2020 has been one of the roughest years for all of us. It also marked a loss of one of the greatest guitar players in history – Eddie Van Halen. Since he started playing his Frankenstrat in the seventies, it was obvious that Eddie was something else, something incredible.
With his lightning-fast technique and incredible tapping, Eddie managed to inspire generations of musicians, and pave a path towards a new era in rock music.
In his memory, I decided to create the following list. So we can all honor him by listening and playing some of the incredible songs he played throughout his career.
However, Eddie has never been known for easy style so you might want to brace yourself. Some of the songs on the list can be quite challenging to play even for advanced guitar players.
Eruption is probably the most popular song by Van Halen when it comes to guitar players. It is due to the fact that it is instrumental. It was first released in 1978 and was featured on the band’s first album Van Halen.
The song goes into You Really Got Me, and radio stations usually play them together. Eruption is commonly regarded as one of the best solos of all time, and it was a starting point for many players looking to perfect their tapping technique.
While one-hand tapping was nothing new during the seventies (hammer-ons and pull-offs), it introduced two-handed tapping to the wide audience. Eddie continued to play the song during his shows, and it remained one of the most popular pieces by this legendary virtuoso.
Jump was released in 1983, on Van Halen’s sixth studio album called 1984. It is the most successful single by the band, and it easily reached the first position on the Billboard Hot 100.
What makes this song different compared to others recorded by the band is that it features the main theme on the keyboard. Naturally, there is still an incredible (but short) solo by Eddie played in the second half of the song.
Learning how to play Jump is a bit tricky if you plan on nailing the solo since it contains Eddie’s trademark tapping and incredibly fast arpeggios.
Panama is the third single on their album 1984. The song was recorded in 1983, and David Lee Roth explained that the meaning behind the song is his car. While he was visiting the Las Vegas race, he saw a car named Panama Express, which inspired him to write the song.
Interestingly, during the interview, a reporter accused David Lee Roth of singing only about women, cars, and partying. This made him realize that he never in fact wrote the song about cars. Panama was also the name of Roth’s Opel Kadett.
Panama was often described as one of the best songs by the band with the strong, incredible riffs. While not the hardest song to learn on the list, it still features the band’s recognizable sound.
Runnin’ With The Devil
Runnin’ With the Devil is the second single from the band’s debut album simply called Van Halen. The song was mainly inspired by Ohio Players and their song Runnin’ From the Devil. A decade ago, Runnin’ With the Devil was named the ninth greatest hard rock song by VH1.
While some people claimed that the lyrics of the song are satanic, the band never revealed the true meaning behind them. Most people believe that the song is about the touring band and a clear reference to freedom.
Besides David Lee Roth’s incredible vocals, there is a nice riff you can learn. The song is not nearly as complex and difficult as others in their career, and you might have an easier time learning it.
Hot For Teacher
Hot for Teacher is the final single from 1984, and it is the last song that features the original lineup of the band. What makes Hot for Teacher so special is that it is a perfect example of what Van Halen is all about.
It starts with a thirty-second drum solo with Alex Van Halen blasting on double bass. After the solo, there is a thirty-second guitar intro that leads to the main theme of the song. The main riff is incredible, heavy, and has everything you’d want from such an incredible band.
When it comes to playing the song, Hot for Teacher is as good as it gets, and it can be quite tough to play correctly. So if you want to nail those mind-blowing notes that Eddie plays so effortlessly, you will need a lot of practice.
Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love
Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love was the third single from the debut album released in 1978, and it just showed from the start that Van Halen is not messing around. The song features one of the most recognizable and best riffs of all time.
The song sounds so powerful and heavier than any song released during that time, and there is something unique about the sound of Eddie’s guitar. Interestingly, Eddie didn’t believe that the song was anything special when he wrote it, and he didn’t show it to other band members for a year!
The song is about casual sex which is something David Lee Roth was known for. What makes this song so exciting is that it is a two-chord song at the core while being so much more if you know how to play it right.
