Few bands have left behind a legacy as rocking and memorable as Van Valen. In fact, calling Van Halen a rock band would be an understatement. They were THE rock band of the 70s and 80s.
The group was driven by their lead guitarist Eddie Van Halen, who inspired thousands of kids to pick up their very first guitar. He was accompanied by his brother Alex Van Halen on the drums, and lead singer Eddie Van Halen. The band underwent numerous lineup changes over the years, but Eddie remained a constant part of the group up until his death in 2020.
Today we will be examining the band’s legacy by picking the 15 best Van Halen songs. So let’s get rocking!
15. In a Simple Rhyme
In a Simple Rhyme is the closing track off the band’s 1980 album Women and Children First. The song feels like three or four tracks stitched together and has the vibe of a rock opera. The track notably features a 15-second stomp section that turns up the energy.
In a Simple Rhyme was originally planned to lead into the opening of the band’s next album. However, that did not pan out as planned.
Panama is the third track off 1984 and features one of the band’s strongest riffs. The track propels through its verse section before launching off into an epic chorus that leaves listeners wowed. Singer David Lee Roth stated that he wrote the song about a race car called “Panama Express” he saw in Las Vegas in the 80s.
13. Everybody Wants Some
Everybody Wants Some is the second track off Women and Children First. It was one of the band’s early hits and became a staple in their live performances. The track features a barrage of different tones and melodies, with Eddie showing off his guitar skills at every available opportunity. It is also notable for jungle-themed drums, which drew comparisons to the Tarzan theme.
12. I’m the One
I’m the One is the fifth track off the band’s 1978 debut album Van Halen. It is led by vocalist David Lee Roth and is considered one of the best introductions to the band’s heavy music. It features a brutal drum and bass rush, with the drummer utilizing his double-kick pedal to its full capacity. The guitars also feature a unique blend of jazz, rock, and pop music styles.
11. Romeo Delight
Romeo Delight is the fourth track off Women and Children First. This track is a riff-heavy jam that’s just plain fun. It’s electric guitar blasts off with the volume turned up to 11 and gets your heart racing fast. This track is also notable for setting the stage for the band’s later tracks with heavy lyrical imagery. Romeo Delight is also one of the most popular Van Halen tracks in the video game “Guitar Hero”.
5150 is the second-last track off the 1986 album with the same name. The song pays tribute to Eddie Van Halen’s studio, which was also named 5150. The track is led by vocalist Sammy Hagar, who sings about taking the plunge and falling in love. The instrumental is played exceptionally well and chugs along with a funky vibe. Hagar takes the track to the next level with a mindblowing vocal performance in the chorus.
9. Black and Blue
Black and Blue is the second-land track of the band’s 1988 album OU812. This track peaked at #1 on the Billboard Rock Tracks Chart in the 80s, and it’s easy to see why. The track’s seductive riff gets in your head and never leaves! It is rumored that a New Hampshire high school staff member named Pamela Smart seduced a male student using the track and convinced him to murder her husband. This information glazes the track with an even more dangerous vibe.
8. Somebody Get Me a Doctor
Somebody Get Me a Doctor is the third track off the band’s 1978 album Van Halen II. Its lyrics were arranged by KISS singer Gene Simmons. Despite Simmons being straight-edge, the song talks about being high and experiencing the best damn feeling in the world. The instrumental is driven by an electrically-charged riff by Tony Iommi and a solo by Randy Rhoads. His track certainly gives listeners the best feeling in the world.
7. Little Guitars
Little Guitars is the ninth track off the band’s 1982 album Diver Down. The track is preceded by a 42-second intro that features Eddie playing a gorgeous acoustic flamenco section. This is followed by a rapid rhythm portion with a swift melody that skedaddles over the vocals. Eddie plays a special miniature guitar created by Nashville designer Dave Petschulat on this track. The lyrics are about vocalist Roth sweet-talking a beautiful senorita.
6. Get Up
Just about every Van Halen track makes you want to get up. However, Get Up certainly reminds listeners about this. The third track off 5150 is dense and filled to the brim with sounds, many of which seem disjointed. It radiates the manic energy of a lengthy rock track crammed into just a few seconds. This Eddie Van Halen dominated track also features a stellar vocal performance by Hagar.
5. Mean Street
Mean Street is the opening track off the band’s fourth album Fair Warning. This track might be one of the best openers in the band’s discography thanks to its hyperactive intro. New guitarists gravitate towards Mean Street primarily for this track. Early critics labelled this as a “metal” track, but it’s more akin to a blues-rock track on steroids.
4. On Fire
Many Van Halen tracks give off the feeling of listening to a guitar on fire. However, On Fire cements this mental image with its heavy metal guitars. The closing track on Van Halen references the earlier track Atomic Punk as Roth instructs listeners to throw their headphones on and get on with the show. This is followed by three minutes of guitar madness that leaves listeners reeling in the sonic residue of the album they just finished.
3. When It’s Love
When It’s Love is the second track off OU812. This power ballad opens with distinct keyboards that are ingrained in just about every listener’s memory. Hagar’s lyrics “How do I know when it’s love? / I can’t tell you, but it lasts forever.” was the soundtrack to many romances of the late 80s, and we don’t blame them. The track was also one of the band’s favorites to perform live, and a core part of their setlists for many years.
You already knew this song was going to be on our list. Jump may be the definitive Van Halen song. The second track from the band’s sixth album 1984 is driven by a six-chord keyboard arrangement and is downright flawless. This song is the epitome of cool, and was dedicated to American Martial artist Benny “The Jet” Urquidez.
Jump has also become a sporting anthem in many places, and was the intro theme song for the Chicago Cubs in TV broadcasts between 1984 and 1985. It is possibly THE song that defined the 80s.
Eruption needs no introduction. Even people who are wholly unfamiliar with the rock-genre have heard this song at some point. The second track off the band’s debut album cemented Eddie Van Halen as one of the greatest guitarists of all time with its face-melting virtuoso playing.
Every kid that picked up the guitar after 1978 has wanted to play this song at some point, but few were ever able to match the technical skill Eddie Van Halen displays on the track. It showed off the true power of the electric guitar and how the instrument could channel the spirit of rock through the airwaves.
Van Halen has no shortage of mindblowing tracks, so choosing our top ten wasn’t easy. Consider showing the above list to any of your family or friends that want an introduction to one of rock music’s most iconic bands.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.