It's hopefully not too insulting to other guitar players out there to say that nobody could do it quite like Eddie Van Halen. The late guitarist's gift of tune, tone and technique blew audiences away almost from the first notes of the band's 1978 self-titled debut all the way to their final bows as a band in the 2010s. Van Halen shined bright from club days to arena gigs, cult status to some exceptional blockbusters in the MTV era; not even crucial changes in lead singers could stop their momentum.
READ MORE: Eddie Van Halen (1955-2020)
In Ed's honor - and for your listening pleasure - here's a favorite guitar-heavy cut from each of Van Halen's '80s albums.
"Eruption" (1978) - One Frankenstrat, two very dexterous hands, one MXR Phase 90 pedal, an Echoplex tape delay and Univox echo unit, one Marshall tube amp and the reverb room at Sunset Sound Studio was all it took to create 143 seconds of rock and roll bliss. Even if none of that means anything to you, you know the feeling you got when you heard "Eruption" for the first time - and every time since.
READ MORE: The Van Halen Solo That Started It All
"Dance the Night Away" (1979) - the dirty secret of Van Halen that would come out in due time was this: they rocked hard, but also had a really soft side, in love with catchy melodies with crossover potential. "Dance the Night Away," lead single from Van Halen II, is an early indicator of this: for all the fret-tapping throughout, it's a song that could get anyone to move.
"Everybody Wants Some!!" (1980) - it's not the lead-off track from Women and Children First, but this hard-driving tune is archetypal Van Halen: David Lee Roth's undefeated musical mugging, Alex Van Halen's jungle-style drumming, Michael Anthony's unforgettable bass and harmony vocals and - of course - Eddie cutting through your speakers with rhythmic riffs and wailing licks. It's no wonder the track has ended up in several movies, from Better Off Dead to a Richard Linklater coming-of-age film of the same name.
"Unchained" (1981) - A killer cut off Fair Warning, "Unchained" found Van Halen modifying his recognizable tone with a flanger, giving it that space-y sound and spurring thousands of aspiring axemen to go out and buy some foot-pedals to play with.
"Little Guitars" (1982) - "If there's something I want to do and can't," Ed once told an interviewer about his playing, "I won't give up until I can figure out some way to make it sound similar to what I really can do." Case in point: Diver Down standout "Little Guitars" began with a flamenco-style intro and riffs the guitarist managed to do with a pick instead of his own fingers.
"Panama" (1984) - 1984 stunned listeners with a one-two punch of keyboards over six-strings on the instrumental title track and chart-topping single "Jump." (The ever-prodigious Eddie played those synths himself.) Follow-up single "Panama" was back to the rafter-shaking rock that VH fans craved - both crunchy chords and signature fleet-fingered solos that revved even louder than the guitarist's Lamborghini as recorded on the bridge.
READ MORE: January 1984: Van Halen Releases "1984"
"Dreams" (1986) - Seventh album 5150 moved things into an even more synth-oriented direction on hits like "Why Can't This Be Love" and "Love Walks In." Oh yeah - there was also a new singer in the mix, with Sammy Hagar replacing David Lee Roth. Of all the singles from the album, "Dreams" is the one that matches the keys with Eddie's axe, with some tasty fretwork and howling tones matching Hagar's expressive voice in perfect sync.
READ MORE: April 1986: Van Halen Hits No. 1 with '5150'
"Finish What Ya Started" (1988) - A last-minute addition to OU812, VH's last album of the '80s, the idea for eventual Top 20 "Finish" came to Ed late at night, electrifying him so much he stopped by Hagar's house just to play him the slinky riff. To mix it up a bit, Van Halen plugged his signature Strat not into an amp, but right into the mixing console, resulting in that simple, clean sound.
"Poundcake" (1991) - New decade, new sound: For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge kicked off with the sound of "Poundcake," a locker-room cut that featured Ed taking a power drill to his pickups.
"Humans Being" (1996) - Van Halen's last song with Sammy Hagar has no business being this good: the group couldn't get along, and it was a song for a movie soundtrack (the campy action romp Twister). And yet, it's got everything you'd want from this iteration of the band - that soaring chorus, a slammin' rhythm track, and Eddie doing what he does best without ever feeling like he's not working hard to earn listeners' attention.