Van Halen: ‘1984’
Released on January 9, 1984 (Warner Bros.)
Review by Andrew Maxey:
Being my first anniversary album review for Sleaze Roxx, I really wanted to tackle an album that I knew from front to back, note for note, and in this case, crazy David Lee Roth high note to crazy high note. Let me preface this by saying I am inherently biased towards the year 1984 for rock. Some of the greatest albums of all time came out that fruitful year from the “heavier” records such as Judas Priest’s Defenders Of The Faith, Ratt’s Out Of The Cellar, Scorpions‘ epic Love At First Sting, W.A.S.P.’s debut, Iron Maiden‘s Powerslave…. Alright, I’ll stop listing albums. You get the point. With that being said, those are just the heavier albums. You also have the more polished “softer” stuff such as Bon Jovi’s debut, Rush‘s Grace Under Pressure, etc. Bottom line is that there was a lot of stiff competition that year from bands that were all peaking in popularity with their studio material at about the same time. So in order to get noticed in that sea of talent, you really have to deliver a superior product and that’s what Van Halen did with 1984.
The album starts out with what Van Halen fans were not used to at the time — synths that sounded more like they belonged on an Asia or Electric Light Orchestra album with the title track. Personally, I know there are mixed feelings in the rock community with these types of short minute-or-so long songs to front an album, but I personally love when bands do that. It makes an album pop as more of an album and less as a collection of singles. It especially plays well leading into arguably the band’s most popular song of all-time in “Jump.” Being a younger fan (26 at the time of writing this), “Jump” is one of the songs I play when I tell my friends or girlfriend, “Oh yeah, you know some Van Halen, listen to this” and you can see them recognize it from the first few notes of synth. At the time of its release, a few weeks before the album was released, “Jump” was definitely a controversial tune inching more and more away from that Van Halen, Van Halen II, and Fair Warning grit that a lot of the diehards learned to love about the band. Ultimately, it set a new standard of what Van Halen was about to become in its Sammy Hagar years.
Once the album was released fans quickly found out that yeah, they had a more polished sound but overall it was the same band that they had learned to love over the years. “Panama” was the third song on the album and that was about as heavy hitting with the guitar as anything they had done. Big crunchy riffs, huge Roth vocals, signature harmonies from Michael Anthony and the boys, and a typical Dave innuendo heavy breakdown about two-thirds of the way through all proved to be successful and lasting.
“Top Jimmy” and “Drop Down Legs” sound like they could have been straight off of Diver Down or Van Halen II with the harmonics Eddie was using… especially with the intro to “Top Jimmy.” Both those songs are unfortunately lost in the shuffle because they are overshadowed by the other incredibly strong songs on the album, but both still hold up to this day. Following those two was “Hot For Teacher” and “I’ll Wait” which both received regular airplay. You would be hard pressed to find any drum intro to be as recognizable as that of “Hot For Teacher” or anything that Van Halen have done with just as much balls (save a few cuts from Van Halen). More David Lee Roth vocal gymnastics and breakdowns accompany the signature drums and guitar of “Hot For Teacher.” “I’ll Wait” is a little bit of an odd-duck so-to-speak in the Van Halen catalog. Nothing sounds quite like it. The effects they are using on Dave’s voice almost have a ghostly Phil Collins feel to them. Overall, I’ve always liked that transition from “Hot For Teacher” to “I’ll Wait” but then again I’m a sucker for albums that feel cohesive but where every song stands out as bringing something different.
The album rounds out with “Girl Gone Bad” and “House of Pain.” “Girl Gone Bad” is a nice, quick-tempo underrated gem from the boys but “House Of Pain” to me is about as B-side sounding as Van Halen have ever done. I get the appeal to some people with the guitar work and kind of a lower, darker sound but personally not one of my favorites.
1984 still sounds fresh today and is a credit to the work of the Van Halen brothers, Michael Anthony and Diamond Dave along with Ted Templeman who ultimately went DLR’s direction after the split even after being instrumental in Sammy Hagar’s VOA the same year and being with Van Halen for years prior. Ultimately, 1984 will always be a memorable album that holds its place in time and be a compass for where the band was going from there.
Review by John Stoney Cannon:
Ahhhhhh, 1984 — a great year for me by many accounts. It was pretty much my last year of adolescent freedom before the consequences of adult actions would take over my life but at the time my world centered around high school, young love, music and… Van Halen landing right smack in my hometown of Augusta, Georgia, USA after kicking off the Diver Down tour in the same venue in 1982. It was my first concert after moving back to Augusta. Despite a fairly good size civic center, Augusta was never really a hot stop for bands but for some reason, in the ’80s, KISS and David Lee Roth (solo and with Van Halen) always made it a tour destination. Being a fan of both bands, I couldn’t have been happier.
