Happy Anniversary: David Lee Roth, Eat ‘Em and Smile
28 years ago today, the man they called “Diamond Dave” emerged with his first full-length solo album since departing the ranks of Van Halen.
Although Eat ‘Em and Smile may have trailed 5150, the first Van Halen effort featuring Sammy Hagar fronting the band, by almost four months, for fans of David Lee Roth’s particular brand of rock ‘n’ roll theatrics, the album proved to be well worth the wait. Of course, it certainly didn’t hurt that Roth had gone out of his way to surround himself with top-notch players, including drummer Gregg Bissonette, bassist Billy Sheehan, and – knowing that his material would be judged heavily by whoever he brought in to fill Eddie Van Halen’s shoes – guitarist Steve Vai.
It also helped that Roth hadn’t forgotten the success of the cover songs from first EP, Crazy from the Heat, inspiring him to throw a trio of covers onto Eat ‘Em and Smile, too: “I’m Easy,” “Tobacco Road,” and “That’s Life.” It was the originals, though, that proved to be the most successful on the singles charts, starting with the album’s lead single, “Yankee Rose,” which hit #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 and remains about as perfect a DLR single as exists in Roth’s discography. “Goin’ Crazy” isn’t bad, either, which is no doubt why it also proved to be a minor pop hit (#66) as well as a pretty substantial Mainstream Rock success, hitting #12 on that chart.
The general consensus, both from critics and from fans, was that Eat ‘Em and Smile came a lot closer to capturing the classic Van Halen sound than anything attempted on 5150, which no doubt served to further swell Roth’s ego, but you can’t argue with the truth. Mind you, it also served to set a standard for his solo career that he’s struggled to equal, let alone better, but, hey, you can’t win ‘em all. At least we’ve got this album, right?
Well, actually, we’ve got this album and we’ve got Sonrisa Salvaje, too.
Oh, you’ve never heard of Sonrisa Salvaje? Well, if we can trust the Van Halen Encyclopedia, the origins of the album came from the aforementioned Mr. Sheehan reading a piece about how over half the Mexican population was between the ages of 18-27 and suggesting that recording an all-Spanish version of the album could prove to be a boon to their record sales in Spanish-speaking markets. It was a unique, well-intentioned idea, but according to Sheehan, the newly-recorded lyrics were deemed to be “gringo Spanish” by many listeners, and the record bombed, promptly going out of print. It has since been rescued from obscurity, however, and can be found on Spotify, should you care to seek it out.
For today, however, we’re sticking with the original version of Eat ‘Em and Smile. Give it another spin and see if you think it holds up, but for a 28-year-old album, we think it’s still a pretty strong piece of work.