Just as an aside, exactly one year ago, October 6, 2019, Ginger Baker also passed away. Eek.
Edward "Eddie" Van Halen was the lead guitarist of Van Halen, one of the premier rock bands of the 1970s and 1980s. His fast playing and intricate guitar runs are amongst the best in the rock canon. I used to do air guitar competitions, and Van Halen was one of the more common acts mimed to. People just wanted to be Eddie Van Halen.
Yes, there have been recent claims of him being overly controlling, and yes, some former band members were let go in rather dubious circumstances, but when talking about the man there is one thing we will remember – that guitar playing. Mind you, he was also a noted keyboard player and wrote the music for many of Van Halen's greatest tracks. In many ways, he was Van Halen.
I first came across Van Halen through their cover of The Kinks' 'You Really Got Me', and then came the album 1984, released just as I was at the age to buy albums. I still own it and play it today, in all its vinyl glory.
And so, I think the best way to remember this man is to simply do a greatest hits run of Van Halen. Now, these are my favourite tracks by the band. Others will have different takes on what are their best, but these tracks, at least, will give you a good overview of Van Halen the band and Eddie Van Halen the musician.
'You Really Got Me' (1978) Take the proto-heavy-metal of early Kinks and then knock it up to 11, and you've got Van Halen's take on the classic track. This was my introduction to the band – I would have been 7 or 8 when I heard it – and as a kid who was already into AC/DC, this just got me. And David Lee Roth could sing.
The opening piece at the start is a bit of a song we'll come to shortly…
'Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love' (1978)
Another strong track from the same year, this sounds like a group of mates just having the time of their lives playing music. There is something so insanely joyous about this track that it is infectious.
'Eruption' (1978) One of the single greatest guitar solo instrumental tracks ever recorded. This showcases Eddie's incredible playing, his lightning-fast fingers, and his insane talent. My son and I both love this track, and if this can bring a 15 and 50-year-old together, then it crosses generations as well. I hope you got time, because this is an 11-minute live version. Why? Because I'm a rock music nerd and I love this! Watch his fingers fly. Wow. I mean… wow!
This is where most people stepped onto Van Halen. In the early MTV era, the video for this song was inescapable. But Eddie's guitar and keyboard playing are what drive the song along. I remember, "back in the day" (the mid-80s) watching a group of kids "air-play" their way through this song – drums, keyboards, guitars, everything. It was an amazing sight and people watched them! Released before the 1984 album, it was one of the reasons so many of us went out and bought it.
I actually preferred this song from that album, to be honest. I liked the music better, and it just resonated with me a little more. I can't tell you why. Nowadays, I would rate both these tracks equally, but back then, this was the song I liked.
'Why Can't This Be Love' (1986)
We leave the David Lee Roth era and enter the Sammy Hagar era. I actually prefer Sammy as vocalist, by the way, even though that is an unpopular opinion. Anyway, this was the first single released with Sammy on vocals and this is another song punctuated by the double-barrel of guitar and keyboard that makes it such an incredible track.
Probably best known from the film Top Gun, this was the track that cemented Sammy in place and made the world ask, "David who?" Another incredible track that just makes everyone who was around at the time feel so good. I remember this being sung by hundreds of kids all in unison at Blue Light Discos, so it must have struck a chord with us.
'When It's Love' (1988)
A slower song, but still an awesome one. Again, showing more of Eddie's keyboard skills, it is quite the song.
Live version here because, well, it's great.
'Won't Get Fooled Again' (1993) The Who's classic (done by Sammy and friends latterly from home), this track was the highlight for me from the live album Right Here, Right Now. Is Eddie a better guitarist that Pete Townshend? Well, let's say they're different and awesome in their own ways.
With David back in front (after a misguided album featuring Gary Cherone, the lead singer of Extreme), this song was not a bad one, and one I actually really liked when I first heard. The lyrics are a bit nothing, but the music is still there, still Van Halen.
Ten tracks to remember Eddie Van Halen by. No matter what else, there is no denying the man was a master guitarist, and his death is a loss to the music world that will be impossible to replace.
Vale, Eddie Van Halen, and our best wishes go to his family and loved ones.