You Really Got Me
You Really Got Me was written by Ray Davies from the Kinks, and it is covered by Van Halen on their debut album. I already mentioned that the Eruption is an “intro” for You Really Got Me, and it was the first single by the band.
The band played the cover of the Kinks’ song for years before they finally recorded it, and the band considered it to be an updated version of the original. Needless to say, the Van Halen version has a great solo in the middle that undoubtedly added that special something to the song.
Ray Davies admitted that he liked Van Halen’s version of the song and that it really made him laugh.
Unchained is the song from the fourth album called Fair Warning. It was released in 1981, and the working title for the song was Hit the Ground Running. The highlight of the song is David Lee Roth’s vocals and incredible riff that repeats throughout the song.
Interestingly, there are no singles from Fair Warning, but Unchained was one of the band’s favorite songs to play live. The video for the song is a recording of their live performance, and the band didn’t think they should provide additional lighting during the show.
Van Halen loved the final result, so they decided to do more videos. The song is in Drop D♭ tuning.
Ice Cream Man
Another song from the debut album is Ice Cream Man. The song was written by John Brim. Brim was a Chicago blues guitarist, and he studied recordings of Big Bill Broonzy. Van Halen did a cover of his most famous song – Ice Cream Man.
It is a blues tune played on the acoustic guitar, and it is always a nice addition to hear Eddie on this instrument. Needless to say, Eddie was heavily influenced by blues music and guitarists like Eric Clapton which is something you can hear in most of his songs.
Ice Cream Man is not that hard to play, especially if you have experience playing the blues. The second part of the song is heavier with electric guitars and more rock and roll rhythm.
Why Can’t This Be Love
Why Can’t This Be Love was released in 1986, as the lead single for their seventh album called 5150. It was the first single that features Sammy Hagar on the vocals who replaced Roth after he left the band.
Eddie also played keyboards on the entire album, and you can hear him on Why Can’t This Be Love. The song is a lot more pop compared to their traditional heavy sound. When it comes to playing the song, it is in the “easier” category.
At least compared to some other songs like Eruption and Hot for Teacher.
Atomic Punk is another song from the debut album, and it is the seventh track on it. The song starts with white noise that is played by rubbing all strings with the palm and using the phaser pedal. It is then followed by a heavy riff and it is as heavy as it gets. One of the most obvious things about Atomic Punk is the influence of Black Sabbath.
The song is heavy, fast, sounds great, and it is a lot of fun to play. Needless to say, it is in line with the earlier Van Halen era, and it might take you a bit of practice to play it perfectly.
Somebody Get Me A Doctor
Somebody Get Me a Doctor was released on Van Halen II in 1979, which is the band’s second studio album. Most of the songs on this record (including Somebody Get Me a Doctor) were written long before the band recorded the album.
It is one of many demo songs recorded by Gene Simmons from Kiss. The song is heavy, fast, and has a typical Van Halen heavy rhythm. Eddie explained that the song is mostly about being high and feeling good.
The early version of the song was recorded in 1976, and it was one of the favorite songs the band loved to play.
Dance The Night Away
Another song from Van Halen II is Dance the Night away. It was the first song by the band to ever reach the top 20 in the U.S. As I already mentioned, most of the songs on the record were written a lot earlier and the band played them live for years.
Dance the Night Away is probably the only new song that was recorded for the album. Eddie left out the solo on the final recording on purpose. Instead, he plays tap harmonics following the song’s riff.
The band played Dance the Night Away on every live performance since David Lee Roth returned as the vocalist in 2007.
Drop Dead Legs
Drop Dead Legs was featured on the 1984 album, and it was never released as a single. However, the fans of the band still recognize this song, and it is rather popular among the audience.
The song offers a standard Van Halen heavy riffs, but the main treat is the outro of the song. Eddie plays incredible licks and phrases that sound quite good.
Eddie explained that the outro was inspired by Allan Holdsworth, and he believed it sounded quite jazzy with a lot of wrong notes.
Dreams was recorded in 1985, and it was released a year later on the 5150. As with the rest of the album, the singer was Sammy Hagar, and the intro is played on the keyboards by Eddie. The single managed to reach 22nd place on the Billboard Hot.
Almost a decade later, the song was featured in the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers movie, and it helped younger generations discover the incredible band that Van Halen was.
The band played this song during their time with Hagar, who said that Dreams was his favorite of all Van Halen songs. Interestingly, there are three different videos for this song.
Right Now was released in 1991, and the song is about living in the moment and not being afraid to make a change. The song was featured on the band’s ninth album called For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.
While Sammy Hagar was writing the song, he heard Eddie playing the piano in the next room and he realized that both of them were writing the same song. Eddie said in an interview that the instrumental he was playing was quite old – older than Jump.
He also said that he had an idea to write an album with various singers as guest vocalists on the album and that Right Now was written with Joe Cocker in mind.
Romeo Delight was featured on Van Halen’s third album Women and Children First. It was released in 1980, but never as single. The song is quite fast and powerful, and it sounds really good. It is an interesting take on the heavy rock genre, and many people adore the end-result.
Since Eddie is known for his innovations, it is no surprise that he managed to add something new to this song as well. Throughout the track, you can hear a steady beating sound, that is actually Eddie hitting the E string over the pickup.
As you could probably expect, the solo sounds incredible, and it is undoubtedly the highlight of the song for every guitar player out there.
Jamie’s Cryin’ is another song from the debut album, and it follows a story about a woman who met a man interested only in a one-night stand. While she turned him down and refused his offer, she is still sad thinking of what could have happened between them.
David Lee Roth wanted to sound cleaner on the record and he stopped smoking for a week before recording. Naturally, the band noticed the difference in his voice, and the producer Ted Templeman ordered him to smoke a cigarette.
After smoking a cigarette and drinking half a bottle of whiskey, Roth returned and recorded the vocals for the song resulting in more huskiness in his voice.
Can’t Stop Loving You
Can’t Stop Loving You was a part of Van Halen’s tenth album called Balance. It was released in 1995, and it is a more toned-down song compared to their other hits. The song is also a tribute to Ray Charles and his song I Can’t Stop Loving You.
The song was released as a single, and it was the most successful track on the album. Those of you that are looking to learn how to play songs by Van Halen will love this one.
It’s not that challenging to play, and it has an easy guitar riff played on the acoustic guitar.
(Oh) Pretty Woman
(Oh) Pretty Woman is the song from the album called Diver Down released in 1982. The song is a cover of a well-known track written by Roy Orbison. The video for the song is one of the first music videos banned on MTV for a variety of reasons.
The video was directed by Roth, and when they finished it, they realized that it was too long. Instead of cutting the video, they decided to add an intro for the song and they named it Intruder.
He played the synthesizer and it took him nearly an hour to combine everything together.
Little Guitars is another song from the album Diver Down, and it is inspired by flamenco guitarist Eddie saw on the TV. While it sounds like there are two guitars on the record, it is in fact just one.
Eddie plays tremolo picking with his right hand while using the left one to play the tune using hammer-ons and pull-offs. The reason for inventing this new technique is due to the fact that flamenco guitarists use fingerpicking, which is not something that Eddie knew how to do.
The intro of the song sounds really unbelievable, and it is so much fun to play. The rest of the song is played on the electric guitar.
Finish What Ya Started
Finish What Ya Started is the song from OU812, which is the eighth album released by the band. While the album was seemingly complete, Eddie came up with the riff and visited Hagar to show it to him.
The two continued playing together, and Hagar left to write the lyrics even though it was quite late. The song is also one of two tracks ever featuring Hagar on the rhythm guitar. Eddie played the intro on the Fender Stratocaster plugged directly in the mixing console.
The main theme of the song is unfulfilled sex which Hagar often described simply as “blue balls.”
She’s The Woman
She’s the Woman is a track from the twelfth album named A Different Kind of Truth. It was released in 2012, but the original song dates way back. It is one of the songs that were recorded as a demo by Gene Simmons in 1976.
Eddie decided to send this song, and several others to David Lee Roth who enjoyed the idea of recording them so decided to join the project.
It is one of six songs that came to life thanks to original (and older) material, making the record more in line with the first few Van Halen albums.
When It’s Love
When It’s Love is another song from OU812, and it was released as a single in 1988. This power ballad was the most popular track on the record, and it managed to reach the first place on the Billboard Mainstream Rock and the fifth place on their Hot chart.
The song quickly became an important part of every live performance. Since it is a ballad, it is a lot slower and gentler compared to the band’s other song.
Eddie said in an interview that the solo for When It’s Love is a nod to Eric Clapton, which is more than obvious once you hear the song.
Love Walks In
Love Walks in was released in 1986, and it was a part of the 5150 album. It was also the first song recorded with Sammy Hagar. The intro of the song is played mostly on keyboards, and the instrument remains a central figure throughout the song.
The main theme of the song is aliens, and he fondly remembers the moment Eddie played him the song for the first time.
While keyboards are the primary instrument in the song, there is still a beautiful guitar solo near the end of the track.
Mean Street is the opening track on Fair Warning, and it shows from the start what you can expect from the album. The intro of the song is a mixture of slapping, tapping, and everything else that came to Eddie’s mind at the moment.
And it sounds incredible. Needless to say, playing something like this takes time and practice. The rest of the song is great as well, and it sounds modern and more in line with heavy metal.
With David Lee Roth’s vocals and incredible Eddie’s technique, this song sounds so powerful and amazing.
I’ll Wait was featured on 1984, and the band used keyboards for the majority of the song. It was released as a single even though it was rather successful, the video was never recorded for the song.
Interestingly, Roth and Templeman didn’t want to put the song on the album, but Eddie and Donn Landee (recording engineer) insisted that the song remain.
Needless to say, even though the song is mostly played on the keyboards, this doesn’t mean that Eddie forgot about guitar lovers out there. Near the end of the song, there is a great guitar solo.
Secrets is another song from Diver Down, released in 1982. The song is a lot slower and calmer than the usual Van Halen tracks. The idea behind the lyrics of the song are from get-well and greeting cards David bought while visiting Albuquerque.
Eddie played Gibson with two necks and twelve strings, like Jimmy Page used to play, and he recorded the solo for the song in one take.
The song is not nearly as challenging as the rest of the list, and the only problem you might have is while learning the solo.
House Of Pain
House of Pain is a heavy metal song that appeared as the last track of 1984. Even though the song appeared on Van Halen’s sixth album, it is a lot older. It is one of the songs that dates to their early years during the seventies.
The song is fast, has a great riff, and an incredible solo near the end of the song. Furthermore, there are some incredible licks throughout the House of Pain, and it is a really fun song to learn.
Naturally, learning how to play the House of Pain will not be the easiest thing you will do in your life. But as with the rest of Van Halen’s songs, it is well worth the time.
Beat It (Michael Jackson)
While it is not technically a song by Van Halen, it would be strange not to mention one of Eddie’s most famous guitar solos (and performances). As the final and bonus song on the list, we have Beat It by Michael Jackson.
The song was released on the Thriller in 1982, and as a single a year later. When Quincy Jones, the producer for the album called Eddie, he believed it was a prank call. Once he confirmed that it was a real call, he took Hartley-Thompson amp and recorded the solo for free.
During the recording of the solo for the song, the monitor speaker caught fire causing one of the engineers to exclaim: “this must be really good!”
Even though Eddie is no longer with us, he will continue to live through his music, mind-blowing, lightning-fast solos, and generations of guitar players he inspired. He is one of the legendary virtuosos that managed to shape the music we have today.
So, whenever you play a tapping, think of Eddie and his incredible gift to all guitar players across the world. You will be missed, Eddie! Rest in peace, and thank you for everything.