We’ve compiled a list of the best Van Halen songs of all time.
Van Halen has produced a number of hit songs from the late 70s til the late 90s. The classically trained Van Halen brothers have seen front men come and go, and the group evolved with the rock music genre.
The classically trained Van Halen brothers, Eddie and Alex, combined their talents with one of the greatest rock showmen of all time, David Lee Roth to garner a substantial fan following. However, their popularity with singer Sammy Hagar at the helm, has a passionate fan base just the same.
Best Van Halen Songs from the Early Days
Van Halen had many great hits in the early years, these are some of the best!
“Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love”
This was the third single from the group’s debut album, Van Halen. The song is marked by a catchy opening riff of two basic chords. Eddie had written it as a parody of then-popular punk rock; he waited a year before sharing it with his bandmates. It was one of the few songs that Sammy Hagar would sing after he joined the band in the mid-80s.
“Runnin’ With the Devil”
In 2009, “Runnin’ with the Devil” was named the 9th greatest hard rock song of all time by VH1. The title and song were inspired by an Ohio Players song, but the group has been reluctant to really give much background regarding the song. The staccato bass of the song along with two guitar solos makes this song one of the most memorable of VH’s disc catalog.
“You Really Got Me”
While this song is a remake of a song released by The Kinks, Van Halen put their own individual stamp on the song. It was a popular song that received a lot of air play, and it really helped to launch the band’s success. Background vocals by Michael Anthony and Eddie Van Halen also showed that the group had more to offer than just an entertaining front man and a guitarist who could play with thunderous flair. “Eruption” – an instrumental that showcases the talents of Eddie, is often played just prior to this song (some radio stations didn’t always play the intro).
“And the Cradle will Rock”
Although this song only ever made it to number 55 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, this song received lots of radio air time. It’s the story of misguided teenagers, with one line asking “Have you seen Junior’s grades?” One of the most extraordinary characteristics of this song is Eddie Van Halen’s use of a Wurlitzer electric piano to effect what sounds like a guitar riff. This song is just further testament to EVH’s genius where the guitar and the piano were concerned.
“Dance the Night Away”
This was an absolute feel-good song from beginning to end. It was a part of the band’s second album, Van Halen II. Eddie Van Halen later stated that the song was influenced by Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way,” which had seen a great deal of success in that time period as well. It is the only song that the group wrote in the recording studio for the album; all other songs on Van Halen II had been previously written and performed when the group was still touring clubs in the Southern California area.
This was the last song released from the Van Halen II album in 1979. Like other Van Halen fan favorites, the song is light-hearted and all about having a good time.
“Everybody Wants Some!!”
“Everybody Wants Some!!” was the second single released from Van Halen’s Women and Children First album from 1980. This song was a crowd favorite from their clubbing days, and it proved to be a concert staple as well. The song has appeared in four films, including the Judd Apatow Freaks and Geeks.
Oh! Pretty Woman
A cover song originally done by rockabilly artist Roy Orbison, this Van Halen remake highlights all the things that made the early Van Halen such a dynamic group. The video for the song got some airplay; however, the video was not as popular as many of the songs from the upcoming 1984 album. This version of “Pretty Woman” showcased the vocal ability of all four members, and the group stepped out of their comfort zone to show just how versatile Van Halen in the early days truly was.
A song about a girl who has been dumped by a guy who had a purely physical interest in her, “Janie’s Cryin'” showcases not only Eddie’s status as a guitar virtuoso, but Diamond Dave’s storytelling abilities as well. The tune never saw much in the way of critical acclaim, but it garnered a lot of radio air play and was popular on the concert trail as well.
“Dancing in the Street”
This is yet another song that Van Halen remade whilst making the song their own. Eddie Van Halen did so by writing and rearranging parts of the song for the synthesizer. David Lee Roth stated that the track sounded like all four band members were playing. Fans enjoyed the updated version that critics didn’t seem to care for at all.
“Mean Street” is the lead single on the Fair Warning album, which was released in 1981. The song was a hit in Europe, but it received a modicum of air play in the States too. It features all the typical Van Halen gifts – raspy Roth vocals, mean guitar riffs at the hands of Eddie, thumping drum beats and the hidden vocal talents of Michael Anthony. Although the song had few critical acclaim, the fans loved it.
Yet another raw rocking offering from Van Halen. This song was a hit with the fans and got a lot of radio play. The song features staccato guitar riffs from EVH; the lyrics are reminiscent of freedom and living life to the fullest.
Other notable songs from the early days of Van Halen include “Ice Cream Man” and “Where Have all the Good Times Gone?”
Best Songs from the ‘1984’ Album
1984 marked Van Halen as a “hair metal” group; although the group had been releasing popular songs and best-selling albums long before the genre took hold in Southern California and the United States as a whole. The album garnered a new group of fans from a slightly younger generation, but it was also the last album that David Lee Roth made with the band in the 1980s.
“Jump” was released on December 21, 1983, and it received lots of radio play time as well as a regular rotation on the then-new Music Television network (MTV). Critics loved “Jump” as did fans; it was the only number one single Van Halen ever had on the Billboard Top 100 list. The song exhibits both Eddie’s talents on the guitar and on the keyboard. (NOTE: When touring, bassist Michael Anthony often did the honors on the keyboard.)
This is the second song released from 1984. Although the song did see critical success (it was number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100), no video was ever made for “I’ll Wait.” Fellow singer Michael McDonald of the Doobie Brothers assisted producer Ted Templeman in writing the song. It is one of the few Van Halen songs to showcase drummer Alex Van Halen’s prowess on the skins.
