Happy 35th: Van Halen, DIVER DOWN
35 years ago today, Van Halen released their fifth studio album, an LP which provided them with the highest chart placement of their career up to that point and required the least amount of songwriting on their part.
When DIVER DOWN hit record store shelves in 1982, one thing was very obvious about its contents just from looking at the track listing: it was filled with cover songs, including The Kinks’ “Where Have All The Good Times Gone,” Roy Orbison’s “(Oh) Pretty Woman,” and Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street,” along with a take on “Bad Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)” and, to close things out, a Van Halen version of “Happy Trails,” best known as the farewell tune for Roy Rogers and Dave Evans.
The decision to do several covers – it wasn’t quite half the album, but it was close, since there were a total of 12 tracks – was one which came courtesy of Warner Brothers, reportedly using the rationale that the album was more likely to be a successful if it was filled with songs which had already been hits. While that theory did, in fact, turn out to be an accurate one, the members of the band apparently walked away from the experience of recording DIVER DOWN – which took all of 12 days, for the record –feeling that, although it was fun to do, the end result wasn’t necessarily one of their best efforts.
In a December 1982 interview with Guitar Player, Eddie detailed the album’s origins:
"When we came off the Fair Warning tour last year , we were going to take a break and spend a lot of time writing this and that. Dave came up with the idea of, 'Hey, why don't we start off the new year with just putting out a single?' He wanted to do 'Dancing in the Streets.' He gave me the original Martha Reeves & the Vandellas tape, and I listened to it and said, 'I can't get a handle on anything out of this song.' I couldn't figure out a riff, and you know the way I like to play: I always like to do a riff, as opposed to just hitting barre chords and strumming.
“So I said, 'Look, if you want to do a cover tune, why don't we do 'Pretty Woman'? It took one day. We went to Sunset Sound in L.A., recorded it, and it came out right after the first of the year. It started climbing the charts, so all of a sudden Warner Bros. is going, 'You got a hit single on your hands. We gotta have that record.' We said, 'Wait a minute, we just did that to keep us out there, so that people know we're still alive.' But they just kept pressuring, so we jumped right back in without any rest or time to recuperate from the tour, and started recording.”
In addition to hitting #3 on the Billboard 200, which – as noted earlier – was a career high for the band – DIVER DOWN also spawned two top-40 singles: “(Oh) Pretty Woman,” which hit #12, and “Dancing in the Street,” which hit #38. Both songs were even bigger hits on the Mainstream Rock chart, hitting #1 and #3, respectively, with “Secrets,” “Little Guitars”, and “Where Have All The Good Times Gone” all making it into the Mainstream Rock Top 40.
Of course, in a mere two years, Van Halen would find even more success with 1984, but that might never have happened if they hadn’t had so much momentum from DIVER DOWN.