Friday, January 10, 2014

Friday 80s Flashback for January 10, 2014

[Happy 30th Birthday, "1984"] -- Can you believe it? 30 years ago this week -- on January 9, 1984, to be exact -- Van Halen released their sixth studio album, 1984. This is a seminal album for several reasons. For one, it was the first VH record that really pushed the use of synthesizers/keyboards. The band had been using synths since Women and Children First (1980). However, on those previous albums, the synths had been simply layered into the sound, adding texture. On 1984, the synths were pushed front and center, particularly on the first single. Second, this album generated the band's first and only #1 Billboard hit and it definitely fueled their crossover into pop (their next four albums all debuted at #1). And, third, this record marked the end of Van Halen's original lineup. Due to internal tensions -- particularly between guitarist/keyboardist Eddie Van Halen and vocalist David Lee Roth, and other issues depending on whom was asked -- Diamond Dave would split from the band after the tour and releasing his own solo album. Roth has rejoined Van Halen on three occasions, the most recent being in 2011 for A Different Kind of Truth (albeit with Eddie's son on bass rather than original bassist Michael Anthony).

This week, we'll revisit a few songs from 1984. If you are curious about a track-by-track review, check out Gary Graff's piece on Billboard. If you want to see what three tracks I picked, you can read and hear more after the break.

Flashback #1"Can't you see me standing here | I got my back against the record machine."

"Jump" was the first single off Van Halen's sixth studio album, 1984, and it represents a marriage of two popular genres of 80s music: synth-pop and arena-metal. As such, it is Van Halen's most recognized and popular song. To date, it is also the only Van Halen single to reach the #1 position on the US Billboard Hot 100. But this success was not without a price. The new direction only heightened the tension that already existed between guitarist Eddie Van Halen and vocalist David Lee Roth. Eddie's flirtation with keyboards had previously been a sore point for Roth, who pretty much told Eddie, "You're a guitar hero, man. No one wants to see your ass playing keyboards!" (I don't have a precise reference or the exact quote; I just remember reading about it in a magazine, most likely Circus or Rolling Stone). At any rate, the synthesizer-laden 1984 was a breaking point for the original lineup of Van Halen, and David Lee Roth left the band, later to be replaced by Sammy Hagar. To this day, there are two groups of Van Halen fans who are deeply divided along the Sammy and Dave line. If you ask me, I enjoy both incarnations of the band. But I also have to tell you that I completely wore out a cassette of 1984. Twice.

Flashback #2"I wrote a letter and told her these words | that meant a lot to me."

"I'll Wait" was the seventh track (or the second song on side B of the album) and the album's second single. It reached #13 on the Billboard Hot 100. "I'll Wait" makes even heavier use of synthesizers than "Jump," bringing in a synthesized bass line. But it is far from 80s dance pop -- Alex Van Halen's drums and Eddie's guitar anchor the track solidly in rock. It isn't nearly as fun or lively as "Jump," but it has a shimmer all its own.

Flashback #3"Got the feel for the wheel, keep the movin' parts clean."

Our final flashback of the day proves that Van Halen may have pushed the boundaries of their sound with more synths, but they had not gone soft. "Panama" was the third track on 1984, and it was as anthemic and pounding a rock song as the band had recorded up to that point. The pedal to the metal pulse of "Panama" paired well with the subject matter, or the pair of subjects as the case may be: The song is about a car and a hooker, or a car and a stripper. Or, maybe it's not about a car at all. It all depends on what interview you follow. I've also seen a magazine article that claimed "Panama" was the name of Diamond Dave's car (seems like whoever edited the Wikipedia entry remembers that same article, but, like me, has a similar problem remembering the source). Does it really matter what the song means when it is so toe-tapping fun to play? 

Once again, I remind you that the rule of three applies when doing Flashbacks. As I've made my three offerings, that's all till next week. Dedicated 80s-philes can find more flashbacks in the archives. As always, your comments are welcome on today's, or any other, flashback post. And if you like what I'm doing here, please share the link with your friends. If, however, you don't like the flashback, feel free to share it with your enemies.

And if you are on Twitter, and feel so inclined, please +K my influence in Music on @klout.

I'll see you in seven!

No comments: