35 Years Ago: ‘Stand Up’ Signals David Lee Roth’s Decline
David Lee Roth was riding high at the beginning of 1988 — but his descent back to Earth began with the underperforming "Stand Up," released as a single that April.
The former Van Halen frontman had released his sophomore solo album Skyscraper in January 1988. True to its name, the LP climbed to No. 6 on the Billboard 200 and went platinum, propelled by the Top 10 lead single "Just Like Paradise."
But not everybody appreciated the sonic left turn of Skyscraper, which found Roth abandoning his bread-and-butter hard rock of 1986's Eat 'Em and Smile in favor of keyboard-heavy pop-rock, lounge-lizard camp and eclectic experimentation. After the funky dance-rocker "Stand Up" stalled at No. 64 on the Hot 100 — Roth's last solo song to hit the chart — Skyscraper became seen as the moment when the singer's career began a decline from which it would never recover.
It was the culmination of one of rock's most famous divorce stories. After splitting with Van Halen in 1985, Roth put together an all-star backing band comprising guitarist Steve Vai, bassist Billy Sheehan and drummer Gregg Bissonette for Eat 'Em and Smile. The raunchy, tongue-in-cheek romp was well-received by fans and critics, hitting the Top 10 and going platinum, and it gave Roth some bragging rights over his old mates in Van Halen, who had released the blander (but better-selling) 5150 around the same time.
Two years later came Skyscraper and — after the glow of "Just Like Paradise" wore off and the video for "Stand Up" hit MTV rotation — the turbulence. Sheehan and Vai both exited Roth's band shortly after the album's release, reportedly dissatisfied with his new musical direction. The accepted view became that Roth was an egomaniacal control freak who didn't know what to do with his own career.
"It was really fulfilling to be in Dave Roth's band all those years," Vai told Classic Rock in 2022. "But I had the right amount of it."
Watch David Lee Roth's 'Stand Up' Video
Over the years, Skyscraper has enjoyed a positive reappraisal among some fans, and Vai looked back fondly on co-producing the LP with Roth. "Dave and I were enjoying working together so much that we created our own little production team," he said. "We just started chipping away at it and we said, 'Let's just continue the way we're going and see what we come up with.'"
Vai also took some responsibility for the sound of Skyscraper, which was less aggressive than the Ted Templeman-produced Eat 'Em and Smile. "Dave and I were just really forensic," he told EonMusic, "because it was his first production outing, and he's got great ears and all — but we probably lacked being producers that made rock and roll records as a career."
Sheehan also had kind words for his former boss. In a 2022 interview with Talk Louder (via Blabbermouth), the bassist called working with Roth "like getting a PhD in Show Biz 101 — he knew it inside and out." Although Sheehan "didn't like the results" of Skyscraper personally, he admitted that "it takes a lot of courage to make that kind of a turn. I give him credit for the courage."
To contemporary ears, "Stand Up" certainly doesn't sound like the '70s hard rock that birthed Van Halen, or the '80s metal scene that ran parallel to Eat 'Em and Smile. Instead, it's closer to straight-ahead '80s pop, performed by first-rate musicians, in the same way that Michael Jackson was once backed by guitar virtuoso Jennifer Batten.
Roth explained his musical motivations clearly in interviews from the time. "You have to have an impenetrable spirit," he told MuchMusic's Steve Anthony in 1988. "You can't question — I never do — about whether it's going to be a popular or a successful thing, as long as I'm doing it true to my spirit in terms of: Is this the way I really wanted it to sound? Is this what we really like? Is this what we really believe here?"
Vai echoed this sentiment decades later. "You get a guy like Dave Roth, and he's done so much in one way and, he wanted to try something different," the guitarist told Classic Rock. "That's the artist's creative prerogative."