One of the favorite topics of my friend NQ has been covers – and as I have found Van Halen playing in the earphones this past week, it is hard not to note that this is a band – especially in their first movement with David Lee Roth – that made a lot of hay with covers. Indeed, their covers of “Pretty Woman” and “You Really Got Me” are good solid entries in the genre – but when you look at their Diver Down album, the Van Halen version of “Dancin in the Street” might not only be the best version of the several versions of the songs that have been recorded – but probably the purest expression of Van Halen’s greatness:
At the core of it is of course Eddie Van Halen’s guitar, one of the best of all rock guitarists – and in this song – you get the rare comparison to Hendrix, where Van Halen gets the guitar to fundamentally make a different sound than other guys can find. I have always loved this rift – especially with the title of the album – the guitar makes the song almost seem like it is taking place underwater. The guitar almost bubbles and boils over into the song. That sort of oscillating between notes to accomplish the melody is just mystifying. It is a really slick trick certainly. Really this guitar combined with the top harmony provided by bassist Michael Anthony are the things that really drove the band throughout its prime, even when the lead singers changed. David Lee Roth of course, provided the energy and a vocal style which worked – but as they showed in their landmark 5150, that it was not a crucial factor. But the instrumentation here points to a great rock song, one that has been in my head all week, even now.