1984 – Van Halen (1984)

Van Halen - 1984 album cover

Peak position: #2


  • “Jump” (No. 1)
  • “I’ll Wait” ( No. 13)
  • “Panama” (No. 13)
  • “Hot for Teacher” (No. 56)

When the year 1984 came, the world suddenly found itself in the future. The year George Orwell’s dystopian novel took place was finally upon us, and the music seemed futuristic as well; groups like A Flock of Seagulls and the Human League were using synthesizers in their music, and rock was taking a decidedly pop turn with the British Invasion hitting American shores.

The hard rock group Van Halen, known for founder Eddie Van Halen’s ripping guitar solos, decided to embrace this future along with everyone else; after Diver Down, the band’s hard-hitting album of mostly cover tunes, was cooly received by critics, Eddie Van Halen decided it was time to turn to original material and give it a decidedly pop sound. He and his bandmates retreated to Eddie’s newly built home studio, 5150, and created what would become one of the year’s biggest albums.

1984: Van Halen evolves

The aptly-titled 1984 is a turning point for Van Halen; it’s the album that signaled a transition from classic hard rock to album-oriented rock and even pop music. Eddie’s signature guitar can’t be heard until a full two minutes into the album. The title track opens the album, and it’s all synthesizers, a dream-like overture that sets a mystical mood. Synthesizers are also the driving force behind the band’s monster smash, “Jump,” which stayed at No. 1 for five weeks. The opening chords are legendary now; Alex Van Halen pushes the song along at a steady tempo, and lead singer David Lee Roth gets to deliver his signature yells and yelps. The bridge is surprisingly complex, with innovative chord changes that build anticipation until Eddie’s synthesizer brings us back to the beginning.

“I’ll Wait,” an angry, cymbal-heavy single written with yacht-rocker Michael McDonald, features mostly synths as well. “Drop Dead Legs” features some AC/DC-like riffs and rocks more than most of the songs on the album, even with a sing-along chorus.

But classic Van Halen fans will not be disappointed. The driving sounds of “Panama” and “Hot for Teacher” are more than satisfying, as Roth’s simple lyrics give them a casual, almost comical sound. Eddie’s advanced guitar acrobatics are better than ever, and his brother Alex propels many tracks with frenetic drum beats.

What keeps 1984 from being a truly great album is the lack of musical ideas. Aside from the catchy keyboard riff of “Jump” and the choruses to “Panama” and “I’ll Wait,” the songs are two-dimensional, focusing only on Eddie’s guitar playing and Roth’s annoying midwestern accent. “Top Jimmy” begins with some acrobatic fingering from Eddie but devolves into a sophomoric novelty song.

1984 was a transition in other ways. It was the last album with the classic VH lineup, as Roth quit a year later, replaced by Sammy Hagar. The band’s next album, 5150, would continue the band down the rock/pop path and propel them to superstardom. In that way, the year 1984 was more of an artifact, as the band had many surprises up its sleeve on subsequent albums.

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