Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - Radio Songs and My "Van Halen - No Chaff" Spotify List?

Monday, June 25, 2018

Radio Songs and My "Van Halen - No Chaff" Spotify List?

 It occurred to me yesterday I wanted to hear "some Van Halen". 

 Which probably doesn't surprise the reader.  The thing is, whenever I want to hear something, yes - I'm very particular about it.  Also probably not a surprise?

 In my revitalized "Embracing My Inner Ron Swanson" get--off-my-lawn era of life, I've finally realized incarnately

 I generally don't like songs "made for the radio". 


  Sigh. It's the 21st century, so I'll have to expand on that: I don't have any aversion to pop music, or songs that have become radio hits.  What I don't like are songs that sound like there was a hint of "let's keep this poppy, radio friendly!".  I admit this may be confirmation bias.  I don't care, it molds what I listen to and in turn makes me "me".  (See previous blog postings on said concept).  Music is and should be subjective, unlike cold, harsh reality.

 I used to not like Dave Matthews Band because of the over exposure to the song "What Would You Say".  I didn't like his voice on it, but mostly I didn't like how it conformed to a Perfectly Crafted Pop Song.  It was very light and fluffy, played off the character of his voice very heavily as the hook (on the break).  Which is fine, but it struck me as being too conscious of it's own... poppy-ness ("That Poppy" has infiltrated my brain, amazing).  

 Need I say that based on the above I don't like the song "Jump"?  No, I can't stand it's C major happy-for-no-reason pop-logic.  It's a great song, fantastic keyboard hook.  I don't like it.  Sorry.

 But less than that, there are songs in the Van Halen pantheon that I've never really cared for, and it's for that reason - for whatever reason they strike me as being "self-aware" of their pop character.  Yesterday I made this list, fast and easy, with little need for consideration.  It's mostly the result of that thinking.

 So for Van Halen I - not my favorite VH album - there is no "Ain't Talking 'bout Love".  Or "Running With the Devil".  Definitely not "You Really Got Me", "Ice Cream Man" , "Feel Your Love Tonight".  I don't hate those songs, and they're fun now and then *to play*, but I don't need to listen to them.

 "Jamies Cryin'" is left off.  Sentimentally I might want to include it - maybe the first song I showed someone how to play, after I had been playing guitar for all of 5 minutes (yeah, no kidding).  No "Eruption": I've heard it/played it too many times.  BUT - when it comes to "Eddie Van Halen solo lead guitar spot" what first comes to mind is the intro to the song "Fools" on Women and Children First.  I remember that from well before I played guitar as being ultra-aggressive and exciting, and I still think it's his coolest example of "Van Halen" playing.  It's just very pure ripping - not shredding, but ripping.  There's a difference.

Yeah, so just 3 songs: "On Fire", "Atomic Punk", and "I'm the One".

 Van Halen II is different, I wore it out much more than I.  For that matter, I'm much more familiar with a bootleg of their "last performance at the Pasadena Civic" when they had just got signed, when it comes to songs from their first album.  It was super raw and swaggering, again very exciting - more than the recorded versions.  And you can hear Eddie's amps dying, making crackling noises, all sorts of cool artifacts of his sound.

 I don't have "Dance the Night Away" on there, or "Beautiful Girls".  I do, however, have "You're No Good" because it has a sort of sleepy, spooky slowed down character to it that is peculiar for a "pop song".  It's like they messed up picking a tempo, a draggy pop song.  Which is an interesting concept, a potential genre?

 The rest made it to my list.  Over all in my opinion this record is where Eddie congealed into "Eddie Van Halen" proper.  Percussive ostinato oblique riffs combined with funky articulation.  Interject novel bits - the octave tapping intro to "Women in Love",  the open string faux flamenco trickery of "Spanish Fly", the drama of the pre-dive bombed chord intro to "D.O.A.".   The crazy contrary motion intro of "Light up the Sky".   On and on, just tons of interesting and novel parts.  Plus the expected "exciting riff festival".

Women and Children First is always over looked.  It some ways it's my favorite VH record, the most played before I started playing guitar.

 I love how this record sounds.  The high end is ultra smooth.  Alex' drums are just... barely... loud enough, so the cymbal sizzle isn't over bearing.  The side effect of that is that the guitar (and keyboard) parts JUMP OUT, REALLY LOUD.  It's like it's just guitar + Roth.  I wish the remastered version wasn't as compressed.  Like everything these days.  Oh well.

 The guitar just sits there in what sounds like a documentation of a Very Very Loud Guitar in a Pretty Big but Nice Sounding Room.  NIGEL TUFNEL VOICE: ON:  What more do you need for rock and roll?  You don't.

 I liked the tom-beat nature of some of the songs, I'm not sure why bands and drummers don't make use of that as a concept more.  It's very odd to me that every band, every band - adheres to the notion that "the drums have to feature either the hi hat or the ride cymbal".  Really?  Why?

