Monday, October 10, 2011

Music Video Monday: David Lee Roth

In honour of David Lee Roth's 57th birthday (!!), I have selected my favourite song that he recorded, "Just Like Paradise" (an awesome hit song and video from the summer of 1988). David Lee Roth gained fame as the flamboyant lead singer of the hard rock Southern California band, Van Halen. Back in 1984, when I was starting Junior High School in Bellevue, Nebraska, all the boys were into heavy metal / hard rock and the girls were into pop music. My tastes ran towards the pop music side and a lot of the heavy metal bands actually "scared" me. There was much talk about whether many of these bands supported Satanism or encouraged it among fans. I stayed away from most of it, but there were two hard rock ("hair metal bands" as some call it) groups that I found decent (non-offensive): Van Halen and Def Leppard.

Of course, that was the year that Van Halen hit the stratosphere with their hit album 1984, which produced the #1 single, "Jump" (actually my choice for "Best Song of the Year" in 1984) and another cool song, "I'll Wait." I didn't like "Panama" very much and the only thing I liked about "Hot For the Teacher" was the video (quite popular on MTV at the time). "Jump" is such a great song. Even now, I never get tired of listening to it. After all these years, it still remains as my favourite Van Halen song, even though they've had so many that have come close.

Van Halen formed in the 1970s with brothers Eddie and Alex Van Halen forming half the group. Their performances around Pasadena brought them into contact with David Lee Roth, who was in another band, and Mike Anthony, who was in another band. They asked Roth to be the lead singer, since Eddie Van Halen was not really a lead singer and was more of a brilliant guitarist. They released their first album in 1978 and released one per year between 1978 and 1982. 1984 was their sixth album and released in the appropriate year. It was also the one that put them at the top of the hard rock / heavy metal heap. At the height of such success, the band could no longer tolerate David Lee Roth's off stage antics. In 1985, he released a solo EP of four songs, in which two songs became hits on the radio and on MTV: "California Girls" and "I'm Just a Gigolo / I Ain't Got Nobody." I love both songs and the videos really show what an extraordinary show-man David Lee Roth was. His "I'm Just a Gigolo" was such a hit on the radio in 1985 that I remember my family visiting the family of a guy that my dad served in Thailand with during the Vietnam War. Their young son (who must have been between 6 and 8 years old, while I was 13) was singing "I'm Just a Gigolo" and his mother (from the Philippines, I think) was horrified. She asked him to stop and said, "Do you know what gigolo means?" He said, "No." She replied, "Its a man for sale!" We laughed at that.

In the summer of 1986 came the show down between David Lee Roth and his former band, which had hired Sammy Hagar as their lead singer. Roth released the single "Yankee Rose" from his full length album, Eat 'Em And Smile (I had bought that album and hated it, aside from "Yankee Rose" and "Tobacco Road"). Van Halen won that round. Their 5150 album produced three great singles: "Why Can't This Be Love?", "Dreams", and "Love Walks In." In fact, I think Sammy Hagar was a better fit for the band and he certainly has the better voice. Their "new" sound was incredible and continued in 1988 when they released OU812, with the awesome single (my second favourite by the band) "When It's Love." Also in 1988, David Lee Roth released his Skyscraper album, which produced its solo hit, "Just Like Paradise." OU812 is actually my favourite Van Halen album. I love "When It's Love," along with "Mine All Mine", "Cabo Wabo", "A.F.U. (Naturally Wired)", and "Feels So Good."

In the debate between which lead singer was better, I think its hard to compare, because David Lee Roth helped Van Halen rise to great heights as a hard rock band (they were true pioneers in the music industry), which culminated with the brilliant "Jump" single, while Sammy Hagar helped sustain the band with some great pop hits. It's almost two different bands, because the sound between the two leads are different. If Van Halen did a come-back album, though, I'd prefer it with Sammy Hagar instead of David Lee Roth, though that's not going to happen if Hagar's recent autobiography is true. It sounds like Eddie Van Halen is in mental illness territory, which is a shame.

As for Roth's solo career, he knows how to find great singles, but his albums are mostly filler. In the Wikipedia entry on the band Van Halen, it was interesting to read that band members had criticized Roth for bringing to the band more "pop" flavoured remakes: "Oh Pretty Woman", "Dancing in the Street", and "You Really Got Me." Roth had a flair for the theatrics and I actually love Van Halen's version of "Dancing in the Street" (even if the brothers Van Halen actually hate it).

Happy Birthday, David Lee Roth! If you really want to show up your old band, why not make a brilliant album of your own? You probably have a better chance to than Van Halen does right now. Give us more songs like "Just Like Paradise"!

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