Now I’ve been a fan of Van Halen since being blasted by “Jamie’s Cryin'” on the school bus in Germany in the late ’70s. Many kids get turned on to stuff by older siblings but as an only child, I had to rely on other army brats to expose me to the youthful soundtrack of the time and back then, Van Halen were a new fired up addition to that soundtrack. A fresh mix of singalong party rock and musical wizardry that would end up (along with KISS) influencing a large portion of the rock generation to come. Best of all for me though, out of the harder bands, Van Halen were one the gals loved. Being a shy kid, I could always count on a few brownie points just by rocking a bit of “Jamie’s Cryin'” or “Dance The Night Away” on the ol’ boombox. Matter of fact, Van Halen were such a powerful “secret weapon” in the male adolescent struggle to woo girly hearts (among other girly things) that I once parted with my personal copies of the first four Van Halen records in a failing attempt to win one gal’s affection. Unfortunately, I was STILL not cool enough or her friends convinced her to keep away or both. Luckily, in the land of young love back in the late ’70s, Van Halen albums (and some say girls) were a dime a dozen and within days, the albums, as well as the target, were replaced with new copies and the next of many gals I would go gaga over.
One benefit to having your musical education given by several of your school peers as opposed to a singular sibling is the possibility of a wider range of music and in the ’70s rock music was a mix of all types of sounds as the stars of the period were themselves exposed to a variety of music in the sixties and the members of Van Halen were no different. This would in the future explain how the band could cover songs by everyone from The Kinks to Roy Orbison eventually leading to the highly successful 1981 release Diver Down half filled with tunes made popular by all kinds of artists. Guess the guys got that out of their system ’cause on next release 1984, the band tossed aside covers in place of a bit more originality, humor and of all things, keyboards.
One distinct thing about 1984 is that it is the one great Van Halen album in the MTV era and by that I mean, the videos created to promote the album are now entrenched in video pop culture lore as some THE videos to point out when referring to that time in music. Sure, the band put out videos during their massive Sammy Hagar period but nothing as much a visual timepiece as the videos for “Hot For Teacher”, “Jump” and “Panama.”
Musically, 1984, while not close to being one of my fave Van Halen releases, was a pretty adventurous undertaking for the band and one where it almost seemed like Eddie (Van Halen) and Dave (Lee Roth) pushed harder towards each other — Eddie with the use of keyboards and Dave with his lounge lizard humor. Luckily, the results worked leaving the original line-up at the top of their game on what more than likely is their swan song. How can anyone argue with the group’s only number one hit (“Jump”) several top 20 hits (“Panama” and “I’ll Wait”), and a stranglehold at number two on the Billboard 200 album chart behind only Michael Jackson‘s massive Thriller which Eddie guested on! Top it all off with being certified Diamond in 1999 and 1984 goes down as one of the greatest albums of any genre of music ever and while the videos and massive tour were great, it all comes down to two vinyl sides of killer tunes!
Introducing the world to 1984 actually started in 1983 with the shock of the keyboard heavy “Jump”, a chance taker that proved that at the time, Van Halen could do anything and the people would bite. Sure, time would prove that no one including Van Halen is perfect (think Van Halen III and Eddie‘s marriage) but in the ’80s, Van Halen were so over with the world, the band could have turned an album of covers by The Beach Boys, Lovin Spoonful, Edgar Winter, and old standards in multi-platinum success…. Hmmm….
Now 1984 could have been huge on just the success of “Jump” (the band’s only number one hit) but instead the promotional barrage continued the following year with Van Halen pretty much proving they were exempt from the rules of ’80s power ballads a la “I’ll Wait”, showing that cars can be sexy with the song “Panama”, and exploring the dark recesses of teacher crushes on “Hot For Teacher. ” All hits and to this day all classic rock radio staples.
Van Halen then closed out both sides of 1984 with nods to the past with “Top Jimmy” harkening back to the sound of the group’s 1978 debut and “Drop Dead Legs” chiming in as a reminder of the ballsy rock n’ roll greatness of albums like Women And Children First and Fair Warning. All no nonsense Van Halen rock and roll centered around great guitar, thumping rhythm section, and catchy vocals. Just equally sonic are the one-two punch of rocking closing album tracks “Girl Gone Bad” and “House Of Pain” both as classic Van Halen as there ever was or will be. Yeah, 1984 is like most of those original line-up Van Halen albums — complete and all rock n’ roll.
Since that first exposure to Van Halen in the ’70s, I have been blessed to catch the original line-up four times including opening for Sabbath in Germany in ’78, in Atlanta in 1981, and twice in Augusta and each time was a blast. OK, so after a while, Roth became less a singer and more an entertainer but it was still a rock n’ roll party and in 1984, Dave and the guys would jump one last time… Big time! And while the world would fully embrace a Hagar-fronted Van Halen, for many fans, the band’s classic era would come to a very, very loud end.
Review by Olivier:
Van Halen‘s 1984 album is, to me, the most important album of my collection. It’s the record that made me discover hard rock and heavy metal music, and frankly, after hearing “Jump”, I never looked back and have been a hard rock / heavy metal fan ever since. So much that I am actually running the Sleaze Roxx website! I would have never ever predicted that. Aside from my very personal connection to 1984, Van Halen‘s sixth studio album — and the last one with singer David Lee Roth until A Different Kind Of Truth in 2012 — is THE album that commercialized hard rock and heavy metal, and influenced just about every major hard rock and heavy metal band to soften their sound and try out some keyboards and/or synths.
