Underrated Van Halen: The Most Overlooked Song From Each Album
It's impossible to argue Van Halen were underrated. But you can make the case that certain songs by the hard-rock legends haven't gotten the love and attention they deserve.
Van Halen tracks like "Fools," "One Foot Out the Door" and "Feels So Good" have been overlooked mostly because they're overshadowed by more immediately awesome songs. Somewhere around the mid-'90s, when Van Halen finally ran into rocky creative ground, some underrated cuts were all but ignored on underwhelming or underappreciated albums such as Balance and A Different Kind of Truth.
We spotlight the most overlooked song from each Van Halen album below.
From: Van Halen (1978)
There's really not much about Van Halen's universally lauded debut album that can be considered underrated. It's almost like they released their greatest-hits LP first. Most of the songs were forged during the band's early club days and remained a huge part of their sets at nearly every show performed with David Lee Roth. Even Sammy Hagar sang "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" almost every night. Still, after appearing on almost all of the Roth-fronted tours, frequently as the opening number, the freewheeling "On Fire" was the only song from Van Halen to not appear during any of the band's three post-Roth reunion tours.
"You're No Good"
From: Van Halen II (1979)
"Dance the Night Away" gets more attention than any other song on Van Halen's quickly recorded second album, which makes sense given how well it shows off the band's unabashedly sunny pop sensibilities. But they decided to lead the album with a moody and menacing cover of "You're No Good," a bold choice considering Linda Ronstadt released her own hit version of the song just five years earlier. "So what, man," producer Ted Templeman, in his 2020 autobiography, recalled Roth saying. "We'll scare people with ours."
From: Women and Children First (1980)
Van Halen were able to spend a little more time in the studio for their third album, which freed them to experiment with overdubs and more complex arrangements. Buried among future concert staples such as "Romeo Delight," "Everybody Wants Some!!" and "And the Cradle Will Rock ... " on the album's first side, "Fools" find the band supersizing one of their club-days songs. It ends up being quite an epic, with an extended opening guitar solo, a Godzilla-sized guitar riff and one of the album's most undeniable choruses.
"One Foot Out the Door"
From: Fair Warning (1981)
Even though Women and Children First's "And the Cradle Will Rock ... " was the first Van Halen song to feature keyboards, the electric piano riff was run through a phase shifter and amp, and wound up sounding just like a guitar. On the other hand, there's no mistaking Fair Warning's "One Foot Out the Door" (and the preceding "Sunday Afternoon in the Park" instrumental) is powered by a synthesizer. The instrument adds an exciting new dimension to the band's sound, which led to the massive crossover success of "Jump" three years later. The two-minute "One Foot Out the Door" devotes half of its running time to one of Eddie Van Halen's most inspired guitar solos.
"The Full Bug"
From: Diver Down (1982)
Diver Down is mainly remembered for its compromises. Worn out by years of constant touring and recording, Van Halen recorded Roy Orbison's "(Oh) Pretty Woman" as a time-buying single. The plan backfired. When the song became a hit, the label demanded a new album - immediately. The exhausted group scraped together a 31-minute set that included three instrumentals and four more cover songs. It all fell together surprisingly well, as the band displayed new depth and subtlety on tracks like "Secrets" and "Little Guitars." Oddly enough, the album's pair of new straight-ahead rock songs got lost in the shuffle. "The Full Bug" is the better of the two, featuring a peacocking Roth vocal as well as admirable acoustic guitar and harmonica playing by the singer.
"Drop Dead Legs"
From: 1984 (1984)
The four singles released from Van Halen's sixth album, especially "Jump," took them to new levels of fame. Chances are, "Panama," "I'll Wait," "Hot for Teacher" or "Jump" are playing on the radio somewhere near you at this very minute. No surprise then that the other four songs found on 1984 would get overlooked. And, truth be told, they don't reach the same high standards as the way more famous tracks. Still, the cocky, strutting "Drop Dead Legs" comes close, with a commanding Roth performance giving way to an extended instrumental coda.
From: 5150 (1986)
Sammy Hagar's arrival freed Eddie Van Halen to write material he couldn't even consider when David Lee Roth was the band's singer. The catchy synth-pop of "Why Can't This Be Love," the soaring "Dreams" and the group's first straight-up ballad, "Love Walks In," got most of the attention, and the mature, dynamic but still rocking "Best of Both Worlds" is a fan favorite. The album's title track deserves the same amount of love. It's one of Eddie's most intricate guitar compositions, with a spectacular opening instrumental section. Hagar rises to the occasion both lyrically and vocally, proving he can be compelling even when he's not singing about girls, cars or tequila.
"Feels So Good"
From: OU812 (1988)
Van Halen's second album with Sammy Hagar found the band branching out even further than it did on 5150. The country-inspired "Finish What You Started" and gorgeous ballad "When It's Love" got the most airplay, while the fan favorite "Cabo Wabo" got a music club and tequila brand named after it. But on an album full of curveballs, one of its most straightforward songs is also one of its most enduring. "Feels So Good" is a simple, upbeat keyboard-guided love song that features a knockout vocal by Hagar, with assistance from his new best friend, Michael Anthony.
From: For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991)
Possibly inspired by Metallica's show-stealing performances on the shared Monsters of Rock tour, Van Halen traded the increasing diversity of their three previous albums for a back-to-basics guitar-centered approach on For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. Eddie Van Halen's use of a power drill on lead single "Poundcake" got a lot of attention, as did the uplifting "Right Now." But the most invigorating riffing quite possibly takes place in "Judgement Day." Eddie Van Halen puts his whammy bar through hell on the song, but the suffering was well worth it.
"Take Me Back (Deja Vu)"
From: Balance (1995)
It's well documented Van Halen weren't on the same page during the making of their final album with Sammy Hagar. It's hard not to read "Don't Tell Me (What Love Can Do)" as their attempt at grunge-inspired seriousness, and they do pull it off with surprising success. Eddie Van Halen's instrumental showcase "Balucitherium" also holds up to repeated listens better than you'd expect. But the most underrated song on Balance is the wistful, bittersweet "Take Me Back (Deja Vu)," which features a lovely and evocative use of acoustic guitars.
From: Van Halen III (1998)
Eddie Van Halen repeatedly pointed out that the last album he bought was Peter Gabriel's So. Twelve years later, the influence of that 1986 masterpiece shows itself on the atmospheric and impeccably produced "Once." The slow-burning, eight-minute meditation proved to be the best match for new singer Gary Cherone and one of the few highlights from Van Halen's otherwise frustrating III.
"You and Your Blues"
From: A Different Kind of Truth (2012)
Not much on this album can really be considered underrated ... or overrated, for that matter. But that's mostly Van Halen's fault for going 14 long years without releasing a new studio album. More than half of A Different Kind of Truth's songs were reworked unreleased songs from the band's early years, and they're pretty good. Still, fans weren't too thrilled with "Tattoo" as the LP's first single. A better choice: the new "You and Your Blues," where Roth deconstructs blues cliches over an infectious Eddie Van Halen riff. It's all punctuated by the band's background vocals, still sweeping, even without Michael Anthony (who was replaced on the album by Eddie's son Wolfgang). While we're at it, "She's the Woman," "Outta Space," "Stay Frosty" and "Big River" are better choices than "Tattoo," too.