31 Years Ago: Van Halen Begin to Break Apart Despite Success of ‘1984′
When Van Halen’s sixth album, ‘1984,’ arrived in stores on Jan. 9, 1984, it felt like a much-needed respite in a year that had already started under the heavy vibes of George Orwell’s dystopian novel of the same name.
But life was apparently California-sunny for the four members of Van Halen: a place where electrifying party metal flowed like beer out of a keg, the concert stage was always filled with athletic splits and scissor kicks and band camaraderie burst in grinning technicolor from every magazine photo and promo video like irrefutable evidence.
Or was it? As the whole wide world would learn before 1984 — the year — was even in the books, deep rifts had, in fact, been gradually destabilizing Van Halen’s foundations for quite some time. While the loudest whispers referenced growing disagreements over recording practices and creative direction (most centering on longtime producer Ted Templeman), the bigger-picture problem was a widening personal and professional gulf between Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth.
For years, the relatively passive and media-shy Van Halen had been happy to focus on the music while the irrepressible Roth did everything he could to steal headlines from his wunderkind guitarist. But into the early ’80s, Eddie Van Halen had quietly shored up his interests, both publicly (by working with outside parties like Michael Jackson and Queen guitarist Brian May) and privately (by building a home studio) — setting the stage for a looming battle for the band’s very soul.
But not before the fractious duo, along with Michael Anthony and Alex Van Halen, had managed to create another commercial triumph with ‘1984.’ Large chunks of the project were recorded at Eddie’s new 5150 Studio and (more importantly) on the guitarist’s terms — not Roth’s, Templeman’s or anyone else’s. No one could argue with the results, as ‘1984’ enjoyed multi-platinum sales not seen since Van Halen’s watershed debut six years earlier, even while delivering the band’s first No. 1 hit: the surprisingly keyboard-driven ‘Jump.’
A second synth-slathered single, ‘I’ll Wait,’ followed, but ’1984′ boasted also an embarrassment of hard-rock riches, ranging from the anthem-sized ‘Panama’ and the MTV smash ‘Hot for Teacher’ to solid album cuts like the seductive ‘Drop Dead Legs’ and full-tilt frantic ‘Top Jimmy.’
Fans were primed and ready by the time Van Halen hit the road on Jan. 18 for what would prove to be a grueling, six-month marathon across North America, followed by another few months of dates around the globe. But was the band ready? Seemingly no, as long-festering tensions continued even as the media blitz surrounding both the tour and album tried to focus on the good times.
Whenever he wasn’t singing that year, Roth seemed to be mouthing off in the press, taking potshots at everything from Duran Duran to foreign policy. His bandmates grew increasingly alienated and uncomfortable with his antics — particularly Eddie, who had discovered some measure of stability with actress and wife Valerie Bertinelli. Their lives, it seemed, were moving in opposite directions.
“I’d stay up until 6 in the hotel room writing, [and] Roth would bang on everybody’s door at 8, 9 in the morning to get us to go roller skating or jogging,” Eddie Van Halen later told Rolling Stone. “I’m going, ‘F— you, man, I just got to sleep,’ and he would be saying, ‘Well, man, you live wrong.’” For his part, Roth simply shrugged it off by admitting that “there was always tension between me and Edward … but then there’s always tension with me and everyone!”
Just as Van Halen’s year-long, globetrotting tour was wrapping up in September 1984, ‘Jump’ won top honors at the MTV Video Music Award. The network’s Lost Weekend With Van Halen contest had drawn more than a million entries earlier in the year. And then Roth started talking about recording a solo album.
Within months, he’d released an EP of vintage cover tunes, ‘Crazy From the Heat,’ and, despite initially toeing the company line in most interviews, he became increasingly unavailable to his bandmates. Meanwhile, they were already working on new material, and considering a live album and other possible next steps. Before long, the dissenting opinions and war of words snowballed, setting in motion the rest of the band’s break with Roth the following year.