- Jamie’s Cryin’ (1978)
This song is about a girl who has a one-night stand and lives to regret it. She wants a deeper relationship and feels used by the guys who hit it and quit. She considers writing him a letter asking him to call (remember, this is before texting), but she knows it will get her nowhere.
David Lee Roth wrote the lyrics, which is a little ironic considering his many one-and-done conquests. In the early years of Van Halen, he would have a crew member make sure that some lovely ladies in the crowd were ushered backstage for his enjoyment.
- Beautiful Girls (1979)
The group wrote this in David Lee Roth’s basement. They had just finished a tour and were under tight deadline pressure to record their second album. They released an album every year until 1984. Roth fractured his foot doing a jump for the album’s photo shoot. Since there was no way Roth could stay still on stage, they postponed their tour so he could heal.
The album took six days to record. Van Halen was quick in the studio because they laid down most of the tracks live, with very little overdubbing.
- Runnin With The Devil (1978)
This is the first song on the first Van Halen album. It starts with a backwards blare of car horns, which was made by a contraption Eddie Van Halen put together using a bunch of horns, a car battery, and a footswitch. They used to use it when they played at clubs.
Van Halen included this song on a demo Gene Simmons produced for them in 1977. After seeing them in concert, Simmons flew the band to New York, bought them clothes, and set up a recording session. They didn’t get a record deal out of it, but gained valuable experience.
The song contains many of the things Van Halen became famous for: David Lee Roth’s squeal, Eddie’s guitar solo, and Michael Anthony’s backup vocals.
- Panama (1984)
This was one of the first songs recorded at Eddie Van Halen’s 5150 studios. “5150” is California police code for a mentally unstable person causing a disturbance.
The album cover, which showed a baby on the cover smoking a cigarette, caused a bit of controversy. Some UK record stores refused to stock it.
This was one of the last Van Halen songs recorded with David Lee Roth as lead singer. He was replaced by Sammy Hagar in 1986.
- Little Guitars (1982)
On this song, Eddie Van Halen played a custom-made, miniature Les Paul guitar that was created for him by Nashville designer Dave Petschulat. On Van Halen’s 1982-1983 Hide Your Sheep tour, they played this song with Eddie switching to his miniature guitar.
- Dance The Night Away (1979)
The lightest and most radio-friendly song on the Van Halen II album, Warner Brothers Records insisted “Dance The Night Away” be released as the first single. The band didn’t think it represented their sound and did not want it released first, but they didn’t have the clout to overrule their record company. The original title was “Dance, Lolita, Dance.”
Van Halen picked up a lot of new fans after this song got some airplay. Many listeners who heard them for the first time were pleasantly surprised when they bought the album, and rushed out to buy the first Van Halen album as well. That first album, which sold about a million copies in America the first year it was released, eventually sold 10 million.
- Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love (1978)
Van Halen played this at many of their early shows before they got a record deal. They included it on a demo Gene Simmons produced for them in 1977.
If you listen carefully, you can hear an electric sitar low in the mix.
This song gets at least as much radio play now as when it first came out. Van Halen took a few years to get a big following, so many of their early songs are now Classic Rock staples because they were never overplayed when they first came out.
- Unchained (1981)
It’s not all that clear what’s going on in this song, but it sure does rock. The lyric is mostly an exercise in vocal dexterity, with the line “Blue-eyed murder in a side-swiped dress” leading into the rousing chorus. The song was a live favorite for the band.
In the middle of this song, David Lee Roth makes fun of an executive that walked into the studio while they were recording it (“that suit is YOU…”). Roth would add commentary on a separate track while the band played the instrumental parts, and his comments were sometimes added to the mix (“Everybody Wants Some” is an example). The voice that says, “Come on, Dave, gimme a break” is their producer, Ted Templeman.
- Jump (1984)
David Lee Roth has given various accounts of the meaning behind the lyrics, but he usually says they are about a TV news story he saw where a man was about to kill himself by jumping off a building (Roth thought, “Might as well jump”). He’s also said the song is about a stripper.
Roth is a great storyteller who likes to build his legend, so he would often add that he wrote the lyric while cruising around Los Angeles in his vintage 1951 Mercury convertible.
This was Van Halen’s first #1 hit in America, and their only #1 with David Lee Roth as lead singer.
- You Really Got Me (1978)
This was Van Halen’s first single. They learned a bunch of Kinks songs when they were just starting out (in part because David Lee Roth had one of their greatest hits albums), and often played them at their shows when they were still a bar band. “They sounded good and they were great to dance to,” David Lee Roth said.
When it came time for Van Halen to record their first single, they chose “You Really Got Me,” since they had refined it after years performing it. In 1982, they released another Kinks kover, “Where Have All The Good Times Gone?,” which appears on their album Diver Down.
There is a track before this on the album called “Eruption,” which is an Eddie Van Halen guitar solo that leads into it. Disc jockeys often played the 2 songs together, but as computerized playlists and corporate programmers took control of radio stations, “Eruption” is rarely played.
- Mean Street (1981)
Fair Warning is the fourth studio album by American rock band Van Halen. Released on April 29, 1981, it sold more than two million copies, but was still the band’s slowest-selling album of the David Lee Roth era. Despite the album’s commercially disappointing sales, Fair Warning was met with mostly positive reviews from critics.
The album was listed by Esquire as one of the 75 Albums Every Man Should Own.
- Finish What Ya Started (1988)
Taken from their 1988 album OU812. Despite the album being seemingly complete, Eddie Van Halen came up with the riff at 2 in the morning and went down to his then-neighbor Sammy Hagar to show it. Hagar let Eddie in, and the two played guitars in his balcony until they had a completed song. Once Eddie left, Hagar decided to write the lyrics despite being late at night. The theme wound up being unfulfilled sex, summed up by Hagar as “blue balls”. In the song, Eddie recorded his guitar part on a Fender Stratocaster plugged direct into the studio mixing console. The song is one of only two Van Halen tracks featuring Hagar playing a rhythm guitar part, which he played on a Gibson acoustic.
- Why Can’t This Be Love (1986)
“Why Can’t This Be Love?” was the first Van Halen single with Sammy Hagar as lead singer, replacing David Lee Roth. Hagar had plenty of cred as a rocker and went over as well as could be expected in his position. This song took the band in a more mature, melodic direction, which proved hit-worthy. The Van Hagar era was on, and the Sammy vs. Dave debates commenced.