Thursday, August 27, 2015

Unnecessary album analysis: Van Halen -- "Van Halen II"

Submitted for your approval:
  1. Every track on Van Halen's Van Halen II album is essentially a different band member soloing.
  2. Every track on said album kicks a large amount of ass.
We'll go through the album, track by track. In case you've misplaced your copy -- you own one, right? Obviously -- I'll include links to YouTube videos of said songs.

To refresh your memory...

Eddie Van Halen = guitars
Mike Anthony = bass
David Lee Roth = vocals
Alex Van Halen = drums

But, again, obviously, I don't need to remind you who's who. You're a living, breathing human being -- you surely know the members of the canonical Van Halen lineup.

Let's begin.

* * * * *

1. "You're No Good"

Featured band member: Dave

This song was more-famously covered by Linda Ronstadt (whose version is very credible indeed, although quite different). Mike starts off with a noodly, spacey, watery kind of solo, and naturally Eddie's fingers do a lot of the talkin'. But Dave sure does the singin' -- there are a lot of falsetto-y screams and squeals all over the place. The pace of the song is fairly lethargic, and Dave camps it up, as he is wont to do.

2. "Dance The Night Away"

Featured band member: Eddie

I'd say this is probably the most egalitarian of all the songs on the album, but Eddie gets the nod here. There's fret-tapping and harmonics all over the place, and they form the basis for the hook in the chorus. It's very melodic and lovely, not unlike, well, the rest of the song; their first album didn't really have a light, sing-along-y kind of song, and the record company probably wanted one for their second album. This was it.

3. "Somebody Get Me A Doctor"

Featured band member: Dave

Similar to "You're No Good," there's tons of squeals and yelps, and definitely a "woo-woo!" right before the solo. I almost gave this one to Eddie, but the solo really isn't that spectacular by his standards... but on the other hand, I'd like to see you try it, punk.

4. "Bottoms Up!"

Featured band member: Alex

It's subtle, but Alex gets the nod here. He swings like a m-f'er on this track -- his bass-drum kicks shuffle along just as well as anything Jeff Porcaro pulled off. Without the swing, this song would be boring as hell; the reason it catches your ear at all is because of that syncopation. The rest of us mere mortals would have our right foot falling off after about a verse and a chorus here, but since Alex is clearly superhuman, he makes it sound all too easy.

5. "Outta Love Again"

Featured band member: Alex

This is essentially an Alex drum solo with a song wrapped around it. I mean, just listen to this thing -- in the verses when most drummers lay low, he's rocking this beat which would make Neil Peart kick back and smile. Then there's the full stop, the cymbal clink and bass thump, and while Eddie solos, he and Alex are locked together tighter than you can imagine, in this little staccato kind of dance. That's quite a unique thing, rhythm and melody together like that; normally it's your bass and drums that hang out with each other. I guess being brothers kinda helped there.

6. "Light Up The Sky"

Featured band member: Mike

Finally, Mike gets to be front-and-centre in a song... and he doesn't disappoint at all. The bass is big and fat in the mix, and he nimbly plays with octaves and hammer-ons. If I could play bass half this well -- and I certainly can't -- I'd quit my day job. Eddie's solo takes over for a bit, as it often does, and then Alex has this layered sort of drum thing going on -- I wonder how they pulled this off live? -- before the song comes to a delightful conclusion. Mike, though... man, I bet he loved playing this one live.

7. "Spanish Fly"

Featured band member: Eddie

Producer Ted Templeman: "Hey Eddie, fuck-around on your acoustic for a bit and we'll turn the tape recorder on. I suggest 'Flamenco-meets-Beethoven'. Whadda ya think?"

Eddie Van Halen: (stubs-out cigarette) "You got it, Ted."

8. "D.O.A."

Featured band member: Eddie

Probably the most pedestrian of all the songs on this album, I find. I mean, it's not a bad song per se, and everybody does a nice job. I was almost going to give this to Mike, but the guitar just takes your attention a little more on this one. I mean, think about it: there's four guys in the band and one doesn't play an instrument, so they're essentially a power-trio and there's lots of room for the instruments to breathe. Alex's splashy hi-hats throughout this one fill up a lot of the sonic space, and yet everyone is clearly heard.

Y'know what, screw it, lemme give this song to Ted. That is one well-produced song, friend.

9. "Women In Love..."

Featured band member: Dave

This is as close to a ballad as they get. Thus, Dave takes the lead here -- he's aggressive sometimes, delicate at other; panties everywhere, get ready to hit the floor. Also, the three dots at the end of this song are indeed supposed to be there. I don't know why.

10. "Beautiful Girls"

Featured band member: Dave

There is a PARTY. And you are INVITED. And David Lee Roth is going to hand you a BEER at the DOOR and slap you on the BACK and tell you have a GOOD TIME, MAN, and the GIRLS are in the YARD by the POOL.

If you're of a certain vintage, you will no doubt recognize this as the song as the background to the Schmitt's Gay beer commercial from Saturday Night Live. The commercial featured Sandler, Farley and Spade, and it was funny as hell. ("If you have a thirst, and you're gay, reach for a bottle of Schmitt's Gay." Ah, Phil Hartman, we all miss ya.)

* * * * *

So, that's about it. I've actually had this idea rolling around in my head for about a decade. I'm glad I got it out.