I (Don’t) Hate That is a series where a Bearded Gentlemen Music writer presents one song to convince another writer to not hate a previously hated artist.
My entire life, listening to Van Halen has been torture. It’s nothing personal about the band. Call it a matter of differences in subjective taste. Everything Van Halen values in music, I don’t value. And everything I value in music, Van Halen doesn’t value.
Most emblematic of this difference in taste is our opinions on solos — specifically guitar solos. Van Halen loves them, but when I hear a guitar solo, my body reflexively lifts my hand up and down repeatedly, which is the hand gesture universally known as the “jerk off motion.” Economical solos are cool, and I’ll appreciate a solo or two as an exception to my guitar solo hate, but music where the main selling point is solos? I hate it.
On top of all of this, there’s a certain manufactured fakeness about their music — a cheesiness I can’t shake. I understand they’re technically proficient. It doesn’t escape me that their musical mastery should impress me, but it doesn’t.
What I can tolerate in a band like Mars Volta, I hate in Van Halen.
I’m well aware that if I like one, I should probably like the other. Yet, here we are. One sounds like art to me. The other sounds like fakey bullshit.
So your task is a big one. Give me a song that puts Van Halen in a different light. I don’t need to like them. I certainly don’t need to love them. Give me a song I simply don’t hate.
First off, I understand your sentiments about Van Halen. There’s a certain party element to their music that’s next to impossible to sell as art. I get it. However, I have a feeling your hatred for the band has more to do with the bands who came after Van Halen, trying to copy their signature appeal. When those ‘hair bands’ came on the scene, it was the worst of Van Halen cranked up to ten and the self-awareness dropped to zero.
Van Halen always knew their music was cheesy. It was on purpose! Sure there were all sorts of guitar wizardry the metal heads would’ve sold their souls to have, but at their core, Van Halen was a pop band. It was rock music for parties and having fun.
Beneath the hairspray, spandex, and general flamboyance, Van Halen was a group of talented people.
Eddie Van Halen changed the way people played guitar much like Hendrix or Page. His work was heavy and dirty, but not the least bit brooding. Van Halen’s original singer David Lee Roth was a walking cartoon but his lyrics were pretty creative. It’s more about how they chose to utilize their craft I think non-fans take issue with.
Finding a track to show Van Halen in a different light isn’t an easy task but there are a few steps that will make it easier.
- Ignore every track that doesn’t feature David Lee Roth as the singer.
- Skip any tracks that play up the self-aware Vaudevillian Roth schtick.
- Pick a song that has creative lyrics.
I also decided on something classic rock radio or sporting events have never played. It had to be something slightly darker and a bit more mature, without selling themselves out.
I chose “You and Your Blues” from Van Halen’s 2012 album A Different Kind Of Truth. Even to die-hard fans that may be a hot take. My thought process behind the selection was because with this album, Roth was on a restraint. It was the first full album with Roth in 30 years and the entire album was lead by Eddie’s then 20-year-old son Wolfgang. This gave the band a completely new edge.
Most surprisingly, “You and Your Blues” is NOT a party song.
The entire song is moody and ominous until the major-key pre-chorus. Lyric wise, each line in the verses vaguely references music from other popular guitarist/artists of the past in an extremely creative way you might overlook on first listen or without knowledge in rock music. On the outside, the song is about how some of the best music ever written is mostly about a guy pining over a girl. Telling that story while referencing other lyrics may be a tall order. Even more so while maintaining Van Halen’s signature sound. But it works perfectly.
With lyrics and vocals (complete with Wolfgang’s stellar backup vocals) the guitar takes a slight backseat.
Even the solo is subdued by Eddie’s standards. Is it Van Halen’s best song on their best album? Not by a long shot. But it is a track you’ve never heard and most importantly showcases subtle creativity not found in their pre-1984 singles I think you would appreciate. I doubt it will make you listen to more Van Halen tracks much less become a fan, but maybe it will help you understand than Van Halen is far better than the artists who tried to rip them off.
I’m a firm believer in the fact singles shouldn’t define an artists output. Of course, most Van Halen albums are made up of would-be singles, but there’s always sidequests of true artistry. “You and Your Blues” is one of a few of those within their career.
I… still hate Van Halen. BUT I… don’t hate them as much?
Honestly, I would have hated them just as much if you only gave me the song with no explanation. This guy over here will never stop hating Van Halen, it seems. Their music is not for me. Like, at all. On any level. Not even a little.
However, your explanation of what makes them interesting gave me something specific to listen to, and on an objective level, I think I understand the more technical reasons as to why anyone would possibly listen to a band as terrible as Van Halen. Even when it’s not party music, it still sounds like horrible, shallow fluff to me, but I can appreciate their proficiency as musicians more. Also, just knowing they’re in on the joke makes me like them more — even if I still hate them.