If you are a fan of the glory days era of Classic Rock, the Roth-era Van Halen albums are essential. ‘Diver Down’ is no exception.
Written by: Dandurand
ARTIST: Van Halen
ALBUM: Diver Down
LABEL: Warner Bros
SERIAL: BSK 3677
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue List
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA
LINEUP: David Lee Roth – vocals * Eddie Van Halen – guitars * Michael Anthony – bass * Alex Van Halen – drums
TRACK LISTING: 01 Where Have All The Good Times Gone * 02 Hang ‘Em High * 03 Cathedral * 04 Secrets * 05 Intruder * 06 Pretty Woman * 07 Dancing In The Street * 08 Little Guitars * 09 Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now) * 10 The Full Bug * 11 Happy Trails
WEBLINKS: Site Link
Besides the Van Hagar era and one album with Gary Cherone, ‘Diver Down’ always comes up as one of the low points in the ‘mammoth’ career of Van Halen. In 1981, Van Halen released ‘Fair Warning’. Although regarded as one of their finer efforts, ‘Fair Warning’ only went double platinum, making it the least successful album of the Roth years.
Unlike the groups first three ‘party albums’, ‘Fair Warning’ took on a somewhat darker tone – with it’s intense complex arrangements which showcased Eddie’s amazing fret work. In later interviews, Eddie revealed he was struggling with alcoholism during ‘Fair Warning’s production which might of resulted in its darker tone. If ‘Warning’ was bolstered out of Eddie’s personal demons and intense guitar riffing, ‘Diver Down’ was born out of the soiled noggin of Diamond Dave.
The album points to Roth trying to reclaim the audience they might have lost with ‘Fair Warning’, as ‘Diver Down’ is its polar opposite as it is indeed much lighter than its predecessor. In many ways, it’s a return to the sound of the band’s ‘party albums’, heavy on covers and anthems. Barely clocking in at 31 minutes, ‘Diver Down’ consists of five covers, two minute-long instrumentals, and five new songs.
Many fans felt this resulted in too much filler and not enough original material, with the later one only really rising to former Van Halen standards. That’s not true IMO: it’s one of Van Halen’s best records, one that is a true testament to the spirit of the world’s best bar band.
Now keep in mind I am partially biased to Van Halen as I grew up near Pasadena, CA where the band is from. Seeing my favourite band and hometown heroes late last year live has definitely restored my love for Van Halen. I have gone back and listened attentively to the band’s first six (Dave-era) releases and have to say ‘Diver Down’ is essential Van Halen.
Things kick off with The Kinks cover ‘Where Have All the Good Times Gone’, the Mighty Van Halen’s version blows the original away IMO.
‘Hang Em High’ is a full bore banger not unlike the material heard on ‘Fair Warning’ – with a menacing guitar riff and eccentric drumming by Alex. ‘Hang ‘Em High’ can trace its roots back to the band’s 1977 demos as ‘Last Night’, which had the same music but different lyrics.
‘Cathedral’ was also nothing new, being played in its current form throughout 1981 as part of Eddie’s solo and IMO is a natural progression of his genius. ‘Secrets’ is a hidden classic, showcasing Halen’s ability to write great pop songs if they Desire. The only hit from this album was the Roy Orbison cover ‘(Oh) Pretty Woman’ which they did a great version of.
‘Intruder’, which precedes ‘(Oh) Pretty Woman’ is the only ‘filler’ (literally), which Dave claims to have written specifically to take up time on the controversial video that MTV banned, as the song was about two minutes too short for the film they shot on the video. Rather than edit down the film further, they just wrote an extended intro. Originally, the ‘Diver Down’ initial sessions began when the band tried recording their next single.
They started out with Martha Reeves And The Vandellas hit song, ‘Dancing In The Streets,’ Fans and even the band say this is their worst of singles released (even over ‘Finish What You Started’, ‘Cabo Wabo’..c’mon!!) but Roth’s charismatic persona makes this work. ‘Little Guitars’ is without a doubt the best song on the album, Eddie experiments with a Flamenco inspired style and Roth’s ode to senorita’s makes this an all time classic to this day.
‘Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)’ is pure Dave kitsch adding a big ole clown smile to even the most scowling gruff of rocker – featuring Jan Van Halen (Eddie and Alex’s father) on clarinet. ‘The Full Bug’ is a great, underrated, fast-paced, classic VH rocker from their early repertoire. ‘Happy Trails’ is a light-hearted vocal instrumental and is a great way to close one of Van Halen’s most misunderstood efforts.
‘Diver Down’ spent 65 weeks on the US album charts and sold over 4 million copies in the United States, fairing better than ‘Fair Warning’. After its release Van Halen earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for the highest-paid single appearance of a band: $1 million for a 90 minute set at the 1983 US Festival.
What happens next is reflected and well documented on this site. All in all, Van Halen set out to make a more commercial, light-hearted album, and they succeeded brilliantly. It may not rock as hard as the amazing debut or ‘Fair Warning’ but ‘Diver Down’ is divine in its own right. If you are a fan of the glory days era of Classic Rock, the Roth-era Van Halen albums are essential. ‘Diver Down’ is no exception.
Entire Album (Select Tracks)