The New York Times and other media outlets reported today that guitar legend, Eddie Van Halen has died. The 65-year-old guitarist is reported to have suffered from throat cancer, which eventually moved to his brain. The loss is brutal for so many who have revered the Dutch-American musician for his evolutionary style
“Where Have All the Good Times Gone?”: Van Halen, a party band with real talent
Fans of hard rock are familiar with the Van Halen story: the group formed in 1972. The foursome’s look, sound, and attitude became the stuff of legends. But, the music was real. Really good.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Van Halen could be counted on to provide propulsive rock sounds that also managed, in some cases, to be danceable. The band was made up of singer David Lee Roth, bassist Michael Anthony, Alex Van Halen (Eddie’s brother) on drums, and Eddie on guitar.
The New York Times describes Eddie Van Halen’s playing as “hyperactive and athletic; making deeper or darker emotions feel irrelevant.”
Or, as in the case of the song “Little Dreamer” from the band’s debut album, Eddie’s playing, a stark, but throaty sound that is almost brusque in its presentation, makes listeners forget, or at least temporarily ignore the darker themes of the lyrics. That song, like a number in Van Halen’s catalog, captured the best the four had to give. Complete with Anthony’s eerie, high-pitched backing vocals, “Little Dreamer” is a stunning example of debut work. The song can be found on “Van Halen I,” the band’s 1978 debut.
But it wasn’t all deep thoughts and brilliant guitar in the heyday of Van Halen. Well, the guitar was brilliant and shocking, often, but the song themes often tended toward good times. “Beautiful Girls,” “Unchained,” “Dance the Night Away,” featured lyrics about wanton socializing, and living by ones own rules. Through all of those songs, Eddie Van Halen’s guitar roared like a powerful engine. This phenomenon can also be heard on Van Halen’s cover of The Kink’s “You Really Got Me,” which is paired with the instrumental “Eruption.” There, Eddie lets it rip, employing a variety of techniques to add texture and bite to the tension building as listeners wait to hear what a hard rock band can do with a 1960s hit.
But, it wasn’t all rock ‘n’ roll for Eddie Van Halen. Famously, he played the guitar for Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” and according to news outlets, he also rearranged the song.
Even after Van Halen got a new lead singer (former Montrose singer Sammy Hagar) in the mid-1980s, as the rest of the band parted ways with Roth, Eddie Van Halen seemed never to lose his touch for crafting unique-sounding guitar lines. Eventually, in 2007, the band, with both singers, was inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame.
Last year, Eddie Van Halen was named Best Guitarist of All Time by Guitar World Magazine. He “won” the poll-based contest against such legends as Jimi Hendrix and Brian May.
While fans are distressed at the moment, Eddie Van Halen’s body of work is to be appreciated as a one-of-a-kind soundtrack.