This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #122: Eruption/You Really Got Me/Jump by Van Halen.
One of the easiest things to do in life is to find a winning formula and keep repeating it forever and ever. The world is filled with “one trick ponies” who achieved success and then kept doing the same things to achieve the same goals. Some see this as the mark of a winner. Sometimes, a person like that is lauded for be the best or most successful of all-time at doing that one thing. But, what if the allure of winning easily begins to wear off? What if someone who was the reigning World Champ decided to throw it all away and completely re-invent themselves? It doesn’t happen often but, it does, at times. One of the biggest examples of someone deciding to tweak their formula for success was a guitar prodigy named Eddie Van Halen. As I will describe below, Eddie and his band, Van Halen, were very successful over the course of their first few albums; all of which you could describe as guitar-driven rock. It would have been easy to have continued to rock hard for his entire career. But, in the mid-1980s, Eddie Van Halen surveyed the musical landscape and realized that music was becoming digitized and that this was the wave of the future. While he never gave up his guitar, Eddie Van Halen began experimenting with synthesizers. This change gave the band a whole new legion of adoring fans, as well as, their first #1 hit, with a song called, “Jump”. So, sit back and settle in because the story of Van Halen’s mid-career re-boot was one of the biggest gambles in Rock history. “Might as well, Jump!“, indeed!
Van Halen rose to prominence with a lineup that consisted of David Lee Roth (lead singer), Eddie Van Halen (lead guitar), Michael Anthony (Bass guitar) and Alex Van Halen (drums). They were very much a guitar-driven rock n’ roll band. In their early days, they drew inspiration from bands of the past such as The Kinks. Therefore, it was of no surprise that their debut single ended up being a cover version of The Kinks hit, “You Really Got Me”. For the next few years….one album per year….Van Halen etched their names in the annals of Classic Rock with a continuous string of hits such, “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love”, “Running With the Devil”, “Hot For Teacher”, “And the Cradle Will Rock”, “Panama”, “their cover of “Dancing in the Streets” and “Dance the Night Away”, too.
What helped to make Van Halen such a potent band back in the day was the combination of having a charismatic frontman in “Diamond” David Lee Roth, along with the guitar virtuosity of Eddie Van Halen. Eddie Van Halen wasn’t your average axe-slinger. In the whole history of Rock n’ Roll, Eddie Van Halen has few equals when it comes to playing the guitar at a very high level. That he was an innovative genius is generally accepted as fact among those who follow music. He is universally regarded as being among the elite of all-time, along with peers such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. So, even though Van Halen played hard-driving, arena rock songs, there was always something about how Eddie Van Halen approached his craft that added a little extra to their songs and raised him to the top of the musical mountain.
The band, Van Halen, had a lot of dedicated fans who adored their rock n’ roll musical stylings, as well as, the backstage antics they were notorious for. One of the “songs” that allowed fans to hold their banners high was a piece of guitar virtuosity that was less than two minutes in length and, in reality, wasn’t even a song. It was a piece of music called, “Eruption”. That single bit of guitar solo magicianship from Eddie Van Halen convinced many fans that this band was more than special; in fact, it might go on to be one of the very best bands of all-time.
“Eruption” is an approximately 1:40 guitar solo that was taped, unbeknownst to Eddie Van Halen, as he went through some warm-up exercises prior to a rehearsal for a taping session. Eddie’s “warm-up exercises” have gone on to become a song called, “Eruption” and has been rated as the second-best guitar solo ever (trailing only the one Jimmy Page put together near the end of “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin). “Eruption” shows Eddie Van Halen moving up, down and all around the guitar with such nimble-fingered dexterity that it has become a standard bar to which all other guitarists measure themselves against. In many ways, “Eruption” showcases all that was special about the band, as a whole, during their early days. While David Lee Roth’s showmanship was noteworthy, it was Eddie Van Halen’s skill on the guitar that really helped to make Van Halen the special band that they were. But, it was, also, Eddie Van Halen’s sense of creativity that forced the band down a road that ended up seeing the original band break-up.
Like many very creative people, Eddie Van Halen reached a point in his career, after five or so albums, where he felt they had done pretty much all there was to do with the guitar-rock genre. He wanted to expand the band’s sound by diversifying the instruments they featured. In particular, Eddie Van Halen wanted to introduce synthesizers to their repertoire. By this time, David Lee Roth’s ego was getting the better of him and he wanted to keep doing what they had always done and, in fact, he wanted more of the spotlight to focus on him. Eddie Van Halen disagreed and recorded the instrumental tracks for “Jump” in secret, late at night, at his home recording studio. When Roth heard what he had done, he was incensed. Although David Lee Roth agreed to create the lyrics for the song, it really was “Jump” and the use of synthesizers instead of guitars, that pushed Roth away. “Jump” went on to become Van Halen’s first #1 charting song. At this same time, Michael Jackson came calling and recruited Eddie Van Halen for help “toughening up” his image so he hired Eddie Van Halen to play a guitar solo on his his song, “Beat It”. The effect of both things was that Eddie Van Halen began carving out a new image for himself; in essence, he began shedding his musical skin.
From this point on, Van Halen became more of a PopRock band. They hired a new lead singer named Sammy Hagar and had hits with him such as “Right Here, Right Now”, “When It’s Love”, “Dreams” and so on. For a number of years, there was a sharp divide between fans of the original line-up and this new band, fronted by Sammy Hagar. The two camps waged public relations wars; one camp for Van Halen and the other for the newly christened, Van Hagar! Regardless of where fans pledged their allegiance, Eddie Van Halen continued to churn out the hits and retained every ounce of respect that he had accumulated right from Album #1. Eventually, Hagar left and the band hired a third lead singer named Gary Charone. He was once in a band called Extreme, who had a few soft rock hits of their own during the 90s.
“Jump” is a demarcation point for fans of the band (in the same way that the “Black” album and “Enter Sandman” are for Metallica. *You can read all about that, here). “Jump” was the point when the band ceased to be the band that original fans loved. However, it ended up becoming a more widely popular band, as far as record sales went, than it ever had been before. So, when it came to deciding what song should represent the band, I found it impossible to choose one song over the other. Both “Jump” and “Eruption” speak to very distinct and important times for Eddie Van Halen and his bandmates, so I opted to go with both. ***Just as a note of trivia, “Eruption” and “You Really Got Me” are two, separate songs. However, the two songs were often played as one; with “Eruption” being the instrumental lead-in for “You Really Got Me”. Thus, you have the title being the way it is.
So, without further delay, get ready for the extraordinary playing of Eddie Van Halen as he demonstrates, so capably, what all the fuss was about as he launched his career with “Eruption/You Really Got Me” and then, how courageous he was to turn his back on a sure thing and embrace digital technology during the second half of his career. This, of course, helped the band score their first #1 hit with “Jump”. Enjoy them both.
The link to the video for “Eruption/You Really Got Me” by Van Halen, can be found here.
The link to the video for the song, “Jump” by Van Halen, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Van Halen, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.