I always welcome requests for music reviews. When a follower on my Facebook page asked me to pull a Van Halen record out of the crypt, I knew it was time to travel back to 1984 to revisit, well, 1984. First, a little pit stop to revisit the record’s creators is in order.
With the charismatic antics of David Lee Roth and the unmistakable wail of Eddie Van Halen’s guitar, original VH music remains a sacred facet of pop culture. (As if y’all have been sleeping under some slate for the past… forever.)
In the heavy music community, debates about genre classification can be as fiery as the cerise pattern on EVH’s Frankenstein Replica. Depending on what music buffs you ask, Van Halen teeters between hard rock and pop metal. To my millennial ears, VH comes off as rock. Even though I give VH full props for influencing what we know as metal, I’ve never felt comfortable labeling them as metal. (Metal offshoots of the 20th century are what they used to be.) After all, those of us from later generations missed that first hand account of VH’s rise from just another Californian group to a rocking powerhouse brand. So, that’s why I’m placing them in a more neutral classic rock bin for this review. … On we go.
1984. Image: Allmusic.com
Once an album has reached classic status, protocol for reviewing records becomes another ghoulish beast. Nowadays, Van Halen may be a haunting reminder of how heavy music has evolved, but it’s still 100 percent worthwhile to resurface 1984. Sure enough, many can thank this album for nudging them closer to the heavier side of music, including myself. And it doesn’t only find its way to heavy music fans; I’m sure you’d find only a handful of souls that haven’t yet heard “Jump.”
Deemed dazzling for its springy synthesized sounds and infectious hook, “Jump” is lighthearted enough to hang with the bubble gum pop circuit and listeners looking for downright positive vibes. Regardless of who’s listening, “Jump” does take folks on an energetic spin with its liveliness and that simple verb in the refrain. The next song, “Panama,” is just as hyper; but it spreads a heated glaze over peppy percussion; its content a bit daring, it adopts a fun in the sun vibe. Further down the track list, there’s the sultry undertones of “Hot For Teacher.” The coolness that beams from this song is enormous, and it’s all because of that throwback, rock ‘n’ roll vibe. The music video aims for a few laughs, too.
You could call 1984 just another fun-loving, party rock offering, rising from the excessive-minded 80s, but its songs show more than that. The album’s success proves, once again, that the VH formula worked—even if it was the last one with Roth. It’s the stark contrast between them and their flighty contemporaries who no one ever heard from again.
The unusually solid songwriting is prominent and can still capture the hearts of just about any music audience. With its sugary chorus and powerful melodies, “Jump” shows VH was able to please the pop crowd and your everyday rocker. The sprightly instrumentation here mirrored the electronic gimmicks of that mid-80s era. (Depending on who you ask, there’s an ebb and flow of that now.) But the hit hungry trendy folks weren’t the only ones targeted. “Panama” may be forever associated with the other cookie-cutter, reckless topics, or ahem, songs made profitable with a little help from women (“Drop Dead Legs”). But “Panama” does so with the hefty bark of rock. As for the others, it’s just VH doing what they do best, except that “I’ll Wait” opts for a more sober, staccato and mature synth-driven atmosphere. It might even peep out long enough to be found on your favorite FM station, perched alongside several other VH gems.
Like style labeling in metal, the heavier scraps of the VH catalog are a matter of personal taste, but it’s clear that 1984 is a versatile player on the lot of heavy music.
On a side note, I can’t listen to Death’s “Flattening of Emotions” without being reminded of the opening drumming on “Hot For Teacher.” Just me? Alrighty.