The Best American Band: Van Halen

Van Halen

Van Halen

Ah, Van Halen. The heavy metal, power guitar chords. The guitar stud and the strutting lead singer. The songs about sex, and sex, and sex. The personality conflicts and break-ups. The hair! Van Halen helped to define both the sound and the look of the ’80s American heavy metal band. Is there any doubt that This Is Spinal Tap made more than a nod or two in the direction of Van Halen, circa 1984?

Still, the now somewhat stereotypical nature of the Van Halen act shouldn’t detract from the classic nature of the Van Halen music. Eddie Van Halen was an exceptionally good, creative guitarist, and the rhythm section kept the beat moving. I was less impressed with David Lee Roth — his squawks and squeals wore thin on me, which is why I wasn’t heartbroken when he left the band and was replaced by Sammy Hagar — but the band unquestionably produced some classic, definitive rock ‘n’ roll. Their songs focused with laser-like precision on the musical tastes and sensibilities of adolescent males, with heavy and catchy guitar riffs and lyrics about sex and girls and ne’er-do-wells, usually with a dose of humor added. Songs like Hot for Teacher, Black and Blue, Beautiful Girls and Finish What Ya Started can trace their roots back to the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll and songs like Chuck Berry’s Maybelline and Reelin’ and Rockin’.

Van Halen is well represented on the Ipod, which includes Eruption, Finish What Ya Started, Jump, Panama, Hot for Teacher, Black and Blue, Beautiful Girls, Best of Both Worlds, Runnin’ With the Devil, and Everybody Wants Some, among others. Any band that can produce that body of work, and at the same time help to create an entire genre of music, merits serious consideration.

Edited to add: Time to Vote for your choice for Best American Band!