“Uh, rock on!” – the Mighty Van Halen
I like lists. I’m always a sucker for a good top 10 list or a top 20 or top 50 or an every (fill in the artist) song worst to first list (I’m looking at you “Rolling Stone”). I also don’t feel that one post in tribute to the late Eddie Van Halen was near enough, so here comes my own favorite Van Halen songs list with one caveat: this list will only include my favorite 80’s Van Halen songs.
Whoa. Settle down. Crazy, right? Take the iconic “Van Halen I” (a 1978 release) and to a lesser extent “Van Halen II” (released in 1979) out of the equation as well as anything released post 1989, and you get a totally different look.
So many tough decisions on what to include and what to leave out. After a good couple of hours of politicking (flip-flopping and vacillating) between songs, here are my top 11 favorite 80’s Van Halen songs.
Why 11? Well, 5+1+5+0 = 11. That’s the best I can do.
I present you – “Sincerely the 80’s Standing on Top of the Top 11 List:” (a 90’s Van Halen reference and a song that didn’t qualify, I know… cut me some slack)
“Hot for Teacher” album: 1984
Favorite lyric: “I think of all the education that I missed. But then my homework was never quite like this.”
This song was so different. A drum solo to start the song? Oddly cool. Thank you Alex Van Halen. Of course the video is iconic. Once again, thank you Alex Van Halen for your lack of rhythm during the dance sequences in the video. Eddie’s solo while walking on top of the tables in the library made me want to visit the school library just to see if there were any guitar students doing the same thing. Alas, there never were.
“Where Have All the Good Times Gone?” album: Diver Down (1982)
Favorite Lyric: “Daddy didn’t need no little toys. Mommy didn’t need no little boys.”
A nod to my first Van Halen cassette when I was 11 or 12. This is the first Van Halen I knew – a group with an album of five cover songs out of 12 total songs. I didn’t know this was a cover song when I first heard it. I knew nothing of Ray Davies or The Kinks or their version. I wasn’t that musically knowledgeable yet and there was no internet either. I just thought it was a cool song. And it is… even if it’s not a Van Halen original. Sorry Roy Orbison and the VH cover of “(Oh) Pretty Woman.” You just missed this list.
“Summer Nights” album: 5150 (1986)
Favorite lyric: “Summer nights and my radio. Well that’s all we need, baby, don’t cha know?”
I heard this was originally intended to be a David Lee Roth song before he departed Van Halen, and that there might be a demo somewhere with his vocals. I’d love to hear it, but nonetheless, Dave’s loss is Sammy’s gain, and I absolutely think Sammy crushed it. My buddy Barry and I agreed that this was probably the most underrated song on the 5150 album. This was an instant classic to us and was played relentlessly during the summer between our 9th and 10th grade school years.
“I’ll Wait” album: 1984
Favorite lyric: “Are you for real, it’s so hard to tell from just a magazine. Yeah, you just smile and the picture sells. Look what that does to me.”
In my mind, the first true Van Halen rock ballad, synthesizers and all. The song was a collaboration between Eddie Van Halen and Michael McDonald. As an outspoken critic of the heavy synth sound that was beginning to dominate the airwaves in the 80’s, David Lee Roth was against even including this song on the album. Per usual, Eddie wanted it on the album and so it was, peaking at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“And the Cradle Will Rock” album: Women and Children First (1980)
Favorite lyric: “And so an early age he hits the street ‘n winds up tired with who he meets, and he’s unemployed. His folks are overjoyed”
This song wasn’t even on their setlist when I saw them on their “A Different Kind of Truth” tour in 2012. It was my lone disappointment with their setlist. Released in 1980, it’s the first song to incorporate Eddie on a keyboard and the first song I remember mocking all of you (now us) old, know-nothing parents when Dave asks “Have you seen Junior’s grades?” Well, too bad, because the cradle will rock! And this video is awkwardly awesome.
“Best of Both Worlds” album: 5150 (1986)
Favorite lyric: “Just tune in to what this place has got to offer, ’cause we may never be here again.”
This world and a sort of spirituality lie beneath a lot of the Sammy material including this sweet little tune from… brace yourselves… my favorite 80’s Van Halen album, “5150.” Yes, blasphemy I know to dare put a Sammy-led album ahead of any Dave album… especially 1984! Sorry, not sorry. Go make your own list. The list is the best of both worlds!
“Love Walks In” album: 5150 (1986)
Favorite lyric: “Contact is all it takes. To change your life to lose your place in time.”
Look it’s no secret that post-Dave Van Halen had A LOT of songs with the word “love” in the title. In fact, it’s easy to get “Love Walks In” confused with “Why Can’t This Be Love,” or “When It’s Love,” or “Can’t Stop Loving You,” or “Don’t Tell Me (What Love Can Do).” I mean, you get the picture. So, if I’m going to choose my favorite “love” song to add, it would be this one that hit #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was one of four top top 20 hits from the aforementioned fabulous “5150” album.
“Panama” album: 1984
Favorite lyric: “Hot shoe, burnin’ down the avenue. Model citizen, zero discipline.”
That was me back in 1984 – model citizen, zero discipline! Ok, so not really, but I remember listening to this song and originally thinking “I can’t understand a word Dave is singing except ‘Panama’ and something about ‘in the turn.'” Thank you lyrics websites all these years later for allowing me to correctly sing all of the right words in perfect pitch.
“Dreams” album: 5150 (1986)
Favorite lyric: “And in the end on dreams we will depend. ‘Cause that’s what love is made of.”
Who’s out there screaming: “what??!!” Lol. If you’re all Dave and no Sammy then this list continues to disappoint you. I have equal appreciation for both lead singers though I do lean DLR. But I have to give Sammy his due and this song as well. From the synth intro to the tempo of the song to Sammy’s vocals to Eddie’s solo, this would be my favorite Sammy-era Van Halen song. Just the short Eddie solo from 4:04 to the 4:17 mark conjures up the air guitarist in me.
“Jump” album: 1984
Favorite lyric: “And I know, baby, just how you feel. You got to roll with the punches and get to what’s real.”
Possibly the most iconic keyboard intro of all-time. They play it before the jump ball at basketball games. Sure it’s one of the most played 80’s songs ever, but for good reason I tell you! If this song comes on the radio, I rarely turn it. It never gets old to me. The video features Dave at his jumpiest. So flexible. I’m the anti-Dave when it comes to flexibility… even back when I was 13.
Honorable mention goes to: “Mean Street,” “Everybody Wants Some,” and “When It’s Love.”
“Unchained” album: Fair Warning (1981)
Favorite lyric: “Non-stop talker, what a rocker! Blue-eyed murder in a size five dress.”
No real surprise to many I’d say, but I didn’t even know about this song until sometime post 1983 or 84 once I started back-tracking and listening to older Van Halen albums. So I’m not sure when I first heard this song, but I guarantee you when I did I was in as much awe of it as I am to this day. It has everything – a badass intro, Dave screaming, a cool chorus, Eddie’s short solo at the 1:49 mark, Dave’s playful banter… hey, hey, hey, one break coming up!
There you have it. My always subject to change top 11 favorite Van Halen songs from just the 80’s. As always, thanks for checking in.