When Van Halen released the half-hearted Diver Down in 1982 they were already one of the most popular hard rock bands on the planet, but when they put out their sixth studio album two years later, they instantly became a mainstream phenomenon. Interestingly, 1984, which came out on January 9, 1984, is the band’s most popular release to date, having sold more than 20 million copies, yet it never reached No. 1 on the Billboard album chart. Blame Michael Jackson’s Thriller for keeping 1984 at No. 2 for five straight weeks.
1984 marked Van Halen’s transition from a guitar-driven hard rock band into a more accessible outfit and a hit-making machine. The album featured four hugely successful singles, “Jump,” “I’ll Wait,” “Panama” and “Hot For Teacher.” It was also the last Van Halen album vocalist David Lee Roth sang on until he rejoined for 2012’s A Different Kind of Truth.
Guitarist Eddie Van Halen started working on 1984 in his own home studio, 5150, which he built in his backyard and named after the Los Angeles police code for an escaped mental patient. Not all of the memorable riffs on 1984 were written in 1983. Eddie actually wrote the keyboard hook for “Jump” several years earlier, but every time he presented it to the band Roth rejected it. Finally, he relented, and wrote the lyrics after witnessing a man on the top of a building on the verge of committing suicide.
“House of Pain” was a song Van Halen played during their club days in the mid-‘70s, and the band performed part of “Girl Gone Bad” in the middle of “Somebody Get Me a Doctor” during their 1982 tour. Of course, 1984 isn’t widely thought of as the album Eddie Van Halen raided to vaults to find material for, it’s best known for being the turning point between Van Halen, the hard rock powerhouse and Van Halen, the commercial rock b(r)and that combined rock riffs with mainstream keyboard lines. In addition to “Jump” (which spent five weeks at number one), 1984 contained the keyboard-infused “I’ll Wait” and the synthesizer instrumental title track. But the album wasn’t all toned down pop rock, it also contained the hard rockers “Panama” and “Hot For Teacher,” which appealed to fans of the band’s earlier material.
While it sounds like the engine noise in “Panama” is a revving motorcycle, it’s actually the roar of Eddie Van Halen pumping the gas pedal of his Lamborghini. Also of note, Van Halen told an interviewer he wrote “Girl Gone Bad” in a hotel room one night while his then-wife Valerie Bertinelli was asleep. Since he didn’t want to wake her up, he reportedly crawled into a closet, where he came up with the main guitar part, which he recorded on a portable tape recorder.
A little over two months after its release, 1984 went platinum. By the end of October it was quadruple platinum and on January 23, 1985 if was certified quintuple platinum. Despite the tremendous success of the album, Roth was unhappy with the band’s musical direction. He was also angry that Eddie and drummer Alex Van Halen holed up at 5150 studio and excluded Roth from much of the creative process, so on April 1, 1985 Roth quit Van Halen.
The band wasted no time finding a replacement, and after Scandal vocalist Patty Smyth turned down an invitation to join, Van Halen hired ex-Montrose vocalist Sammy Hagar, who remained with the group for the next decade.
Loudwire contributor Jon Wiederhorn is the primary author of Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, as well as the co-author of Scott Ian’s autobiography, I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthrax, and Al Jourgensen’s autobiography, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen.
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