It’s one of the most popular albums of all time. Not just in hard rock circles, but in all of modern music. Selling in an excess of over 20 million units, Van Halen’s ‘1984’, relased on Jan 9, 1984, is a landmark record in the quest to popularize heavier forms of music. And it’s also one of the greatest album covers of all time.
Of course, the album doesn’t start out that way. Not by a long shot. No, Van Halen were smart. They baited the masses with a pleasing, keyboard centered pop tune entitled ‘Jump’. Complete with a memorable chorus sing-along hook, a very keyboard heavy prelude and a typical music video to go with it. And man did it work. The album blew up! The only thing keeping it from going number one was Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. Which would stay at number one for three freakin’ months. But it did make ‘1984’ the highest selling album to never go number one.
But for every three fans that were won over by ‘Jump’, there were two dedicated fans of the previous five albums that were shocked and let down. And they almost jumped ship (no pun intended). But then ‘Panama’ was released, winning over the entire masses. Keeping the new fans and the old, building a fan-base that is unquestionably gigantic. Of course, ‘Panama’, along with ‘Jump’ would go on to be played so much on the radio for the next thirty years that if I hear one of those two songs again I’m destroying whatever speakers they’re coming from.
However, the singles weren’t over. The band would release two more major hits: ‘Hot for Teacher’ and ‘I’ll Wait’. The release of ‘I’ll Wait’ would solidify the direction of future Van Halen projects. Honestly, for me, I really like the keyboard melody on ‘I’ll Wait’. It’s not the keyboards presence that I dislike on the album. It’s simply the chords that are used in ‘Jump’. I hate the rhythm and I hate the progression. It grates on my ears. Van Halen would go on to write many great keyboard centered songs with their next front man Sammy Hagar.
‘1984’, for me, isn’t about the singles as much as it is about the deep tracks. There are some great ones. One of my all time fave riffs is the nasty, funky ‘Drop Dead Legs’. And the introduction on ‘Girl Gone Bad’, a song that Eddie Van Halen wrote in a hotel closet so as not to wake his then wife Valerie Bertinelli, is simply a hair raising moment in rock. And the solo is one of Eddie Van Halen’s finest moments. The album closer ‘House of Pain’ is another one of my fave tracks. It, like many other tracks from the David Lee Roth era, is a leftover track from the pre-debut era. That’s not to take away from it’s kick assness. It’s another nasty, funky and aggressive riff from one of the nastiest riff masters.
Honestly though, overall, I think that the album is a little bit too hyped. It’s not a particularly great album. Certainly not one of Van Halen’s elite. It’s good, but I think the debut, ‘Fair Warning’, ‘5150’ and ‘For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge’ are ten times better. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great moments on the album. But it’s not a consistent ride of bad asserey like the four albums mentioned above. However, it is much stronger than ‘Women and Children First’ and the totally half-assed ‘Diver Down’. There’s also the issue of production. I never cared for how Alex Van Halen’s drums sound on the first six albums. I find the dead snare and tom sound to be unfulfilling. That’s not really a specific critique on ‘1984’, but it is a factor in my opinion on the records legacy. Also, I find David Lee Roth to be exhausting. His vocals and his whole shtick are tiring just to think of. And he was a fool to leave the band after this record. But it’s also understandable as Eddie and Alex Van Halen holed up in their new studio ‘5150’ and wrote the material themselves. Giving Roth very little input on the album. He split on April 1, 1985. In the middle of the bands biggest tour.
But despite my opinions on the record, ‘1984’ is still one of the biggest albums of all time. And it’s damn near impossible to short it’s influence on the rock community. So crank it up today. Celebrate ‘1984’s success. It did make hard rock and heavier forms of music become a mainstream entity. And that is to be celebrated.
I still can’t believe this was never released as a single. The hit potential was huge. One of my all time fave Van Halen songs.
What an intro. Just great stuff.