Van Halen’s 1984 Thirty Years On
you weren’t fetching chips from the kitchen or taking a bathroom break
during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII (the Raiders killed the
Redskins that year), you saw the famous Apple commercial that introduced
computer. The tagline at the end read, in part, “[y]ou’ll see why 1984
won’t be like ‘1984’.” With respect to the late Steve Jobs, the release
of Van Halen’s 1984 was, for me, why the year was not one of
The album was released in January, 1984, and was the band’s sixth studio
albums. It followed the somewhat puzzling Diver Down, which was
not well received by fans who had come to expect the hard-driving,
guitar-driven fare of Women and Children First or Fair
Warning. 1984 reached number two on the Billboard Album
charts; “Jump” was a number one single. “Panama”
and “I’ll Wait”
both reached number thirteen on the singles chart.
For me, however, the album recalls a summer spent riding my bicycle all
over town, going to the pool, hanging out at (interminable) swim meets.
Listening to it even today, I smell chorine, Coppertone, and Solarcaine.
I listened to 1984 all summer on my recently-acquired Panasonic
portable tape player (its answer to the Sony
Walkman)—a gift from my grandfather, who wouldn’t live out the year.
The Panasonic was about the size of a Kindle and about twice as heavy.
It had a gray plastic case and an adjustable strap. I remember it
costing $100 in 1984 (around $225 today). After receiving it, I went
immediately to the record store in my grandparents’ small Georgia town
and bought 1984. My grandmother was amused by the baby on the
cover smoking a cigarette.
I listened to the whole album at one sitting—something I still rarely
do—and was blown away. From the synthesized overture “1984”
to “House of Pain,”
the album’s final track, I felt an excitement about music and about a
band that I had never felt before. The first side, plus “Hot
for Teacher” on side two are among the best songs the band ever
made. Though I didn’t know it at the time, it was the last album the
four original members would ever make together.
If I had to pick my favorite songs from the album, they would be (in
“Top Jimmy” (a
tribute to the lead singer of Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs), “Drop
Dead Legs” (a tribute to Brooke Shields), “Hot
for Teacher,” and “Jump.” “Top
Jimmy” in particular is a real treat—one of the band’s lesser-known
songs but one that holds up quite well today.
was out of town when Van Halen came through in July of that year, so I
never got a chance to see the original lineup. (I would have to wait
until the 5150 tour when Sammy Hagar had assumed duties as
front man after David Lee Roth’s departure.) I did hear a bootleg tape
of the concert I missed. It was the last leg of their tour and the
tension among the members seemed to have gotten to them. Roth sounded so
drunk on the tape that you couldn’t easily make out which song he was
singing. After all these years, though, 1984 still satisfies.
It is a great album by a band at the top of its game.
Oh, and if you liked the “Hot for Teacher
Video,” with the little Van Halen mini-mes, be sure to check out the
video for Fountain of Wayne’s “Stacy’s
Mom,” which contains an homage to that video plus a nod to
Fast Times at Ridgemont High.