Released December 31, 1983, 1984 is the last record released (to date; there are rumbles of a new Roth project looming on the horizon) by the original lineup of Van Halen. And what an album it is. After 1984's questionable processor DIVER DOWN, not only did Eddie Van Halen prove his band could write great pop-metal, he showed beyond any doubt Van Halen had some of the best rock the 1980s had to offer.
In many ways, 1984 is one of the most important for the band from a psychological perspective. Van Halen's first three albums were very successful. Eddie went into a dark era of his life, which lead to the creation of FAIR WARNING, one of the dirtiest, mean-spirited rock albums ever recorded. Due to the chilly reception this disc got, Roth wanted DIVER DOWN to be more sunny and poppy to make up for the lacking sales of FAIR WARNING.
Roth pressured the band to record a bunch of cover songs, with only a few original songs. This resulted in DIVER DOWN, easily the most uneven and weakest of the six Roth albums. At Eddie's disgust, he decided he'd rather make it with his own material than rely on other songwriters, and so took control for DIVER DOWN'S follow up. The Van Halen brothers were so dissatisfied with DIVER DOWN that Eddie founded his own studio, 5150, and recorded the band's music on his own terms. While this direction or artistic integrity would later lead to the career-killing VAN HALEN III, on 1984, Eddie's decision to take control of the band's future paid off in spades.
The biggest change to the music from the previous five LPs was the incorporation of keyboards, a decision David Lee Roth was not entirely happy with. Eddie is a classically trained pianist, and had been wanting to bring them in for some time. 1984 is notable for really being among the first pop-metal albums to use synthesizers, which in the ensuing years would be widely employed by any number of bands in the pop-metal genre. Ironically enough, 5150, the band's next album and first with Sammy Hagar, is a natural extension of the direction Eddie began here. One of the album's biggest songs, "Jump", is built around keyboards rather than guitar.
The songs of 1984 are some of the best, shiniest, and just plain fun pop metal around. The title cut is a short one minute keyboard instrumental.
"Panama" is one of VH's best hard rock songs, and the only song about cars the band has.
"Jump", the aforementioned song, is one of their most famous songs, and one of the biggest hits of the early 1980s.
"I'll Wait", another synth song, was a top ten hit about Roth falling in love with a model in magizines and having to deal with that heart break (think The Who's "Pictures of Lily", only with less mastu involved). Most famous people have to deal with obsessive-compulsive stalkers such as this, I suppose. Lot more scary in real life than in the song.
"Drop Dead Legs" is another typical hot mama VH song, but non the worst for the wear for common lyrical preoccupation for the boys (read: sex). Has kind of a slow rock tempo that's just dripping with raging . . . hormones and testosterone.
"Hot For Teacher", with its amazing drum work and blistering guitar, was also a huge hit with an equally famous video. This was years before a lot of the teacher-sex scandals began breaking out all over the US. Don't know what school the boys in the video went too, but my teachers sure as hell didn't look like that.
That leaves the last two songs. While the whole party atmosphere that so characterizes Van Halen is maintained through the album, there's trouble in paradise. "Girl Gone Bad" is about exactly what it says it is. "House of Pain" is another troubled relationship, with Roth declaring he'd make it where his woman could never lead this house of pain. ["House of Pain" has Roth dumping his girl cause she's a little bit too much into S&M for his tastes.] This is actually one of Van Halen's oldest songs, written before they got a record deal and resurrected at Alex Van Halen's insistence years after its initial composition.
Much like the end of the album, no matter how great the party there's always trouble somewhere. After the band released 1984, there was trouble in paradise between the brothers and their gonzo frontman, and David Lee Roth split in 1985 to forge a solo career. Van Halen hired Sammy Hagar and issued the first Van Hagar album in 1986, and so began the never resolved Hagar/Roth debate.
Ultimately, the whole Roth/Hagar debate is neither here nor there in regards to 1984. Had Van Halen called it quits after this record, they would still be remembered as a great rock and roll band, if a little preoccupied with sex and the frat boy image. Without a doubt, this, along with their debut, is easily the pinnacle of their achievements with Roth as front man. Both records are essential staples in any rock fan's collection. As to which is better is hard to say - VAN HALEN is one of the best, most fully realised debuts released by any band. Their sound was instantly defined and had amazing guitar which would prove to be enormously influential, far beyond the scope of most pop-metal bands. 1984 equally looms large, influencing and shaping the rest of the decade.