980s to Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo. Slayer’s Kerry King even said that he didn’t know what heavy was until he heard Van Halen. Bands such as Lamb of God, Megadeath, Triuvm, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Pantera, Rage Against the Machine, and Pearl Jam opened credited Van Halen and his band as influences.
While Van Halen did not invent finger-tapping, he popularized it, tweaked it big time, and gave the method its name. His dizzying guitar solos were always a highlight and a treat. He did things to an electric guitar that no one else ever did or even after. His understanding of high and low dynamics that was massive for the grunge era that would hit a generation later was incredible. Their last massive hit of the 1980s – “Humans Being” from the Twister soundtrack was a cinematic piece of work that melody to the frightening beauty of Mother Nature.
Unfortunately, Eddie Van Halen passed away on Tuesday, October 6, after a long battle with lung cancer.
With the music, entertainment world – including the sports world (check out French football team Olympique Marseille’s tribute to the American musician in their social media) – offering tributes, we would be remiss, if we did not give him props.
Here in our opinion are five Eddie Van Halen guitar solos that changed the world.
“Eruption” and “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” from “Van Halen”
The first and second tracks of Van Halen’s sterling debut. “Eruption” is right – a phantasmagorical delight of finger-tapping that announced Van Halen was here to kick serious butt.
Then the buzz saw licks of “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” meandered in a heavy rock music would not be the same again.
“Jump” from the album “1984”
As Van Halen once told it, he wrote “Jump” that featured some serious synthesizer melodies outside New Wave. The rest of Van Halen was not interested. “You’re a guitar god,” protested vocalist David Lee Roth.
In trademark stubbornness, Van Halen wrote one of the coolest synthesizer melodies ever but also played one of his best and tightest guitar solos.
And Van Halen had its only number one song in music chart history. The song is a staple in every sports arena including Olympique Marseille’s that plays the song when introducing their starting eleven.
“Humans Being” from "Twister"
The hint of the danger to come before the madness rolls in. Just like its natural brethren, the tornado.
Then vocalist Sammy Hagar does a semi-rap as Van Halen tears into a twister of a solo that is both beautiful and frightening at the same time.
“Beat It” on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”
This crossover pre-dated Run DMC’s collaboration with Aerosmith in 1986’s “Walk This Way” that laid the groundwork for rap metal.
Van Halen wrote the riff that made Jackson’s “Beat It.”
In 1982, heavy metal and pop music were genres that did not go together. But Jackson penned “Beat It” with a rock bent in mind. He asked Toto’s Steve Lukather to lay it down but Jackson was looking for something else.
Van Halen re-wrote everything in an hour and Jackson was so ecstatic. The King of Pop said, “Thank you so much for not only coming in to do this but also to actually care about the song and make it better.”
“The Darth Vader Song” from the film “Back to the Future”
Van Halen did not only change music history with his guitar playing, he also preventing history from changing.
Let’s go "Back to the Future."
Remember the scene in the Robert Zemeckis film where Marty McFly puts on a hazmat suit and pretends to be an alien from the planet Vulcan who commanded his father, George McFly, to take Lorraine Baines out.
Marty slipped in a cassette tape clearly marked “Edward Van Halen” to batter a 1950s George McFly into submission. The riffs were discordant and were like a sledgehammer to the brain. After being subjected to Van Halen’s riffs several times, George consented to take Lorraine Baines out.
And the rest… is history.
Thanks, Eddie. You were marvelous.
Now, to crib the lyrics from “Humans Being,” “shine on.”