Yet another feel-good Van Halen song, “Panama” saw lots of success with both the fans and the critics. It was the third song released from the 1984 album, yet it never climbed the Billboard charts. The song is said to be about a race car that David Lee Roth observed in Las Vegas, titled the “Panama Express.” Roth wrote the song because a reporter had labeled him as writing songs only about partying, women and fast cars. Roth stated that after some thought, he had NOT written a song about fast cars. The result was “Panama.“
“Hot for Teacher”
This was the final single release from the 1984 album; it saw no critical success at the time, but was named the 36th best hard rock song of all time by VH1. It was another song to showcase the talents of Alex Van Halen, with a thumping intro for the song. The song has also been referenced in many films over the years.
“Drop Dead Legs”
Though the song was never released as a single, this remains one of the most memorable songs of the album. It showcases the talents of both Van Halen brothers, offering a rocking beat that is only matched by the virtuoso talent of Eddie’s burning guitar riffs. Background vocals by Michael Anthony only strengthen this often overlooked song by the group.
The Saammy Hagar Era
Interior struggles within the band, namely numerous issues between lead man David Lee Roth and the Van Halen brothers, broke apart the original members of the band and saw the Van Halen brothers and bassist Michael Anthony searching for a new lead singer. Sammy Hagar was already an international name in his own right, having had his own band for a number of years. As a solo act, Sammy Hagar had seen top 100 critical acclaim with his 1984; the song had lots of radio play time, and it was released only one year before he joined Van Halen. Prior to his solo career, Hagar had played in the 1970s rock group Montrose. Nicknamed the “Red Rocker,” Hagar breathed new life into Van Halen, and although there were fans of the original band who did not agree with Roth’s release from the band, the new frontman brought a whole new audience to Van Halen’s signature sound. Many fans consider Hagar to be one of the few artists to become front man in an established band and do a bang-up job while he was at it.
Top Van Halen Songs from the ‘5150 album‘
Hagar’s debut album with the band garnered several hit songs on the Billboard top 100, and it kicked off an eleven year relationship with Hagar and the Van Halen group.
“Why Can’t this be Love?”
This was the first song released from the 5150 album. Eddie Van Halen continued his prowess on the synthsizer, while Hagar added some rhythm guitar parts as well as his own striking vocal talent. Although many fans were upset by Roth’s departure, Hagar proved he was a perfect alternative. The “Van Hagar” era of the group prompted even more album sales than before. The group continued to be a hard rock icon; they stood on their own merit among a plethora of new groups of the “hair metal” era.
With a video that highlighted the Blue Angels, the song “Dreams” reached number 22 on the Billboard charts. There are two released versions of this song; one was on a senven inch vinyl record; the other was a twelve inch version. Originally released in 1986, “Dreams” was featured on the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie film as well as on the film’s soundtrack.
“Love Walks In”
This was the third single released from Hagar’s debut album with the band, 5150. It reached number four on the Billboard 100 chart; the band states that the song is actually about alien abduction, even though most people assumed it was a love song. The song is heavy on synthesizers, which is characteristic of this time in the 80s as well as one of Eddie Van Halen’s trademarks.
Next: Best songs of the 80s
Van Halen has always been a “feel good” creator of songs, and “Summer Nights” is no different. With the lyrics, “Summer nights/and my radio/that’s all we need/don’t you know?” Van Halen once again provided a perfect party tune.
“Best of Both Worlds”
This was the last song released from 5150 in 1986. Hagar stated that this song is an upbeat look at the band’s future as well as the idea of creating one’s own luck. Ultimate Classic Rock listed the song as one of Van Halen’s all-time best songs.
Best Van Halen Songs from ‘OU812‘
OU812 was the second album featuring Sammy Hagar on vocals. By this point, Van Halen fans had accepted Hagar as the front man for the group. The record was met with mixed reviews. Rolling Stone gave it a “3.5 of 5 stars” and Kerrang! called it “loud, rude, and very much a Van Halen album.” However, it produced at least two number one songs (according to Billboard charts), and it sold over four million records in the United States alone.
“Black and Blue”
One of the songs released from the OU812 album, “Black and Blue” was popular on the radio and on the critics’ charts as well. The song was allegedly used by a former school teacher to seduce a fifteen year old boy. At any rate, this was one of the most popular songs from the album, and it cemented Hagar’s place in the band.
“Finish What You Started”
Described by some as “country rock,” which was a term never associated with Van Halen before, “Finish What You Started” was actually written after Eddie Van Halen knocked on Sammy Hagar’s door at two a.m. Van Halen had come up with a riff, and after playing it for Hagar, the two sat on Hagar’s balcony and wrote the entire song within just an hour or two. Hagar added lyrics, and, when the group went into the studio to record the song, Eddie brought out a Fender Stratocaster plugged directly into the mixing console of the studio. “Finish What You Started” presents Hagar playing rhythm guitar using a Gibson acoustic.
“When it’s Love”
During the era of the “power ballad,” Van Halen offered a rather successful “When it’s Love.” Eddie Van Halen noted that the guitar solo in the song is a tribute to the influence of blues great Eric Clapton. This was the most popular song on the album, and, as power ballads were the custom of the time, it is likely those millions of sales are at least in part due to the presence of “When It’s Love.”
Best Van Halen Songs from ‘For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge‘
Perhaps Van Halen’s most successful album as far as critical success is For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. It is the third album featuring Sammy Hagar. It was number one on the Billboard 100 chart, where it stayed for three consecutive weeks.
This song is probably most closely associated with a popular Pepsi commercial of 1991, but this song did not see much success on the Billboard charts.
This was the first song from For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, and it reached number one on the Billboard charts.
This was the third single from the album; it received a good bit of airplay from United States radio stations.
After Sammy and the boys called it quits, Roth attempted to return. This failed to work out, and Van Halen released an album with Gary Cherrone, formerly of Extreme. The album, Van Halen III, produced only one notable chart-topper, “Without You.”