If you, like me, haven’t been able to stop cranking Van Halen since the news broke on Tuesday that Eddie had passed away, you’ve likely re-familiarized yourself with some lesser known corners of the band’s catalogue you’d long since forgotten about. It’s incredible, really, how strong the band’s body of work is from start to finish, but while everyone knows the hits, there are a ton of sleeper classics tucked away in them there hills that are often overshadowed by the singalong anthems.
With that in mind, here are ten of my favorite underrated VH jams I’ve rediscovered in the fallout from Eddie’s death (silver lining, I guess!).
“Girl Gone Bad” (1984, 1984)
1984 is, in my humble opinion, the band’s most complete album: there’s not a single dud or less-than-memorable song of the whole bunch. But of all the songs that didn’t end up as singles, it’s the Side-B jammer “Girl Gone Bad” that stands out most. Something about it just oozes filth and grit, and Eddie’s performance is a lesson in fluidity, showcasing that he rarely played just rhythm or just lead — it was everything all at the same time.
“5150” (5150, 1986)
Sammy Hagar’s addition to the band heralded a new era of power ballads and dreamy soundscapes, and on 5150, his debut, “Why Can’t This Be Love” and “Dreams,” its biggest hits, alienated some fans of the band’s hard-rocking past. But the title track, at nearly six minutes long, features some of EVH’s most nuanced, delicate guitar work to date, wrapped up in what was, all things considered, a rocker. It’s quite a song.
“Happy Trails” (Diver Down, 1982)
Ever wondered where David Lee Roth’s head was during his final years in the band? This song right here, an a cappella cover of Roy Rogers and wife Dale Evans‘ 1952 classic, foreshadowed where DLR would take his solo material after quitting VH. Bozedy bozedy bop, anyone?
“Feelin’” (Balance, 1995)
There’s a case to be made for Balance as the single most underrated album in all of Van Halen’s discography, and this track encapsulates that sentiment as well as any other. The six-and-a-half-minute album closer is one of the most expansive songs in the band’s entire catalogue, an adventure in composition too out there for radio that showed what the band could do if they were allowed to spread out.
“Me Wise Magic” (Best of Volume 1, 1996)
One of two new songs to spring from a brief reunion with David Lee Roth that accompanied Van Halen’s 1996 best-of compilation, “Me Wise Magic” combined DLR’s trademark… well, DLRisms… with the airier guitar sound Eddie Van Halen had been developing since the original singer left. It just felt right, and the song was catchy as hell, too; it was a treat for VH fans when it came out.
“Without You” (Van Halen III, 1998)
Gary Cherone’s lone album with Van Halen was… well, it wasn’t good. But that wasn’t his fault, the source material weak on delivery, with one exception: “Without You,” the album’s first single. It’s not clear whether Eddie was attempting to write in a style that would fit Cherone — if so, it didn’t work — but on this one track the combo hit it off.
“Stay Frosty” (A Different Kind of Truth, 2012)
On an album that was largely constructed of song ideas left over from the band’s heyday, no track more encapsulated the happy-go-lucky vibes of Van Halen’s early years than “Stay Frosty,” a blues ditty that sees DLR and EVH both doing what they do best to deleterious, magical effect. This one could easily slot in with the band’s fun times early material, all smiles.
“Ice Cream Man” (Van Halen, 1978)
I’m not sure if it’s fair to call this one underrated as it’s long been a fan favorite, but since it’s not a track that’s blared at sports stadiums or taking up permanent residence on classic rock radio playlists, I’m calling a mulligan. Take what I said above about “Stay Frosty” — a track that very obviously pays tribute to this one — multiply it by ten, and you’ve got “Ice Cream Man.” Keep it cold, friends.
“Amsterdam” (Balance, 1995)
Featuring as meaty a riff as any Eddie ever pumped out, “Amsterdam” just plain goes hard, from its intro through to the chorus, Alex grooving those 1/8th notes all the way through. Another fine EVH performance that seamlessly combines rhythms and leads like few players could, before or since.
“Spanked” (For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, 1991)
Did the VH boys tune down here, or is Eddie simply utilizing some kind of pitch-shifter? I’m not sure, but the result is another deceptively heavy riff, brought together by Sammy’s penchant for hooky-as-hell choruses.