When Van Halen wrapped up the Fair Warning tour in October 1981, the band was wiped out and ready for a break. Singer David Lee Roth, ever the workaholic, had more of a compromise in mind: taking a break, but releasing a one-off single for the fans. Something to remind the world that Van Halen was still in business.
Roth wanted to dip into the past and utilize a cover to make it even easier on the guys. When Eddie Van Halen had trouble interpreting Martha and the Vandellas' "Dancing in the Street," he suggested they record a take on Roy Orbison's "(Oh) Pretty Woman." The band knocked it out in a day.
Released as a single in February 1982, the song (and the hilarious music video) was a hit. Peaking at #12 on the Hot 100, the song's success was enough for Warner Bros to not-so-subtly push the guys back into the studio for a full album. The break was officially over.
The resulting album, Diver Down, was recorded in under two weeks. Eddie Van Halen called the whirlwind process making it "a lot of fun." Released on April 14, 192, it was a massive hit, peaking at #3 on the Billboard chart. The album has gained something of a reputation among certain factions of Van Halen fans. As the shortest LP in the group's career, coupled with it being heavy on covers, have it marked by some as a "lesser" Van Halen album. That couldn't be further from the truth. Here are five big reasons why Diver Down is Van Halen's most underrated album.
1. Van Halen are masters of the cover song
Any complaints about VH tackling "too many" covers are erroneous. The original Southern California backyard boogie band built its original reputation on being able to play a wide variety of popular songs. Here, they reinterpret old favorites The Kinks ("Where Have All the Good Times Gone"), the aforementioned "Dancing in the Street," and Dale Evans and Roy Rogers ("Happy Trails") among them. Retooled with that shiny Van Halen gloss, the songs sounded brand new for a younger generation not necessarily familiar with the originals.
2. The original songs are pretty great, too.
Van Halen gave fans a groovy cruising anthem with the laid-back summer jam, "Secrets." They also tossed out some red meat to the band's riff-head fans with the hard-rocking "Hang 'Em High."
3. "Little Guitars" is one of the finest songs in the original Van Halen catalog
Of the original Diver Down tunes, "Little Guitars" stands above the rest, and alongside some of the best ever recorded by the original quartet. Eddie Van Halen shines in multiple ways throughout the track, creating guitar textures and layered melody lines like a mad sonic scientist. His guitar solo on the song. David Lee Roth serves up a truly impressive vocal performance, with the rest of the guys chiming in with strong harmonies. Peak Van Halen.
4. Eddie Van Halen evolves right there on the album
When Eddie says he had fun making this record, it shows. He spends the album finding all sorts of new ways to utilize his guitar, from the synth-like textures of "Dancing in the Streets" to the rhythmic tones of "Cathedral." It's no surprise that he would soon delve into keyboards and synths on 1984 after hearing the various ways he treated his axe on Diver Down.
5. David Lee Roth's voice is in top form
It's often forgotten then while he was clearly one of the greatest frontmen of his generation, Roth could really sing, too. He shines on tracks like "Little Guitars" and "The Full Bug," showing off his vocal prowess with attitude.