Van Halen achieved their second Diamond certified album in the United States of America with 1984 and seemingly, just about every hard rock and heavy metal band was watching and decided to try the commercial route. Mötley Crüe released their most commercial album, Theatre Of Pain, in June 1985 incorporating a glam look as well. Twisted Sister regrettably released their most polished and commercial record, Come Out And Play, in November 1985 and never recovered until reforming in 2011. Quiet Riot released their keyboard heavy album QR III in July 1986. Even the mighty Judas Priest and Iron Maiden followed Van Halen‘s lead and released synth heavy albums respectively with Turbo (in April 1986) and Somewhere In Time (in September 1986). And of course, Def Leppard followed up their hard rockin’ Pyromania album with Hysteria in August 1987 and were really the only band to stay in the almost pop rock genre after that. All of the other bands returned to their rockin’ ways after experiencing some success but also some push back at their attempts to commercialize their sound.
What about Van Halen? It was almost impossible for the band to follow up 1984 because some of the songs on it were simply so strong and they were in my eyes, the biggest band in the land at that point. It was probably a blessing in disguise in some ways for Van Halen to part with Roth and continue with Sammy Hagar because it wasn’t about following up 1984 afterwards but more about what would Van Halen sound like with Hagar in the band. I remember when I first saw Van Halen‘s video for “Jump” on Canada’s television show Video Hits. I was mesmerized. Van Halen were like no other band that I had ever seen. They all had long hair yet seemed almost goofy and down to earth with their silly and likely cheap “shot in the studio” video. Roth was a master entertainer on that video and the guys just seemed like so much fun. I was sucked in on that song and purchased 1984, which was my first hard rock/ heavy metal purchase ever and on cassette to boot (which I still have).
Van Halen brought a great sense of variety to their songs with 1984 and especially when you compare the four singles. “Jump” has probably one of the best known intros ever with the simple keyboard intro before you hear Roth‘s familiar voice with the words “I get up.” I still love listening to that song more than 35 years later and despite the song being so heavy on keyboards, which I usually loath. Perhaps it’s the absolutely killer guitar solo that Eddie Van Halen rips through on “Jump” followed by that memorable keyboard solo that I just can’t get enough of. “Panama” is the quintessential rocker but with the fun and goofball but cool energy that only Van Halen were really able to pull off (and perhaps these days, Steel Panther but to a lesser and obviously more sex oriented way). “Hot For Teacher” was the song that was tailor made for video. I remember not liking that song that much when I first got 1984 but by the time that Van Halen released their absolutely brilliant and so funny video for the track, I was sold! Finally, “I’ll Wait” is simply a killer ballad that is loaded up on keyboards but still gives me goose bumps to this day. Any band would likely kill to have four such great songs in their repertoire over their career and Van Halen had these four diverse tracks on one album!
“Top Jimmy” has always been one of my faves and I wish that Van Halen would have released that song as a single. I think that it would have done quite well. The rest of the songs on 1984 — “Drop Dead Legs,” “Girl Gone Bad” and “House Of Pain” — simply aren’t at the same level as the five aforementioned tracks but are all still pretty good. “House Of Pain” could have easily found itself on one of Van Halen‘s earlier albums such as Women And Children First or Fair Warning while “Drop Dead Legs” could have easily been on Van Halen II. “Girl Gone Bad” has some cool Eddie Van Halen licks. If Van Halen‘s 1984 only had those three latter tracks and similar songs in that vein, I’d probably consider it one of the worst Van Halen albums. Luckily, that is not the case. While Van Halen‘s 1984 may boast some of the most identifiable Van Halen songs of all-time, I think that the band has come up with more consistent overall records such as Van Halen, Van Halen II and Fair Warning.
That being said, 1984 is the most special Van Halen album in my eyes because it exposed me to the kind of music that I have now been listening to for 35 years and revolutionized what a hard rock or heavy metal band could do with keyboards and/or synths.
04. Top Jimmy
05. Drop Dead Legs
06. Hot for Teacher
07. I’ll Wait
08. Girl Gone Bad
09. House of Pain
David Lee Roth – vocals
Eddie Van Halen – guitars, keyboards, background vocals
Alex Van Halen – drums, background vocals
Michael Anthony – bass, synth bass (7), background vocals
Produced by Ted Templeman
Engineered by Ken Deane and Donn Landee
Mastered by Chris Bellman and Gregg Geller
Reviewed by Andrew Maxey, John Stoney Cannon and Olivier for Sleaze Roxx, January 2019
Van Halen‘s “Jump” video:
Van Halen – Jump (Official Music Video)
Van Halen – Jump (Official Music Video)Brought to you by Van Halen’s Official YouTube Channel: Van Halen TV.Listen to Jump here: https://lnk.to/VHJumpSTR
Van Halen‘s “Panama” video:
Van Halen – Panama (Official Music Video)
Watch the official music video for “Panama” by Van Halen
Van Halen‘s “Hot For Teacher” video:
Van Halen – Hot For Teacher (Official Music Video)
Watch the official music video for “Hot For Teacher” by Van Halen