Top 10 Van Halen Songs
There’s never been a better straight-up, good-time rock and roll band than the original Van Halen. The group’s best songs struck a perfect balance between the wink-nudge lyricism and flamboyant, hyper-masculine persona of frontman David Lee Roth and the serious, groundbreaking musicianship of guitarist Eddie Van Halen. Not only were the band members great musicians and performers, they were also better songwriters than most of their hard rock contemporaries, capable of producing material that married a strong sense of songcraft with radio-friendly arrangements. The balance between Roth’s bravado and Eddie Van Halen’s musical invention is evident in nearly all of the group’s best tracks — as you’ll see in our list of the Top 10 Van Halen Songs.
Eddie Van Halen re-invented modern rock guitar playing with this instrumental track from Van Halen's debut album. 'Eruption' introduced many of Van Halen's musical innovations, including two-handed tapping, rapid flutter picking, whammy bar tricks and the guitarist's use of both harmonics and audio effects. 'Eruption' popularized tapping almost overnight, spawning a decade-long rash of hair metal imitators and landing in our list of the Top 10 Van Halen Songs.
'Ice Cream Man'
Originally written and recorded by blues musician John Brim, 'Ice Cream Man' was a perfect candidate for the Van Halen treatment, with a suggestive lyric promising "all my flavors are guaranteed to satisfy" that could have come from Roth's own pen. Roth displayed the legitimate blues side of his voice and also played the acoustic guitar parts on the recording, while Eddie Van Halen used the track as an excuse for a come-from-out-of-nowhere, deliriously over-the-top guitar solo that dominated the entire latter half of the song.
'Hot for Teacher'
Van Halen fueled many a schoolboy fantasy with 'Hot for Teacher.' The video for the song featured a hot bikini model as the teacher in a classroom full of adolescent boys -- which, strangely, some groups found offensive and tried to ban. Musically the song is furiously uptempo and features some of Alex Van Halen's greatest drumming, along with a crazy riff and solos from Eddie Van Halen. You have to love a song with lyrics like "I think of all the education that I've missed / But then my homework was never quite like this."
'Dance the Night Away'
'Dance the Night Away' was Van Halen's first Top 20 hit, reaching No. 15 in the U.S. on the strength of its crossover success. Its strong pop chorus and loose rhythmic feel had mainstream radio appeal. The track featured one of Michael Anthony's coolest bass lines, and his backing vocal was also an important element. Eddie Van Halen used the track to demonstrate that he's as strong a rhythm player as he is a soloist, but also contributed an unusual solo consisting of arpeggiated harmonics.
'Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love'
Van Halen went a little bit darker with 'Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love,' which is closer to the lyrical sensibilities of early metal than many of their other songs."I been to the edge / And there I stood and looked down / You know I lost a lot of friends there / I got no time to mess around." Musically the track, which lands at No. 6 on our list of the top Van Halen songs, centers around an awesomely heavy guitar riff so iconic that is has been covered or sampled by artists as diverse as Pearl Jam, Tone Loc and 2 Live Crew.
'Fair Warning' was a definite turn in a darker direction for Van Halen, and 'Unchained' reflected that, with an urgent, urban feel that seemed to conjure up images of the inner city. Eddie Van Halen's guitar riff used a dropped tuning, unusual chord voicings and heavy flanging to underscore Roth's equally gritty lyric: "Change, nothing stays the same / Unchained, and ya hit the ground runnin'."
'Panama' is another in a long line of great rock songs about cars that are really somewhat ambiguous sexual references. Its classic video shows the band members mostly goofing around and flying through the air on cables, but there's nothing un-serious about the track, which is among the heaviest from that period of the band's career. Eddie Van Halen contributed not only the song's supercharged riff and solo, but also his Lamborghini, which can be heard revving up during the song's bridge.
'Runnin' With the Devil'
One of the very heaviest songs Van Halen ever recorded, 'Runnin' With the Devil' kicked off the group's first album with all the subtlety of a fist upside the head. Highlighted by a sledgehammer bass/drum/guitar onslaught and Roth's inhuman screams, the track also proved that Eddie Van Halen didn't have to play fast to play well. The lyric is pure Roth braggadocio: "I live my life like there's no tomorrow / And all I've got I had to steal / Least I don't need to beg or borrow / Yes I'm living at a pace that kills / Runnin' with the devil."
Van Halen scored their only No. 1 single with 'Jump,' a song that was contentious within the band. David Lee Roth resisted the addition of synthesizers to Van Halen's musical palette, which Eddie Van Halen insisted on. Roth claimed in his autobiography that he wrote the lyrics after seeing a man who was waffling about whether or not to leap to his death from a building. The song, No. 2 on our top Van Halen songs list, heralded a change for Van Halen, who would continue to focus on more synth-oriented radio material on subsequent albums.
'Everybody Wants Some!!'
The No. 1 spot on the Top 10 Van Halen Songs has to be a heavy guitar-driven track, and it has to be about what Van Halen knows best -- which is why the awesomely unapologetic sex celebration 'Everybody Wants Some!!' easily gets the nod. The track's unique "jungle" bass and drum rhythm, along with a grab bag of guitar tricks and classic Roth schtick, also earned it the No. 8 spot in our Top 100 Classic Rock Songs. Let's face it, you can't not love this song after seeing it immortalized in claymation in 'Better Off Dead.'