Yesterday (January 9), Van Halen’s 1984 album turned 30 years old.
The album is only 33 unfussy minutes long, and despite the seeming political promise of the title there’s no connection with Orwell except for its release date. But the album is a fantastic example of pop-inflected “hard rock” — and by the latter quaint-sounding term I mean anything with a show-stopping and -offy guitar solo, and there’s one on almost every track — and 1984 goes further by adding show-offy synth. The album even begins with a keyboard instrumental, here functioning almost as a statement of purpose from Eddie Van Halen.
The pleasures are many: the drum solo that starts the big and dumb and awesome track “Hot for Teacher,” echoing the sound of stomping feet through a classroom hallway; the stuttering rhythms of “Girl Gone Bad,” a straight-up Led Zeppelin homage complete with Diamond Dave’s Plant wails; the ridiculous spoken noir section of “Panama” (“I can barely see the road…”).
But “Jump” is what everyone came here for, yeah? Featuring one of the most recognizable synth riffs in pop, “Jump” is on my short list of Greatest ’80s Songs Ever. I think it’s a perfect piece of pop songcraft, more so than “Sweet Child o’ Mine” or “Livin’ on a Prayer,” to name a couple other pop-rock songs that came after.
Legend (or maybe Wikipedia) has it that the lyrics to the chorus came to Roth after watching a TV news story about a man about to commit suicide from the top of a 33-story building. But the song itself is just the total opposite. The video, which for me in the Philippines was my first introduction to the band, made them look like they’re having an incredible goofball time just playing the song, not even counting what, or who, they must have been doing backstage. (Roth’s pouting and preening alone is hilarious.) If anything, “Jump” — with its exhorting lyrics, a soaring synth solo that’s actually longer than the guitar solo, the splits — is practically ecstatic.