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.
"Eruption"From 'Van Halen' (1978)
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.
"Romeo Delight"From 'Woman and Children First' (1980)
The unbelievably fast (even by Eddie Van Halen's standards) opening riff is the first thing you notice about this onetime concert opener. But "Romeo Delight" earns a place on our Top 10 Van Halen Songs list by being one of the best examples of the band's use of dynamics. In the verses – brief as they are – David Lee Roth ably carries the momentum of the chorus riff, while Eddie builds tension with volume swells and other tricks. After the solo, the two bring everything down to a sultry simmer for the fantastic "feel my heartbeat" section and then let it all gloriously boil over again for the climax.
"On Fire"From 'Van Halen' (1978)
If the first 10 songs on their incredible debut album didn't make it clear enough that the world of guitar rock was changed forever, Van Halen drive the point home on the album's closing number. It's basically an extremely souped-up bastard child of Rick Derringer's classic "Rock and Roll, Hoochie Coo," with Eddie stacking a dizzying number of riffs and licks together at all sorts of odd, fantastic angles.
"Little Guitars"From 'Diver Down' (1982)
Together with the disarmingly serene "Secrets," this sweet, romantic track from Van Halen's most overlooked studio album hints at the alternative future that might have been had David Lee Roth not left the band in the mid '80s. Eddie Van Halen's musical ideas were clearly getting more sophisticated and pop-friendly and less reliant on hard-rock riffs. Maybe Diamond Dave couldn't have found his way around straight-ahead ballads like "When It's Love" as well as Sammy Hagar did, but a song like "Little Guitars" indicates that there would have been a happy middle ground.
"Panama"From '1984' (1984)
"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.
"Dance the Night Away"From 'Van Halen II' (1979)
"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. A strong pop chorus and loose rhythmic feel gave the song mainstream radio appeal. It also 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 was as strong a rhythm player as he was a soloist, but also contributed an unusual solo consisting of arpeggiated harmonics.
"Unchained"From 'Fair Warning' (1981)
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'."
"Hot for Teacher"From '1984' (1984)
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."
"Runnin' With the Devil"From 'Van Halen' (1978)
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."
"Everybody Wants Some!!"From 'Women and Children First' (1980)
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.