Van Halen Leadoff Singles, 1978-2012

Van Halen – You Really Got Me
Even without the jaw dropping cadenza that precedes it on the album (“Eruption”), Van Halen’s take on The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” was a no-brainer pick for the single to introduce the band to the world. Drawing on the essence of the band; from the hard rock meets pop vocal harmonies, to the blistering guitar work, it set the bar for VH’s future lead-off singles incredibly high. This is the sound that sent thousands of guitar players back to the drawing board. –Michael Parr

Van Halen II – Dance the Night Away
I’ve long conjectured that the VH is, essentially, a pop group with a monster guitar player. One need look no further than the first single from the band’s second record for proof of this. “Dance the Night Away” is a perfect pop song: long on the hook, rife with sing-along vocals —again highlighting Michael Anthony’s real contribution to the band— and all under three minutes and ten seconds. Hell, they even eschew the big guitar solo for an equally impressive breakdown featuring Eddie’s signature tapped harmonics. — MP

Women and Children First – And the Cradle Will Rock…
Hey, you got keyboards in my Van Halen! Not to worry, “And the Cradle Will Rock…” still delivers all the crunch and panache you would expect. Eddie, in one of the first signs of his burgeoning interest in instruments other than guitar, added a subtle touch of Wurlitzer electric piano with a heavy dose of distortion. But despite the experimentation, coupled with another vintage Eddie solo and some of Diamond Dave’s best lyrics, this is comparatively the weakest single of the first three records. — Chris Holmes

Fair Warning – So This Is Love?
Pity the poor Warner executive charged with picking a single from Fair Warning, easily the darkest VH album from the Roth era. While the album is uniformly great, there aren’t really a lot of radio-friendly moments — unless you happen to be listening to radio in prison. “So This Is Love?” is a notable exception, and it’s probably the cheeriest tune the band had released since Van Halen II. It swings and pulses with the full force of prime VH, and is one of the few times on the album where Michael Anthony’s bass playing takes center stage with Eddie and Dave. — CH

Diver Down – (Oh) Pretty Woman
Van Halen was no stranger to covers at this point, and everyone knew they could cut a great one under the right circumstances, but still — leading off your third album with a cover of “Pretty Woman” is the equivalent of walking up to the podium, shrugging, putting your hands in your pockets, and walking off the stage. Gimmicks like this have spelled artistic doom for weaker bands; little did we know the best was yet to come. –Jeff Giles

1984 – Jump
At their best, VH blended sweet pop candy with hard rock crunch, and while “Jump” might not be the band’s most artful combination of those two ingredients, it certainly comes close. And what is artful, believe it or not, are the lyrics — a fine fusion of vintage ’80s stressed-out paranoia and classic rock fuckitallitude. Speaking as a fan who finds it hard to tolerate Diamond Dave’s goofball shtick, I’ve always been grateful for this song, which gives him room to preen while wearing his showman’s heart on his sleeve. –JG

5150 – Why Can’t This Be Love
With the somewhat unexpected exit of Diamond Dave, Van Halen fans and the world were left wondering what a new Van Halen without DLR would sound like. They got their answer in the form of 5150, which ushered in a familiar face (Sammy Hagar) and a transmogrified sound that continued to embrace the keyboards that Eddie rolled out full force on 1984. “Why Can’t This Be Love” was the first taste from the album and introduced a slightly more serious Van Halen, thanks to the lyrical injections from Hagar. Although they might have been arguably simple, lyrics like “only time will tell/ if we stand the test of time” were quick and easy embeds that made the opening shot of the Van Hagar era memorable. —Matt Wardlaw

OU812 – When It’s Love
The greatest ’80s Van Halen power ballad not written about being molested by aliens, “When It’s Love” mined the same keyboard-laden territory the band had occupied for the last couple of albums, but the formula still worked — in fact, it worked better than anyone had any right to expect; a fine, dark brew of VH’s pop hooks and increasingly mature themes, OU812 represents the sweetest spot between art and commerce during the Hagar era. And it’s the best kind of leadoff single — a track that does just enough to remind radio of what worked the last time around while leaving the best stuff in reserve. –JG

For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge – Poundcake
It’s uneven as hell, but in some ways, the Carnal Knowledge album is the quintessential VH record: it was released during the summer, at the band’s commercial peak, and led off with this ridiculous monster of a single. I mean, really, words can’t convey what it felt like to sit down in front of the TV to watch the world premiere of “Poundcake” after three years of pent-up VH demand and watch Eddie whip out a goddamn power drill. That’s some fine, fine stuff. –JG

Balance – Don’t Tell Me (What Love Can Do)
Obviously influenced by the times, with Eddie dropping his E string down to D, not to mention the topic — Hagar’s reaction to Kurt Cobain’s suicide — “Don’t Tell Me …” is a beast of a single. The foreboding opening riff recalls the band’s history (“Unchained,” “And the Cradle Will Rock…”) while branching and out and becoming topical (“I see the damage done / yeah, I heard the shotgun…”). Hagar’s vocals positively shred over the angelic choir of background vocals in the chorus, accurately displaying the tension that existed in the band at the time. It wouldn’t be long before the tension finally culminated with Hagar leaving the fold. — MP

Van Halen III – Without You
With a voice like an elephant gun and an ego one-fourth the size of Sammy or Dave’s, Gary Cherone was a terrific choice for the band’s third lead singer. Unfortunately, he arrived at the wrong time — rock radio was on its last legs, VH fans were still smarting after the non-reunion fiasco of ’96, and the band needed a home run to reclaim its throne. Instead, they served up Van Halen III, a lukewarm hash of ideas in search of songs. “Without You” was the only possible choice for a leadoff single, and it’s okay, but…yeah, it’s just okay. –JG

A Different Kind of Truth – Tattoo
It’s only been 28 years since the last full-fledged studio album from David Lee Roth and Van Halen and the DLR contingent have been begging for a new chapter for at least two decades now. Call it a wise decision or a lazy one, it appears that Edward Van Halen has opted to mine the vaults and cherry pick song ideas (and in some cases, full songs) from previously unreleased Van Halen song demos from the ‘70s. “Tattoo” takes its framework from the VH demo “Down in Flames” and while it has that classic VH sound, the production makes it sound more like a DLR solo single (think “Just Like Paradise”) than Van Halen. That is, until you get to the requisite Eddie Van Halen guitar solo, which reminds us all that nobody plays guitar quite like EVH. Even more so than “Me Wise Magic,” “Tattoo” will be a divisive point of discussion amongst Van Halen fans.   —MW

Popdose Staff
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