 The riffs on this records are simpler, almost basic, but great.  The low tuning is really effective.  I don't like the double stop melody-solo on "Everbody Wants Some", but the riff is great so it's worth it.  The reverb on this record is the best.  Alex' toms are perfect "Alex Van Halen" sounding on this record.  There is ACTUAL LOW END HARMONICS ON THE TOMS.  What a concept.

 "Loss of Control" is one of my favorite VH songs.  They could have just done Z.Z. Top boogie-swing songs and I would have been fine with that.  In fact, I need to make another VH list of just those songs. But "Loss of Control" is sublime - the low tuning ostinato riff with a perfect VH amp sound, just one string, so great in the pick attack sound.

 The open string boogie riff was the prototype for "Hot For Teacher"... and a bazillion VH rip-off songs that Shall Not Be Named but Are Out There. I like it more than "Hot For Teacher" because it pushes the beat so much, and really does sound almost out of control.  Which is great.  The weird flange bit at the end is great as well.

"Tora Tora" as an intro for the above is great, the weird backwards intro.... but also the ultra heavy Sabbath like intro is curious, because Metallica swiped that verbatim on the Black album and nobody noticed?

 His amp/guitar sound is the most bare and upfront on this record.  I know why people reference other records because of the riffs, versus the simplicity on here - but for Simple and Grand Marshall Dimed this is it IMO. "Unchained" is par excellante, but it's a hair lower in the mix - unfortunately, and Alex' "ride the crash cymbals wash" dilutes the guitar sound IMO.  I'd like to take the crash cymbals off of Fair Warning.  "SSHHHSHHSSSSSSSHSHHSSHHSSH"... it's like a truck inner tube deflating through an Eventide Harmonizer chorus setting.

 Hmm.  Fair Warning is the debut of the Eventide playing a part int he Van Halen sound, one way or another. Hmm.

Fair Warning

 I remember buying this record at Camelot Records in Augusta Mall when it was on the bottom floor in the space that eventually became a Radio Shack (r.i.p.).  The album graphics were peculiar and "big". Alex Van Halen's artistic direction is an unsung thing.

 Let me see... Yes, in keeping with this being my favorite VH album, everything made it.  "So This is Love" is almost too poppy.  Except.. the soloing is great.  And the little "plink plink" -behind-the-nut string noise as the ending is great.

 "Sinner's Swing" - again, boogie was their forte.  But the little "tap the pick on the unwound strings" as a hook is brilliant.  Eddie using noises that people didn't associate with a guitar and part in a riff was genius.  Ripping solo of course.  "Push Comes to Shove" is a peculiar soul-funk meets rock "thing", with a Holdsworthy fusion solo.  The off-time bits behind the solo are great, lots of detail in the parts, the way the meter flows from one part to the next.  This is the kind of thing I would have wanted from a "Eddie Van Halen Solo" record.  Oh well.


 A very bright and thinner sounding recording.  More compressed.

"Drop Dead Legs" a departure sound wise for him - a cranked Fender Princeton?  A cool sound, and I like the room ambience.  Interesting chord progression/arpeggio, but the structure of the song is curious and the way the melody strings the arpeggios together is very slick IMO.  It also has a lot variety in the rhythm of the arpeggios and their sequencing, and the "interjected" call and response detail is great.  The coda is one of this coolest vamps again IMO - "Eddie Van Halen solo" music?  One of my favorite VH songs.

 "Girl Gone Bad" - great and novel intro, as he is wont to do.  Big swing vibe, and the bursts of ascending runs into the "second intro" again is very different sounding.  It's like this song, and "Drop Dead Legs" had some sort of big-band era influence (from his childhood hearing his dad's music?).  The chording is very stacatto-grouped akin to 30's pop music.  Great bridge, another Holdsworth influenced solo.  Killer ending, Alex' fills are brilliant and creative, the weird tom fill  as an ending is great - a unique end.

 "House of Pain" - very different sounding with the natural minor > raised vi riff, and the altered half-steppy riffing.  Then the completely different major sounding solo section with the fusion-esque change.. interesting, then comes out on a Z.Z Top-esque blues theme...  Love the non-linear structure, you don't know it's going to go in these directions. 

 Didn't care for the rest.  "Top Jimmy" starts out neat, but then... It's too "happy for no reason", I don't care for parallel 6th licks.  Overtly pop chorus, but the solo section is cool - minus the solo.  "Panama" is great, I'm just burned out on it - on the line pop-music wise, but.. yeah.  "Hot For Teacher" - same deal.  Their pop music zenith?  Brilliant parts, their Ultimate Boogie Swing Song.  But it's a situation where it's going to be "Jump", "Panama" or "Hot For Teacher" when some horrid Pop Culture Show references Van Halen, and the thing that makes that happen makes me not want to hear those songs in particular. 

 He lost me on 5150.  The Trans-Trem "Get Up" is cool, but the Eventide Harmonizer sound and Alex' Simmons drums, combined with a super squashed mix makes it annoying to listen to.  "5150" is a cool arpeggio sequence... but the song is kind of light and fluffy, in a "we've got to balance the aggression of "Get Up" with this light and fluffy stuff".

 Which again could be confirmation bias on my part - but there you go.  YMMV and should.





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