The David Lee Roth performance Eddie Van Halen didn’t like

Eddie Van Halen

Not every rock and roll group needs to have the most gifted vocalist on the planet as their lead singer. While any vocalist can aspire to be the next Freddie Mercury, many more would rather channel Tom Waits’ distinctive growl and try their hand at becoming him live. Eddie Van Halen felt that David Lee Roth left a lot to be desired with Fair Warning, even though he didn’t really fit into either category.

Okay, “Diamond” When hearing Dave’s voice for the first time, a lot of people typically need some time to adjust. While Roth’s traditional blues-infused singing is evident in some of the band’s early material, there are also plenty of instances in which he tries to scream in a way that falls short of the mark.

Does that really matter half the time, though? It seemed that Roth’s sole responsibility at Van Halen was to emcee one of the biggest parties on the planet. He wasn’t exactly bad at getting people moving. Onstage, he was essentially a glorified cartoon character. Some of his best songs captured that essence of personality on record.

Eddie was the only one on Fair Warning who seemed to be paying close attention. It would be understandable if none of them wanted to play together for a while after just finishing up another massive tour. However, Eddie was more than content to keep his head down and play as much guitar as he wanted.

Eddie expressed his opinion that Roth wasn’t living up to his full potential despite the fantastic music on Fair Warning. He said, “The truth is, I don’t think he sang as well as I played.” After the tour, we headed straight back into the studio, as usual. Dave took his two weeks off while I busied myself coming up with ideas.

It’s not as though the effort is in vain. Eddie uses a different trick from his repertoire on almost every song on the album. It’s a trick that nobody would have considered at the time. He would be playing guitar and drums on “Mean Street” one minute. Then, he would switch to a solo akin to that of “Sinner’s Swing”. Which sounded like it was taken straight out of a crazy Frank Zappa record.

Let’s be honest: Roth didn’t exactly do a bad job on the record or anything. Though there are undoubtedly some awkward moments, such as in “Push Comes to Shove” or when he skips “Sunday Afternoon in the Park,” songs like “Mean Street” have all the swagger you would expect from Roth at this point. “Mean Street” even manages to grow a little more sinister with time.

If nothing else, the album deserves praise for providing us with one of the most memorable conversations in Van Halen’s past. The line “C’mon Dave, gimme a break” from Ted Templeman towards the middle of “Unchained” and Roth’s “One break coming up” before the song returns to the chorus perfectly capture the essence of what the frontman was all about. Though it was a little rough around the edges, it’s difficult to imagine someone else singing that particular line.

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