Deep Dive: Van Halen, 1984
By the end of 1983, Van Halen was already among rock and roll royalty, with a series of hit albums, singles and concert tours to the band's credit. Guitarist Eddie Van Halen, however, was getting bored.
Determined to bring keyboards and synthesizers into Van Halen's hard-rocking sound--something neither singer David Lee Roth or producer Ted Templeman wanted to pursue--Van Halen secretly built a state of the art home recording studio, packed with the latest technology. It's where he would start writing the songs that would populate the band's follow-up to the cover-heavy Diver Down.
The resulting album--1984--arrived on January 9, 1984. Fans of Van Halen's earlier work like Women and Children First and Fair Warning got the shock of their lives when they dropped the needle on the album's opening track. A moody, minute-long synthesizer title track would fade into the now-familiar intro to "Jump." In that moment, Van Halen's career trajectory radically changed: they went from being among the biggest bands in rock into one of the biggest bands in music.
The song had been released as a single around Christmas 1983, and was already flying up the charts. Van Halen was suddenly in regular rotation on pop radio. On January 20, 1984, it was the #1 song in America. The song's simple performance video was all that was necessary to sell the tune on MTV. The camera loved David Lee Roth's plentiful charisma as much as Roth loved being in front of it.
Van Halen doubled-down on the synthesizers with second single, "I'll Wait." Co-written by Michael McDonald of the Doobie Brothers, the aggressive power ballad peaked at #13 on the Hot 100.
The band's core fan base finally got some relief with the third single from 1984, "Panama." The high-energy guitar rocker was definitely more polished than previous tracks, but coupled with a party-time music video featuring Van Halen being goofballs was just what the rockers ordered. Like "I'll Wait," "Panama" peaked at #13 on the Hot 100.
Van Halen's rock brigade was even more fired up by the fourth 1984 single, "Hot for Teacher." Featuring drummer Alex Van Halen's famous double-bass drum intro, it was the first single from the album to really pulse with that classic Van Halen manic energy. A music video set in a middle school classroom was pure catnip to MTV, who played the clip in heavy rotation. The track was a bit much for the charts, only reaching #56 on the Hot 100. For the fans, however, it was a flash of hope.
"Hot for Teacher" was a fitting swansong single for the original Van Halen featuring David Lee Roth on vocals. The band famously fell out and replace him with Sammy Hagar for the following album, en route to even more chart-topping hits. But the band would never be the same, with their legions of followers begging for reunions until this very day.
Over on the charts, 1984 was a massive hit for Van Halen, peaking at #2 on the Billboard 200 for the week of March 17, 1984, where it remained for another two weeks. The LP that blocked Eddie Van Halen and company from the top spot: Michael Jackson's Thriller, featuring Eddie Van Halen himself on the smash hit single "Beat It."